Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Developing the Concept - A History of the SPV and it's Neighbors

In my first post, I described the path that led me to freelancing a narrow gauge line - or rather, a network of narrow gauge lines - in southeastern Utah.  Today I'll expound a little on the railroads that became part of that concept.

It's very important to me for my fictional railroads to be as believable as possible, and to that end I've found it useful to develop a history of the lines which intermingles with reality here and there.  Before moving on to that let's take a brief look at the setting - the Four Corners region of Utah and Arizona.

Above you can see the "main characters" in my cast - the San Pablo Valley RR, the Utah Arizona & Pacific RR, the Castle Valley & La Sal Ry., and the Paradox & La Sal RR.  As many probably know, this is a spectacular region of the country, full of widely varying landscapes.  But no railroad served these specific areas until the construction of a D&RGW branch in 1963 to serve a potash mine near Moab.  I decided to change that bit of history somewhat significantly.

It's pretty well known to fans of western rail history that when he started the Denver & Rio Grande, General Palmer's goal was to create a north-south transcontinental route linking Denver and Mexico City via El Paso.  This, of course, never came to fruition.  Setbacks, largely to do with a protracted battle with the Santa Fe system, resulted in the D&RG never making it south of its rival's namesake city.  Nevertheless, some other southward routes from Utah into Arizona were considered and even surveyed.  My San Pablo Valley RR picks up at that point where history left off.

General Palmer resigned as president of the D&RG in August 1883, but kept the same post at the Denver & Rio Grande Western Ry., the D&RG's sometimes-subsidiary, sometimes-enemy across the Utah border.  What my line presupposes is that the general kept his eye to the south for a few years longer, looking for a way to build his dream line into Mexico after the Royal Gorge War and subsequent Treaty of Boston ruled out the Santa Fe to El Paso route.

Meanwhile, as the Rio Grande mainline from Denver to Ogden crossed the Utah desert in the early 1880s, miners and investors in the territory's southern La Sal and Abajo Mountains saw an opportunity to tap the mineral and lumber resources there and connect them to markets, primarily in the capital cities of Utah and Colorado.  The D&RGW leadership became aware of these plans and provided significant assistance in financing the one they thought looked most promising.  This was the beginning of the San Pablo Valley RR, linking the La Sals with the Rio Grande mainline at Whitehouse via the canyon of the Colorado River and the San Pablo Valley.  (In actuality, the valley I've named San Pablo is called Spanish Valley, and is the location of Moab, UT).  This was completed by Christmas 1883.  Construction resumed in the spring of 1884 and the line was extended to Monticello by fall.  About the same time, the Rio Grande sent crews into northern Arizona to survey routes and raise money to build north towards the new SPV.  By the end of the year, the grandly-named Utah Arizona & Pacific was incorporated for this purpose, and construction began northwards from Esperanza, Arizona Territory, where a connection was made with a new AT&SF branch line.

In September 1885, the SPV and UA&P met near the San Juan River, where the railroad founded a town they named Rome.  By this point, General Palmer's hopes for a line to Mexico had finally faded for good, but the two 3' gauge lines served as a viable north-south bridge route, linking the transcontinental lines of the D&RG/D&RGW and AT&SF.  Several additional smaller lines were built in the years that followed, as mining boomed in the La Sal range.  First was the Castle Valley & La Sal, linking the SPV mainline in the Colorado River canyon with the new city of Castleton and the mines of the northern La Sals, built in 1887.  The next year, the Paradox & La Sal was built, connecting the SPV to Colorado's Paradox Valley.  Several lumbering lines were also constructed in the mountains to supply the growing towns along the new railroads.

In these early years, the railroads flourished.  The SPV and UA&P even jointly operated an opulent pair of express passenger trains to include Pullman service - the northbound train named the Ute, and the southbound the Navajo.  They also carried agricultural products, including significant annual livestock rushes, as well as the raw materials for which they were originally founded and the many products necessitated by the expanding population of the region.

