Otto Mears built three railroads out of Silverton, Colorado, in the late nineteenth century. Because of grades impossible to negotiate, he built the Rio Grande Southern as a connecting route. He didn’t have much luck. He finished the RGS just about the same time as the US went from the silver standard to the gold standard in 1893, which devalued silver and busted many of the silver mines in southern Colorado. Though the early part of the twentieth century, the mining industry for which the RGS was built to serve was all but dead.
Since there were few paved roads in the area served by the RGS, the railroad fulfilled the purpose of connecting the small towns along the line with the outside world through mail delivery, small amounts of freight, and a few passengers. But, the RGS did have the mail contract so highly sought after by railroads.
The contact with the Post Office mandated that a daily train be run to maintain the contract. In essence, the mail contract was all that was keeping the railroad alive, but, running the daily train necessitated a crew of five men. Locomotive maintenance and crew costs were more than the railroad could bear.
The superintendent of the Ridgeway Shops of the RGS conceived the idea of converting an old automobile into a sort of a railbus. Scratch built by the RGS shops from a Pierce-Arrow body and frame, “Motor Number 1” was born. The concept was workable, but “Number 1” didn’t last long. It was disassembled and used as parts for what became Motor Number 2. Between 1931 and 1936 another five were built and the six motors ran on the RGS, acquiring different bodies and numerous modifications, until the railroad was abandoned in 1951. They were dubbed “Galloping Geese” by locals along the line because of their waddling gait down the track and their automobile horn honking for grade crossings.
Goose 2 was built in 1931 at Ridgeway, using a Pierce-Arrow Model 80 Body and a Buick 6-cylinder engine. It replaced the Ridgeway-Telluride mixed train in August, 1931, and was later used on the Durango-Dolores run to connect with the D&RGW’s San Juan Express. It was retired in 1942, and was purchased by museum founder Bob Richardson in 1951. Of the six geese that ran on the RGS, the Colorado Railroad Museum has three. Our three geese are now operational, and run on our museum loop track from time to time during special steam-up events
Goose six was built in 1934 at Ridgeway from a Pierce Arrow model 36 and has a Pierce Arrow 6-cylinder engine. It is the work goose, and was used by Maintenance-Of-Way crews and as a switcher in Dolores. A Chevy six replaced the Pierce Arrow motor in the early fifties. The museum bought the goose in 1984 and installed a Chevy 1957 six-cylinder engine in it in 1988.
Goose number seven was built in 1936 out of a Pierce Arrow 80 frame and body and had a Ford V8 installed. In 1946 that engine was replaced with a GM 6-cylinder truck engine. In 1950, the freight body was converted to a passenger cab using Denver tramway streetcar seats. The museum bought number 7 in 1984 and installed a 1956 Chevy 6-cylinder truck engine in it.
Notice the “Defense Supplies” decal on the door of Goose number 2. The RGS went broke during the depression as it had very little business. However, mines around Rico turned out pitchblend – uranium ore, which was refined in Durango. The RGS, in receivership, turned to the Federal Government, which bought the goose and equipment, and leased it back to the Rio Grande Southern.
The use of the uranium derived from the pitchblend, and the World War 2 Manhattan Project, which was developing the atomic bomb, were classified at the highest level. Even then VICE President Harry Truman didn’t know about this. While he was investigating government spending and raised questions, he was politely told by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, “That’s on a need-to-know basis, and you don’t need to know.”