Rio Grande Southern RR - Historical Timeline (1878-1899)

Below, in tabular form, is a summary of the history of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, which ran from Ridgway to Durango in Colorado. Each entry has references included, with the name of the book or document abbreviated. The references are hyperlinked to another page where full details for the references can be found.

This list is still under construction, and somes dates are only approximate. As I get through more of my sources, more exact dates will be used. Remember, this is just a beginning!

Back to RGS home
Start your shopping here - with Amazon, Alibris, eBay.

1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s Post 1953

1878 - 1899






(pre-RGS) 1878 Otto Mears' toll between approx. Ridgway and Telluride located. This route was later utilized for the RGS. Ssj, p47
1878 Telluride founded. Ssj, p66
1879 Otto Mears' toll between approx. Ridgway and Telluride opened. It probably looked something like this. And here's another road, probably above Telluride somewhere: pic. Ssj, p47
1879 Col J. C. Haggerty discovers a rich silver vein above what would become Rico. Ssj, p82
1881 First shaft is sunk at what would become the mighty Enterprise mine above Rico. Ssj, p82
7-27-1881 Manager J. A. Porter throws a Grand Ball in Durango smelter to celebrate the arrival of the D&RG in town. Ssj, p54
1882 D&RG reaches Silverton Ssj, p1
1887 Otto begins building Silverton RR Ssj, p2
10-06-1887 A rich vein is finally struck 262' down on the Enterprise's property above Rico, and the mine finally gets going. Ssj, p82
1889 Silverton RR reaches Albany, it's furtherest reach. Ssj, p2
11-05-1889 RGS incorporated [Milestone] Ssj, p47
11-1889 Otto sends Charles Gibbs to Dallas, CO to survey a NG railroad from there to Telluride. An article quoted from the Denver Times on Dec 14th mentions the surveying, and notes that grading is planned to begin in February. Ssj, p 2
12-24-1889 Gibbs completes preliminary survey between Dallas Jct and Telluride. Dallas Jct was later renamed Ridgway, in honor of Robert M. Ridgway. Dolores Gregory notes that Mr. Ridgway was "involved with the construction of railroads in various capacities for almost forty years and was held in high regard for his knowledge and expertise throughout the midwest and Colorado." Ridgway
Ssj, p47
Early 1890 Otto goes to New York to secure financing. Ssj, p47
2-12-1890 A local newspaper includes this tidbit about the planning for the new town of Ridgway: "D.C. Hartwell, Otto Mears and Fred Walsen are the projectors of the new town at the junction of the Rio Grande Southern and the Ouray branch of the Denver & Rio Grande. Ranches have been purchased at the lower end of Uncompahgre Park and a town laid out ten miles from Ouray and two miles from Dallas, the present forwarding point. Smelters and other industries are proposed at the new town." San Juis Valley Courier
2-28-1890 Otto returns from New York with $4.5 million in backing, and a promise of more from eastern financiers. [Money] Ssj, p47
3-4-1890 RGS Construction Co incorporated [Milestone] Ssj, p48
3-19-1890 Grading begins from Ridgway Ssj, p48
4-1890 Mears purchases Shay #269 for his Silverton RR, and apparently often worked the south end of the Silverton branch. Here's a photo and some details and history of the #269. Ssj, p54
4-1890 Grading begins from Durango Ssj, p48
