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Edition #92, December 15, 2008

Rio Grande / Real Grand Day

Photographer: Peter Diurni

                                                                            Photo by Peter Diurni

Rio Grande / Real Grand Day

April 13th, 1983, a Wednesday, dawned crispy cold but bright as I stepped from my motel room, just up from the depot in Grande Junction, Colorado. I had arrived on the Rio Grande Zephyr the day before. Mrs. Waller, the station agent, recommended the Travel Lodge, a short walk north of the station and had said to ask for the ‘Truckers Rate’, (35 bucks a night) which allowed me enough money for six more rolls of film, three meals in Grand Junction, a souvenir T-shirt that proclaimed I had actually made it to Colorado and diner in the diner on my return to Salt Lake City on Thursday nights Zephyr.

Mrs. Waller had asked me to stop back in to the depot this morning, as I had inquired the day before about train viewing locations around town within walking distances. This I dutifully did. We wished each other “Good Morning” and I thanked her for her Travel Lodge advice. She asked if I’d like to go see the yard operation. I smiled broadly and nodded yes, with wide eyes. She placed a call to the Yardmaster on duty and an invite was issued. Mrs. Waller then gave me directions and said, "You can’t miss it. It’s about a mile and a half east of here on your right." I thanked her and headed out the door. Took me about an hour, as three big old Grande freights came rumbling by and you know, I had to stop and watch them.

Entering the yard, carefully, I located the yardmasters office and presented myself as the inquiry from Mrs. Waller. We introduced ourselves and he proceeded to show me his office, a freight office and a small dispatchers room and told me a little bit about what he did for the railroad. Then he asked, "Ever see a hump tower before?" Shook my head, no.

"Well. Come on up!" he said with a come-hither wave of his arm. So I followed him up four flights of stairs and into a little glass cubical that had a grand view of a hump bowl stretched out to the northwest. He explained that there were two cubicles, "...this one here and there is one above us..." and that the hump is working 24 hours, seven days a week! He explained that this hump split trains up coming from the west for eastern and southern routes and in reverse for various western destinations. He then introduced me to the hump operator and bid his adieu. But not before asking me to return to his office when we were finished here. WOW! COOL!!

With pleasantries aside, the operator began to explain the hereabouts of the large panel at his fingertips. Toggle switches controlling retarders and switch points on white stripes, representing the bowl layout. I think he was just going on duty, as another person in the cubical above was working the bowl as he explained his day ahead. He showed me long lists of printed information. Giving each car’s number, how heavy it was, what it was, its contents, where it had come from, where it was going too and what track it should be on. Some cars were highlighted and he explained these were high and wide loads or hazardous commodity cars to be handled carefully.

He then sat down and went to work. He pointed to a man down on the crest of the hump who had the same list and said he was the pin-puller; " The guy who un-couple’s the cars with a lever." And as they rolled down in singles or multiples, the operators hands flew skillfully from retarder toggle, to switch point toggle, as many cars at a time were rolling the down side of the hump. Not an idol brain job here! A short break occurred and I thanked him profusely for his time. He handed me a couple of old lists and bid me a happy day, then turned back to his responsibilities............ AWESOME!

I found the Yardmasters office again and thanked him for the Grand(e) opportunity. He then surprised me again, by giving me permission to visit the hump, it’s office and the fuel leads for incoming and out going locomotives!
"Just be careful! Big things move silently in yards like this."
I agreed, shook his hand mightily and thankfully and departed for the rest of the glorious morning!

Returning to the depot in the early afternoon, I found Mrs. Waller and thanked her for the Rio Grande day! (I should have sent her flowers on my return to Sacramento. . .  young and stupid...) We said our fare wells, as Thursday was her day off and I finished the day with sight seeing around old Grand Junction and Stephens Sporting Goods store. Fond memories of Mrs. Waller. Twenty-five years later now, I’d like to thank all the folks again, for a great memory and an awesome day, from a grateful railfan, right here. Roll on Rio Grande!

Peter Diurni

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