Volume 4, No. 2 - January, 2002
Maintained and Edited by
Bill White and Kathy House


Driving Rio Grande Southern Goose Number 7
by Robert Herronen

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Goose seven.

RGS Goose 6 (the Roadmaster's goose) and Goose 2.

Geese at the Colorado Railroad Museum
(Click on the pictures at the left to see a full size version)

I guess the greatest thrill of my life was being a motorman and running the three Rio Grande Southern galloping geese at the Colorado Railroad Museum. The museum has goose number 2, which is the smallest of the revenue geese and has only two trucks. Goose number 6 is the work goose and was used by the railroad in maintenance of way service, and normally never carried passengers or freight. Goose 7 was the last and largest of the geese built by the railroad and the only one still in its original configuration. I have driven all three of the Museum's Geese, but I spent most of my time in the 7. I also spent a lot of time working on the 7, patching it up enough so it could go into the shop to receive a full restoration.

The 7 is the only one of the fleet of motors (as the railroad called them) to retain the Pierce-Arrow automobile body. The other motors started out with Buick bodies, which were soon replaced with Pierce-Arrow bodies. Finally in the late 1940s, the 3, 4, and 5 all received Wayne Bus bodies. The number of passengers these motors could accommodate remained the same, but the bus bodies were newer and all steel. Like most automobiles from this time period, the Pierce-Arrow has a composite body made up of a wooden framework covered with sheet metal. The bus bodies were stronger, more durable, and easier to maintain, although perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as the Pierce-Arrow body.

The geese ride surprisingly well. They have no shock absorbers so they tend to sway from side to side a lot. They are rather comical when viewed from the front coming at you at full speed, because the front does not rock as much as the box body. Usually the front will sway to the left and the back will sway to the right and vice-versa. The low "brow" of the Pierce-Arrow bodied 7 makes the swaying much more evident.

The motorman seat.

The floor board.

The air brake stand.

This is the dash of motor 7.

Driving the 7

I remember a winter steam-up at the Colorado Railroad Museum before I left for North Carolina. That morning I arrived early before the sun was up. Usually I would stay the night in the RGS caboose 0404 but as comfortable as the caboose is, it couldn't compare with my bed at home. Overnight we had received about " of snow, but as the sun came up, the sky was clear with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees (F).

I believe Bill Gould, now the Museum Director, was our Trainmaster that weekend, so I told him I was going to be working on the 7, getting the bell cord installed. The bell hadn't worked in years and I was looking forward to bringing it back to life. I also needed to tweak the sanders and in general get her ready for the day. We would use the goose during the annual Santa Claus steam-up to help handle the much larger than normal crowds.

The 7 was parked on the main line, up near the water tank at No Agua, so I had a short trek up the hill with a few parts in my hands. I opened up the cab and got busy rigging up the temporary bell cord. 7 had a small metal cable that ran inside a " diameter copper pipe, which ran from the drivers seat out to the bell, where it attached to the bell clapper. I didn't have any fancy handles to put on it, so I used a piece of pipe nipple in a loop at the end. I then fiddled with the sanders a bit to get them to working, and before long, it was time to get ready to clear the track for the steam train.

Bill came up to give me a hand getting her started. We connected the battery and opened the fuel valve (the fuel tank is on the roof.) I got in the cab and stepped on the starter (which is located on the floor) while Bill choked the engine at the carburetor. With a cough and a sputter the old girl awoke and was soon idling smoothly. We let her warm up a little and build up air in her reservoir. When the Museum geese are parked for any length of time, wheel chocks are used to prevent them from rolling. With these chocks still in place, I released the hand brake and did a couple sets and releases with the air brakes to check their operation. They were working properly, so with the brakes on and the chocks pulled we got ready to run her down to No Name siding.

Before actually getting underway, I checked to make sure the reversing transmission was in forward. This transmission is a relic from when the 7 was used by the scrapper. We've found it really handy to have four speeds in BOTH directions and plan on retaining the transmission during the restoration of the goose. Then I released the band brake (on the driveshaft). Since the hand brake was still off and the air brakes on, I pushed in the clutch and shifted her into first gear and released the air brakes. I slowly released the clutch and giving the girl a little gas, and we started to roll.

7's Chevy truck engine.

Goose 7's right side.

The power truck of goose 7.

This is the interior of the rear passenger compartment box.