5-1890 Survey force enlarged, Gibbs finishes a survey moving D&RG Ouray branch to the west side of the Uncompahgre River, finishes survey of Ridgway townsite w/40 acres set aside for yards. Ssj, p48
5-1890 Advertising begins to labor force, which reaches 3000 men by mid-summer. Ssj, p50
6-1890 Townsite for Ridgway laid out; it consisted of 490 acres purchased from ranchers. Lots sold for $300 each. The RGS yards and roundhouse were laid out west of town, along the creek. Ssj, p50
6-1890 Survey of grade to Telluride completed. Ssj, p48
6-20-1890 First rails spiked down at Dallas Jct; 30 lb rails used. [Milestone] Ssj, p50
8-1890 High bridge at MP 8.6 (Pleasant Valley) completed. Ssj, p50
8-17-1890 Engine 1 arrives and is immediately put into service between Ridgway and the 'front'. Ssj, p51
8-1890 Locomotives and cars begin arriving in greater numbers from D&RG, RGW and UP; 901 cars ordered from D&RG and RGW, but only a handful were fit for use. Ssj, p51
8-1890 Eleven construction cars in use, C-1 thru C-11. Former RGW postal car 83 converted to a dining car; this later became the private car 'Rico'. Ssj, p51
8-20-1890 General order #1 issued, appointing R.M. Ridgway as superintendent of the RGS, w/offices at Salida. Ssj, p51
1890 At some point, 5 cabooses purchased from Rio Grande Western - W404 (1st) - W409. These were converted four wheel bobbers, shorter than the standard D&RG style short cabii, by at least a foot. They had stubby little single window cupolas. W405 through W408 were worn out and refused by the RGS. Caboose W409 arrived in Dec 1891 and was the best of the lot and was kept. Hence the gap in numbers. It was still too small to be of good service and was generally held in reserve. Herb Kelsey
Ft. Lewis archives
9-1890 Cabooses W400 and W401 completed (new) in the D&RG Burnham Shops; cost was $875 each. Ssj, p51
10-10-1890 First train operates, behind 2-8-0 #2 between Ridgway and Placerville. [Milestone] Ssj, p54
10-10-1890 Timetable #1 issued. Ssj, p54
10-24-1890 Ridgway depot completed and opened, operately jointly by the D&RG and RGS. Ssj, p54
11-1-1890 Original deadline for reaching Rico is missed; the town extends the date to 7-1-1891. If the RGS met the date, the town would donate land for the station, yards and shops. Ssj, p54
11-16-1890 Line reaches Vance Junction Ssj, p54
11-23-1890 Line reaches Telluride (45 mi) Ssj, p54
Fall 1890 Five construction camps active between Trout Lake and Rico. Construction boss Gallagher complained about the green ties not holding spikes, and noted that "the Mexicans do not like the cold weather and are leaving for home." Can't really blame them, you know... Meanwhile, the crew 10 mi above Rico adds a night shift to help build the two large Gallagher trestles over the Dolores River. Ssj, p54
12-01-1890 Line open from Durango to Porter (5 mi) Ssj, p54
Late 1890 Line open from Durango to Hesperus, and Thomas Wigglesworth runs an excursion to Hesperus as soon as the line is ready. RGS #11, the line's only 2-6-0, hauled the train. Ssj, p54
Dec 1890 Work on the northern portion suspended until spring Ssj, p55
1891 Sometime this year two more new cabooses were completed by the D&RG for the RGS - numbers W402 and W403. Herb Kelsey
1891 The RGS purchased a large number of cars from the D&RG sometime in this period; this photo surfaced, and appears to show D&RG cars being repainted and prepped for shipment to the RGS. The year is unknown, although 1891-1892 seems likely.
