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Photo 32
A westbound morning BNSF at Maxwell, UT
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Photo 33
Two Utah helpers on the BNSF, accelerating through Helper
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Photo 34
DRGW 3111 & 3126 work a westbound local at Fruita, CO
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Photo 35
Sitting on the Colorado River bridge, SP 174 waits to come off the North Fork
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Photo 36
SP 119 with a loaded coal train, sitting at Somerset, CO
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Photo 37
UP 7084 waits with another coal train
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Photo 38
The westbound Zephyr, leaving Glenwood Springs
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Photo 39
Final Frame: DRGW 3154 & 5356 depart Rio for Roper Yard
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Photo 40
DRGW 5347 - in what may be its last year - works the Helper Yard
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  Trip Report: Helper, UT Trip - Chapter 4
  Monday, March 5
The Trip Home
  From: Helper, UT Trip
Dates: March 2-5, 2001 Author: Nathan Holmes

Monday started a lot like Sunday - dreary, cold - except 24 hours closer to going back to work. Not necessarily a bad thing, as after four days off I was relaxed enough to handle almost anything, but I still had the day and I was bound and determined to pack as much Grande action in as humanly possible. However, it wasn't even UP the day started out with - it was BNSF 1012, leading a westbound manifest just outside of Price in Maxwell, UT. (Photo 32)

Not surprisingly, UP doesn't furnish pusher horsepower to BNSF trains that can't make it over Soldier Summit, so the Utah is happy to step in and "help out", no pun intended. As the train came in to East Helper, it met a set of D&RGW tunnel motors on their way out to Sunnyside with another Dirt Train, as well as Utah 9010 and 9002, ready to be coupled on the back. Apparently, I wasn't watching closely enough, and the Sunnyside local slipped out of the yard without my notice. Oh well - only 5401 and 5347 again, I'd seen them a great deal yesterday. So I thought I'd wait around for the BNSF to depart, and in hindsight I'm quite glad I did. The two Utah SD40-2s at the end of the train were running harder than any set I'd seen in quite some time as they came through Helper belching huge plumes of exhaust. (Photo 33)

At this point, I decided it looked like a slow day on the Wasatch Range due to Track & Time permits being handed out to track inspectors and work crews like candy to kids on Halloween, and I had no particular desire to follow the BNSF up the canyon. So I headed out towards Wellington in hopes of catching up with the Dirt Train again. The weather was still dreary and disgusting at Sunnyside Junction, though, so I just continued south and east towards Grand Junction.

The whole way back I only saw one train - a westbound UP manifest with two 70Ms on the front. Other than that, the radio was buzzing with traffic from hyrail trucks, so I didn't really see any need to stop and check things out. However, approaching Fruita (Colorado - just east of Grand Junction, for those who don't know), I looked over and had to take a second, and third, glance to make sure I really saw it - two Rio Grande GP40s pulling a westbound! Needless to say, I was off the freeway and working back along the line very, very quickly - basically I got lucky and had a ramp right in front of me as I saw them.

As it turns out, DRGW 3111 & 3126 were working a local west of Grand Jct. that afternoon, and at the moment were about to start working a large chemical facility just east of Fruita (Photo 34). It appeared they had several tank cars to be spotted there, as well as several flats full of trash containers, most likely bound for the unload facility in Cisco, UT, sometime later in the afternoon. While I didn't notice it at first, Frank's car was also sitting beside the track. (How exactly they beat me here I don't know - they were still sitting in the Helper yard watching the BNSF when I left, and I hadn't really made any stops since...) Turns out they had decided to come east and catch some of the locals out of GJ as well, including a Minturn Local called for 1400h that afternoon, quite possibly with DRGW 5371 and 5372 on the front. While I didn't have time to stick around for that (well, I did, but didn't feel like it), they also pointed out that DRGW 3060 was tracing at Arco, CO, which we understood to be a mine out on the North Fork Branch (possibly we're wrong on this point, considering I never found it?). Nonetheless, at the time, that was all the excuse I needed to go exploring the North Fork. After all, I'd never been down that way - so what if it's twice as long to get to Glenwood, I'm in no hurry.

I decided to do a bit of poking around GJ first, though, especially considering I was going to need gas anyway. Nothing really accessible of note, except a loaded coal train coming off the North Fork branch I noticed as I was about to leave town (Photo 35). After that it was to Delta, nothing I saw here looked particularly appealing for food, and I wasn't that hungry... yet. But by the time I got to Delta (only about 30 miles), I was ready to consume literally anything that was edible and within my grasp. Being in a bit of a hurry at this point, I decided to go for the nearest thing - McDonalds - a decision I lived to regret the rest of the afternoon. Since swearing off most greasy fast food quite a while ago, my system doesn't react well when I do dumb things like this - after all, what can a Big Mac hurt, anyway? Uggh, four hours of an aching stomach really puts a damper on any desire to chase anything down.

As far as the North Fork Sub goes, it looks like the whole thing is under construction (mainly because it is...). I met a cleanup train (one GE on the front, a set of gons with cranes picking up scrap, and a caboose in UP MoW green on the back) just west of Delta, and this was just the start. All the way up to Hotchkiss there were literally men and machines everywhere - changing ties, rail, whatever. My understanding is that UP is trying to raise train speed to 40 from 20 and allow the railway to better handle the large, heavy trains that roll down it continuously, and by the looks of things they're doing a very good job of it.

Despite carefully checking sidings and house tracks everywhere, there was no sign of 3060. However, I did run into my first coal train tied down at a mine near Paonia, powered by UP 6777 and 7044. No decent photos of it to speak of, though, as it was tucked inside the loadout facility. Slightly up the line at Somerset (and almost at the end), there's a loadout literally right in the middle of town. Parked just on the far side was SP 119 & 153 with a loaded train (Photo 36). Presumably they were tied down here on the loadout track until the MoW crews cleared the line that evening. Then, just a little further up the line (and at the end), was another train sitting under a mine loadout, this one powered by UP 7084 (Photo 37) and looking empty (though I didn't get a good look - Photo 37). After that, the only other rail line I saw until Glenwood Springs was the old Aspen branch, and there doesn't look to have been anything through Carbondale in quite some time, as the flangeways are completely full of dirt and rocks.

Of course, arriving at Glenwood, what trip would be complete if I didn't see at least one Amtrak move through here? Today it would be #5, powered by Amtrak 19. (Photo 38) There's not much else to say - the rest of the trip home was cold, boring, and every once and awhile, snowy. By the time I hit the Joint Line, it was already dark.

I'm going to include two parting shots this time - one of DRGW 3154 & 5356 leaving the Rio crossover (Photo 39), and the other of 5347 in the Helper Yard with a mountain backdrop (Photo 40). Two shots I couldn't really fit (I already have far more photos in this report than any other), but wanted to put in. So, here they go, down here at the end. Hope you enjoyed this look (and possibly my last look, depending on how fast Helper gets phased out now with DPU in place) at remaining D&RGW power working in western Colorado and eastern Utah. [Note: And hopefully you didn't fall asleep more than once while reading it.]

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Oh yes, one other thing I should probably mention - all the images here are Copyright 2001 Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net)
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images.
All images were taken with an Olympus C-3000 camera, a beautiful piece of machinery.