Off We Go

We don't use the horn unnecessarily and since it was early morning, I didn't give the normal two long blasts before moving down the hill. Soon, I had the engine wrapped up, so it was in with the clutch and off to second gear. I wasn't always so good at preventing gear-grind. After all, if you can't find 'em, grind 'em. Automobiles of this vintage often have non synchro-mesh transmissions with square cut gears. They have to be double clutched and the gear cluster has to come to a virtual stop before they can be slipped into the next gear. Even really experienced drivers often have trouble. Anyway, while I was getting her up to speed I was ringing the bell for the first time in YEARS.

By now I was at the top of the cut and I idled her back allowing the engine to hold her back on the 3 percent grade. I cleared the cut and noticed that the steam engine crew had been greasing 346, which had spent the night in her normal spot on the engine terminal siding. They were getting the locomotive ready for the day's activities and so had moved her forward, closer to the 3-way switch. I was concerned that they might be fouling the main line, so as I got closer I put on the brakes and pushed in on the clutch, stopping in about 10 feet, as I wasn't going very fast at the time.

One of the engine crew was there and said I had room to get by, so they got out in front and signaled me through the switch. Putting her in 1st gear, I idled her by the 346. The smell of coal smoke and the sights and sounds of a steam engine warming up made me think of the old RGS motormen bringing the motor I was now captain of, out past a waiting steam engine and onto the road.

I cleared the locomotive with about a foot to spare. No sweat. Still I was ringing the bell as I passed the steamer. I stepped down on the gas again, and the girl sped up to about 5 miles an hour for a distance of another 200 feet. Bill was waiting at the switch by the Museum entrance, and after I crossed over it, he aligned it for the siding. While he was throwing the switch, I was shifting over the reversing transmission. Bill walked back to signal me as I backed up into the siding. Goose 6 was already there, so it would be a tight fit.

When Bill was in position, he gave me the backup signal and I put her in 1st gear and released the brakes, letting her idle back into the siding. When someone is signaling me, I never look away. I was ringing the bell to start back, but I had too much to do to keep ringing that bell. I bet Bill thought I was crazy anyway.

Soon I had the old bird on the siding and stopped 6 inches away from the 6. It was then time to shut her down. The first thing I did was set the hand brakes - never trust an air brake to hold her. Bill threw some chocks under the wheels - never trust a hand brake to hold her, either! Turning off the key, the engine shut down and I put her in gear to hold her. To make it easier on the next person, I put the reversing transmission back into forwards. And I got out and closed the cab. Opening the hood we shut off the fuel valve and then locked the cab and hood down.

I had to perform some brakeman duties on the steam train in the morning and then did some conductor'n around lunchtime. After lunch, Bill gave me the go ahead to get the 7 out and run it ahead of the steam train. At this time the main line was a C-shaped stretch of track and not the closed loop now in place. When we ran the goose, we would put it in front of the train. This works well for both trains as the goose is so much faster.

Getting down to the goose, I unlocked all the doors and opened up the hood. It was up into the 40s(F), so the goose started right up for me. I had Dennis with me at the time, as I was still qualifying as a motorman. You may have met him; he is one of the motormen that have taken the 2 to Durango for the Durango and Silverton Railroad's Railfair.

While we were waiting for the steam train to back passed us, going up the hill, we let the air build up and did our brake test. After the train passed we pulled all our chocks, and Dennis headed over to the switch and bent the iron to my train and gave me the go ahead. Now was the time to let the old girl strut her stuff.

A few curious onlookers were standing around when I put the girl in 1st gear, released all the brakes and gave two long blasts on the air horn. The horn on the 7 is a VERY loud and it made several people jump. Releasing the clutch and ringing my bell, the girl started to inch forward, the first wheel on the power truck sliding a little until the chain took up the slack. I let her idle out looking over my left shoulder at Dennis until he stopped me (one honk from me) and returned the switch to normal.

By then Larry had arrived to serve as our conductor (who rides in the back with the passengers and watches behind the goose when we back). He got on the radio, since we can't see each other, and told me I was clear to go forward as soon as Dennis got in the cab with me.

With Dennis aboard and two honks, we were off to the end of the track to wait for the steam train. I ran her in first gear (ringing my bell) down to the fence where I applied the brake, stopping a foot from the fence to allow plenty of room behind us for the steam train. One honk. I put on all the brakes and reversed the reversing transmission. I flipped on the headlights and running lights.

Soon the 346 arrived and unloaded. While we were waiting we had plenty of time to show off our machine. Some people even got on board, but that's risky business on the three-rail switch.