1891 RPO (Railway Post Office) routes are run between Montrose (north of the RGS, on the D&RG) and Telluride until 1892. W. George Cook
Jan 1891 R.M. Ridgway appoints W.D. Lee as foreman of machinery. Ssj, p90
Feb 1891 A Leslie Rotary Snowplow arrives and becomes Rotary #1. It was built by the Portland Locomotives Works, as was the second rotary which was ordered a year later. Ssj, p90
April 1891 Line out of Durango reaches East Mancos Ssj, p55
5-12-1891 100 men resume work at Vance Junction Ssj, p55
June 1891 Northern line reaches Ames. Ssj, p55
6-20-1891 George Westinghouse transmits AC electricity 2.6 miles from the river near Ames to the Gold King mine above Ophir, powering the mine with newly-invented AC motors brought in by the fledging RGS. This is the first long-distance transmission of AC current. The power plant at Ames remains to this day. Ssj, p361
July 1891 Line from Telluride to Pandora (2.5 mi) completed, reaching the Smuggler Union's huge mill there. This line was paid for by the mine's owners, J. H. Ernest and John Porter. Ssj, p55
7-3-1891 Butterfly Bridge (across Lake Fork of the San Miguel river) completed. The huge trestle at Ophir was also completed by this time. Ssj, p55
Summer 1891 More cars and locomotives arrive, including #14, the RGS's only 0-6-0, which became known as "The Goat". Ssj, p55
8-21-1891 The 476' long Ophir loop trestle, bridge 45-A, is completed. Curving, and on a constant 3% grade, this was one of the largest bridges on the RGS. Most of the wood used on the bridges near Ophir was red spruce, with white spruce used on the longer spans. Ssj, p358
9-30-1891 After missing the town's second deadline of July 1st, the RGS finally arrives in Rico. #14 ("The Goat") pulls the first train into town moments after the rails are laid, at 10:10 pm. Several days of riotous celebrations ensue. Ssj, p55
10-15-1891 Although the line wasn't yet complete, a formal celebration of the RGS's completion is held in Rico. RGS #12 brings 5 coaches from Telluride. D&RG #168 brings an all-business-car train from Ridgway; guests on this train include the governor, Otto and D&RG president E. T. Jeffery. The cars included the RGS's "San Juan" and D&RG's "Zuni" and "El Moro". A silver spike is presented to Otto by the owners of the Enterprise mine, although it did read "D&RG Southern RR". A honest mistake, although with E.T. Jeffery taking over the RGS years later, maybe it was kinda prophetic. [Milestone] Ssj, p55
11-25-1891 Line from Durango reaches Dolores. Ssj, p82
12-19-1891 Northern and southern lines meet near MP 84.5, alongside the Dolores river, completing the RGS from Ridgway through to Durango. The RGS was completed with relatively little fanfare. The final spike was driven in a snowstorm, and a train out of Durango dropped off 50 dressed turkeys and 4 barrels of beer for the crew before continuing on to Rico. [Milestone] Ssj, p82
12-24-1891 A local newspaper reports: "The last spike on the D&RGS [RGS] between Durango and Rico was driven last Sunday." Pagosa Spring Sun
1892 The RGS trades 2-8-0 #34 for the Silverton RR's Shay #269, which is then used on the Enterprise's 5% grades. Ssj, p54
1892 Another Leslie Rotary Snowplow is ordered and becomes Rotary #2. Ssj, p90
1892 Mining activities increase: ores that were too costly to bother with suddenly became economical because of the railroad's relatively cheap transportation. Cost per ton from the San Juans to the Pueblo smelters dropped from $50 to under $10. Formerly, a single ton used to require 10 burros or 7 mules, while a wagon ( pic1 pic2) might handle up to 4 tons. But even a short 10-car train could handle 100 tons. Ssj, p85
1892 RGS booms - running daily passenger trains with Pullmans from Ridgway-Rico and Rico-Durango; another pair of passenger trains ran between Vance Jct and Telluride. Trains run around the clock, as many as 20 freight trains in a 24-hour period. [Dreams] Ssj, p85
1892 Mears creates his most extravagent passes yet - 527 (intially) handmade silver filigrees and 3 gold filigrees. [Dreams] Ssj, p85
1892 RPO (Railway Post Office) routes are run between Montrose (north of the RGS, on the D&RG) to Telluride, Montrose to Rico, Ridgway to Rico, Illium (Vance Jct) to Rico, and Ridgway to Durango during this year. The route between Ridgway and Durango lasted until 1917. W. George Cook
Jan 1892 R.M. Ridgway appoints W.D. Lee as asst superintendent of the RGS. Ssj, p90
1-02-1892 First through train operates from Durango to Ridgway, under conductor Charles Wigglesworth. Ssj, p82
1-06-1892 Mixed train 1, with engines #7 and #17, collides with a work train headed by 4-4-0 #36 near Montelores. The site was a sharp curve, and the work train had neglected to flag properly. The 36 and 7 were badly damaged, 17 slightly damaged, an RGS flat snapped in two, and 4 coal cars, a D&RG flat, and a D&RG cook car were destroyed. RGS car #574 was one of those destroyed. [Accident] Ssj, p87
Ft. Lewis archives
Crum, p175
1-08-1892 Daily mixed train 2, with engine #15, hits a string of coal cars left on the main by a D&RG switcher near the San Juan smelter just west of Durango. The 15 is nearly destroyed. [Accident] Ssj, p87
1-28-1892 A local newspaper reports: "The passenger rate on the Rio Grande Southern is ten cents per mile on the whole length of the road. Otto Mears says he will extend the line to Cortez next year." Pagosa Spring Sun
2-01-1892 RGS railraod company takes control of the railroad from the construction company. Ssj, p82
5-01-1892 R.M. Ridgway leaves the RGS and W.D. Lee becomes superintendent. He was known as "Old Man Lee", firm but fair, who earned the respect of RGS men. Much of the credit for the successful day-to-day operation of the RGS goes to Lee. Ssj, p90
Summer 1892 RGS chief engineer C. W. Gibbs surveys the Enterprise branch above Rico. Ssj, p86
Summer 1892 With business booming and rail traffic heavy, the 30 lb rail between Vance Jct and Rico was wearing out. Otto decided to replace it with 57 lb rail, and used a new type of spike being produced in Chicago, called the Greer spike. The spikes for the 29 mile section cost $2774.91. Ssj, p86
8-16-1892 Silverton loco #100 is sent to Durango for maintenance on Aug 16th, and ends up int he Ridgway shop for a general overhaul, staying there until Jan 1893. RGS #7 was sent as a substitute, but it didn't last long, and was returned to the RGS on Sept 2nd. CRRM RGS files
Sep 9, 1892 The RGS purchases the following cars from the D&RG: 519, 568, 1043, 1610, 1628, 1656, 1757, 1765, 1776, 1777, 1795, 1836, 1888, 3177, 3197, 3228, 3345, 3353, 3365, 3366, 3390, 3431, 3468, 7134, 7197 and 8077. Ft. Lewis archives
Oct 1892 Otto tells shareholders that a line from Mancos to Prescott Jct (Seligman) had been surveyed, to connect w/the Santa Fe [Dreams] AmNG, p360
Oct 1892 Red Rock spur constructed to serve a quarry between Rico and Dolores. Ssj, p86
Oct 1892 Otto tells stockholders that a survey had been completed by Thomas Wigglesworth from Mancos to Prescott Jct (later Seligman) to meet the Prescott & Arizona Central and the Santa-Fe-controlled Altanta & Pacific railroads. However, this branch was never built. [Dreams] Ssj, p87
10-15-1892 Contractor Levy & Moore Railroad Contractors finish the Enterprise branch and turn it over to the RGS. It was 4.79 miles long, with 5% grades and five switchbacks. Local mine owners paid for its construction. Ssj, p86
Nov 1892 The 1.87 mi branch from Ute Jct (near Hesperus) to the Ute Coal and Coke company is constructed. This branch was on a 4% grade for its entire length. It also featured a turntable at its end. Ssj, p87
1-09-1893 RGS 4-4-0 #36 leaves Ridgway with William Henry Jackson, whom Otto had hired to photograph the railroad for future advertising. Many historic and famous photographs were made on this trip. When #36 broke down near Trout Lake, #9 was pulled from helper service to return the train to Ridgway. A very famous shot of #9 and the Rico was shot with Lizard Head peak in the background on this day.

Other shots from this area, and perhaps from this day: p1   p2   p3  

And a few others, similar location but different dates & equipment: p4   p5   p6   p7   p8   p9.