With three blasts from her whistle, the 346 backed up the hill. Dennis and I re-boarded our charge and waited for Larry to give us the clearance. We would wait for the train to get out of view around the curve before we started back to load more passengers at the crossing.

Larry came on the radio saying, "Clear to go back." "Going back," I answered him, released the hand brakes, slipped her into first, honked three times, released the air brake, and let up off the clutch. I learned you do this slowly and start giving her gas just about the time the clutch engages. Then I rang my bell as I backed up to the crossing in first gear. I take my time because as I mentioned before, a goose is so much faster than a steam train.

"That'll do," Larry said, stopping me at the crossing. I pushed in on the clutch while I applied the brakes. As we came to a stop I gave one honk on the horn and I took her out of gear. We boarded a few more passengers as I sat in the cab talking to Dennis.

"Clear to go back" soon came over the radio from Larry. Stepping on the clutch, I put her in first. Three honks. Now I was on a little more of a grade, so I would release the clutch a little while I released the brakes to keep her from rolling. With the gauge reading zero and me stepping on the gas and ringing the bell, the girl quickly got her RPMs up, so with a quick shift I was in second. Then it was time to blow the grade crossing. I liked to blow the grade crossing especially if someone was videotaping. "Clear through the cut," would come from the radio. By now I was on the 3 percent and I opened her up in second gear. In the cut I would not go above 2nd in reverse. Clearing the cut, the grade eases.

About this time I'd hear the 346 whistle to a stop in Juanita. "Clear through No Agua" would come from the radio. I'd pop the girl up to 3rd gear but let her idle backwards through No Agua. I'd blow the horn for the grade crossing and ring the bell as I crossed over it. About the water tower I'd push in the clutch and apply the brakes lightly. (Sometimes I would down shift, especially if I was running the goose behind the steam train.) The girl would slow and soon I'd get the number of car lengths to my stop over the radio.

I'd let her roll and bail off near the stop. She may only weigh 14,000 lbs., but she doesn't stop on a dime. Stopping clear of No Agua, I could see the crossing very well. I put the girl's reversing transmission in forward again and waited with the shifter in neutral.

After unloading those passengers who wanted off and letting a couple of new people get on, Larry would give me a "Go Ahead." I knocked the shifter into second here since the track is nearly level, blew the horn twice, and released the brakes and clutch simultaneously. And I rang my bell. Right before the crossing, I'd shift up to third. Then I'd have the grade crossing signal to blow. Clearing the crossing, I'd run her up so that she did her customary side-to-side swaying until I get to the cut where I'd let her slow and down shift back to 2nd.

Ringing the bell through the cut and blowing the horn for the crossing, I'd start applying the brakes a little to slow her for the switch and eventual stop at the lower crossing. About 2 car lengths from my stopping point, I'd run the clutch in and go to the brake, ringing the bell. She'd slow to a stop beautifully. Larry would unload the back and give me the signal to run up to the end of the track. And the process would begin again.

This day Dennis rode with me three times before I guess he got bored and got out. From then on I was on my own. On Sunday I had a different "pilot" with me, Rick. But he too got off after a couple trips.

Some days when there were only a couple die-hard rail fans, with video cameras especially, I'd get the girl up into fourth gear and she would literally fly. But I'd have to go to the brake quickly and slow down. But I'd ALWAYS get people coming down to tell me they wished they had a camera because it was just like the RGS!

Rob on the Museum's RGS popcar 15

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Throughout the summer I got in as much time running the 7 as I could. I always preferred her over the steam train. I missed the July volunteer meeting because I was visiting my wife-to-be in North Carolina. When I showed up for the August steam-up, I found out I have been promoted to full motorman. Alas, it was the LAST steam-up I could attend before moving to North Carolina, so I was motorman for all of one weekend. Boy, do I miss it.

In 1999, my wife and I went to the Railfest in Durango with the sole purpose of riding the number 5 goose from Silverton to Durango. My wife was really surprised by all the people I knew and who knew me too. We came across Bob Shrank (the Durango & Silverton trainmaster) in Elk Park. He told the D&S pilot, who the railroad required to ride in the goose when it is operated on railroad property to let me run the goose if Wayne Brown of the Galloping Goose Historical Society didn't want to. Since then Wayne hasn't spoken to me. Oh well.

Running a goose requires lot of a motorman. Upshifting and downshifting while ringing the bell, blowing the horn, working the brakes and sander. All of this leaves no opportunity to get bored.

The other piece of equipment I did my best to keep running for the museum is the RGS pop-car number 15.

The end


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