Ssj, p86
1-13-1893 Otto projects another branch from Mancos or Dolores into SE Utah to serve a new goldfield along the lower San Juan river. The goldstrike proved a hoax started by the huge Pittsburg Cattle Co, which was trying to keep the Ute Indians from being relocated to se Utah. The line was never built. [Dreams] Ssj, p87
6-30-1893 President Cleveland calls a special session of Congress to consider repealing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act as over-production of silver continues to cause silver prices to drop and the gold standard to weaken. The panic from the falling price of silver lasts 10 months. Almost overnight, hundreds of mines shut down, followed by the merchants and banks which depended on them. Nationwide, the number of failures is 3x worse than during the 1873 panic. [Milestone] Ssj, p88
Summer 1893 When a couple of Dolores miners get drunk and one of them gets jailed in Rico (the jail was near the RGS yards), the other inventingly ties a wrecking cable to the jail's bars and loops the other end around a nearby switcher. When the switcher started up, the entire jail flipped over and the men returned to Dolores. [Milestone] Ssj, p88
Summer 1893 Traffic levels fall more than 50% almost overnight. [Milestone] Ssj, p88
Summer 1893 The above-average pay for most RGS employees is reduced. [Milestone] Ssj, p88
July 1893 RGS 0-6-0 #14 ("The Goat) is used for the last time. Many other locomotives go into storage. Ssj, p88
July 1893 Recevier E.T. Jeffery (no relation to the alien movie star!) makes an inspection tour over the RGS, and reports that business affairs are in very bad shape - freight business in Telluride fell 25%, passenger 30% compared to the previous year. He also paid out the overdue August wages. Ssj, p89
8-02-1893 Ed Jeffery (of the D&RG) is app't receiver as the RGS requests a voluntary receivership. Otto has lost control of his beloved RGS. [Milestone] Ssj, p88
8-08-1893 RGS 4-4-0 #36 is used for the last time. Ssj, p88
8-10-1893 A general salary reduction is made. Ssj, p88
10-31-1893 The Sherman Silver Act is repealed, after 61 days of debate. This government ceased silver purchases on this day as well. The country is now firmly on the gold standard. Ssj, p88
1893 Fritz Klinke writes "Another myth about the RGS is that Mears went bankrupt and lost the railroad to creditors after the 1893 silver panic. I recently (Oct 2004) had access to the RGS corporate minute book that covers the first meeting of the board of directors to the last, where it was voted to dissolve the corporation and disburse the cash assets. Otto was a lot smarter than many give him credit for and he quit while there was still a fair amount of cash in the bank. Most of the minutes are signed by Mears--a rare find safe and secure and unresearched and unpublished." The minutes from that last meeting that will serve to upset much that has been written about the fortunes of the RGS. So, don't believe everything that you read." Fritz Klinke
11-15-1893 Jeffery finally finds the cash to pay the June and July wages; he sends W.D. Lee out on a regular passenger run to make the payments. Normally wages were paid from a special 'pay train', but the faultering RGS couldn't afford the exta train this time. Ssj, p89
1894 This year sees some increase in earnings and traffic, showing that the worst of the silver crash was over. However, the railroad never regained the amazing profits of its first years. Ssj, p89
Fall 1894 Red Rock spur, serving a quarry between Rico and Dolores, is abandoned. Ssj, p87
1895 The economy of the San Juans continues to improve, and the RGS finds more non-mining traffic available in stock shipments and lumber. This year the RGS showed a surplus of more than $66,000. [Money] Ssj, p89
1895 The worn 30-pound rail between Durango and Hesperus is replaced with 45-pound rail. Ssj, p89
1895 A new depot is constructed in Mancos. Ssj, p89
1895 William Henry Jackson makes another photographic tour of the RGS, using RGS #1, the "Rico" and the D&RG's "K". Ssj, p99
1895 The original caboose W404, purchased from the Rio Grande Western, is taken out of service and presumably scrapped. Sometime later, a new W404 was built by the RGS, on a flatcar frame. It ended up the best of the RGS cabooses, and was considered the cadillac of cabooses on the RGS. Herb Kelsey
June 1895 The narrow gauge Santa Fe Southern line, which ran from Espanola, CO to Santa Fe, NM is auctioned off. It's purchased by the trust company who held much of the railroad's First Mortgage bonds ($538,000), arguably to protect their investment. However, the man who completed the transaction was also part of the D&RG's law firm, and the railroad was immediately re-organized with E.T. Jeffery as its president. Jeffery then used 273 RGS First Mortgage bonds to purchase the railroad's entire stock. The line became the D&RG's "Chili Line". [Money] Ssj, p89
12-01-1895 After arranging help early in 1895 from the D&RG in the form of a $169,839 advance and endorsement of $573,498 in outstanding RGS loans, and receiving $868,000 of the RGS's First Mortgage bonds and half its capital stock in return, the receivership ends and E.T. Jeffery is becomes the RGS's new president. This arrangement assured D&RG control of the RGS, although its ownership never exceeded 70%, and thus the RGS retained its own corporate identity and was operated independent of the D&RG. [Milestone] Ssj, p89
1896 W.D. Lee becomes general superintendent of the RGS. Ssj, p90
Dec 1896 After being used only once, in Jan 1893, rotary #1 is demmed unnecessary, and sold to the Kaslo & Slocan Railway of British Columbia, Canada. In later years, it became part of the Canadian Pacific and was converted to standard gauge. Ssj, p90,263
Rgs v12, p303-306
July 1896 Superintendent W.D. Lee leaves the RGS for the D&RG. Ssj, p90
2-18-1897 The Hope-Cross slide runs near milepost 63, knocking out two sections the trestle north of Rico. The 7 pm passenger train from Ridgway finally reaches the trestle about 2 am; its passengers were brought into town by Frank Hall's sleds. [Snow] Ssj, p90
2-19-1897 The train stranded north of Rico is hit when another snow slide runs. Ssj, p90
2-20-1897 The Ophir depot is destroyed by a slide, which also swept 4 freight cars into the gulch; one could not be found. Three people were trapped inside, but all survived. The depot had been built on the 'high line'; it was rebuilt inside the loop closer to the town proper. There are more details in this newspaper article, from the Telluride Daily Journal of Feb 20th. I understand a new home has been built in this location recently - buyer beware! [Snow] Ssj, p90,264,360 Daily Journal, 2-20-1897
10-13-1897 A local newspaper includes this note about a new depot at Vance Jct: "The Rio Grande Southern has put a crew of carpenters at work on the erection of a depot and eating house at Vance Junction. The new building will be 40x70 and two stories in height. The need for this improvement has been manifest for a long time and the traveling public has been much inconvenienced by its want." Daily Journal Telluride
1898 Service on the branch from Ute Jct (near Hesperus) to the Ute Coal and Coke company is discontinued. Ssj, p87
1898 Pierre and Marie Curie send a representive to Placerville to obtain carnotite (a possible uranium vanadate ore) and have it shipped to Paris. The two sacks were lost enroute. Ssj, p139
2-5-1898 Working it's way south from Mancos, Rotary #2 proceeded all the way to Alamosa and then Salida, and finally back to Ridgway. It traversed the entire narrow gauge circle, probably the only in its life this occured. Parts of the RGS were blocked until it returned. W. George Cook
3-15-1898 L. L. Malone, a foreman for the Ames section, is killed after falling from bridge 44-A (which is 60' high). It's unclear whether this was an accident, or whether he was thrown from the bridge. Some say he merely stepped aside to let a train pass, became dizzy, and fell into the canyon below. Other claim the man was thrown off the bridge. This newspaper article has what few details were known at the time. [Fatality] Daily Journal, 3-15-1898
7-5-1898 A train robbery near MP 88, at the Stoner Creek tank, causes the line to be blocked for short time. Details were reported in this article, which notes that four masked men held up the train at about 11am, getting $80 in cash, a gold watch, and a Winchester rifle. One lady on the train later reported that she had a $1000 in cash, but promptly stuffed it into her stocking when the robbery occurred. One thief told another not to disturb the women, and they weren't. A Catholic priest was robbed of $4, but the thieves gave half of it back to him. The fireman was wounded when he was shot at, for failing to put his hands up (he didn't the order he was taking water at the tank). W. George Cook
Daily Journal, 7-5-1898
7-7-1898 Washouts occur between Hesperus and Durango, blocking the line for nearly a week. [Floods] W. George Cook
7-22-1898 Just a short time after the washouts from earlier this month were repaired, a high-running Lightner Creek destroys 100' of the line, temporarily closing it again. [Floods] W. George Cook
1899 Dolores agent F.E. Peake consigns a carload of uranium vanadate ore to France. Ssj, p139
2-3-1899 Slides near Lizard Head shut the line down temporarily. [Snow] W. George Cook
2-17-1899 D&RG indicated they wanted Rotary #2 to run entire NG circle; it left 2-22 for Cumbres Pass and returned (???). [Snow] W. George Cook

1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s Post 1953

© Steven Haworth 2024. All rights reserved