In 1890, what originally appeared as a major windfall became an existential threat to the lines - the standard gauging of the Rio Grande mainline.  Due to their close corporate relationship, it was first speculated that the SPV/UA&P system would also widen its gauge, but this was not to be.  Rather, in order to assist in financing its transition, the larger railroad - now reorganized into the Rio Grande Western - sold most of its shares in the shortlines and left them to fend for themselves.  As the only route of commerce into the region, they survived, but were never again as profitable now that it was necessary for bridge traffic to change gauges twice - once at each end.

The SPV would eventually gain a few miles of track with 4' 8-1/2" between the rails.  With the continued success of mines in the region, a smelter was constructed on the outskirts of Moab in 1895, and its founders helped raise money to add a third rail between their facility and Whitehouse, so that processed materials could be loaded directly into standard gauge boxcars.  Again, rumors flew that the entire railroad would be standard gauged, and again they proved false - only the line's northernmost 40 miles were converted to dual gauge, although the SPV did acquire one new standard gauge engine to serve it.

#51, an 1895 Baldwin 4-4-0, the line's only standard gauge engine

And that's roughly where October 1907 finds the railroads - the UA&P is currently emerging from receivership to the SPV, which is doing reasonably well.  The CV&LS and P&LS are still profitable and keep their small rosters of second-hand engines in excellent condition.  The Ute and Navajo continue to run, although less frequently and with shorter consists.  The fall stock rush is in full swing.  Over the next few decades, much will change, and by midway through the century, all these rails will be torn up and few will remember that narrow gauge trains ever even ran here.  But for now, 3' gauge teakettles jacketed in Russia Iron proudly roam the mountains and desert of the American Southwest, and most people seem to think they always will.

SPV #20, an 1887 Baldwin 2-8-0 near Castleton, UT, circa 1907

Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting Started - Origins of a Concept

First of all, welcome to anyone who might be reading this!  I hope you'll enjoy following my modeling progress and general ramblings.  As you can gather from the blog's header, I'll be sharing my efforts to model a freelanced but hopefully plausible and realistic ("protolanced," in the parlance of our times) group of railroads set in the southeastern corner of Utah in the fall of 1907.

I thought I'd first recount a bit about the evolution of this concept and how I decided on this rather unusual setting for a model railroad.  It started, as many similar stories have, with a bout of narrow gauge fever.  As I recall, my case began with discovering the book "HO Narrow Gauge Railroad You Can Build," the soft-cover compilation of Model Railroader articles by Malcolm Furlow about the construction of the HOn3 San Juan Central.  I think this is where I first learned about narrow gauge and ever since it's always been the primary focus of my modeling interests.

As a kid, I spent lots of time drawing trackplans and coming up with ideas, none of which ever came close to reality.  It was one of the standard dilemmas model railroaders face - the insufficiency of either space, time, or money (or, of course, some combination).  At the time, it was the money that was the main issue - this is not a cheap hobby, especially for those wanting to shed 20-1/2" between the rails.  But it did give me lots of time to dream and read about the prototype.

Early on, I planned to freelance with a general Colorado narrow gauge theme, primarily influenced by the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the Rio Grande Southern.  But then one year I received "The Rainbow Route" for Christmas.  For those not familiar, it is Sloan and Skowronski's classic history of the short lines north of Silverton, CO, built or at least eventually controlled by Otto Mears, the "Pathfinder of the San Juans."  It dramatically and permanently changed my modeling interests in a couple ways.  First, I decided I no longer wanted to model the Depression era years favored by many narrow gaugers - I wanted to focus on the early days, when the railroads were new and prospering and their tiny locomotives were well-maintained and frequently cleaned and polished.  Second, I started to realize how many other narrow gauge short lines crisscrossed the Rockies, especially before World War I, and how little attention they had received from modelers.

So I started turning my trackplanning focus to modeling actual prototypes, and realistically at that.  At first, I wanted to model Otto Mears' first line, the Silverton RR.  Then I became increasingly enamored with the other Silverton lines, the Silverton Northern and Silverton Gladstone & Northerly.  The more prototypes I became interested in, the less attainable my goals were - small railroads though they were, there was no way to fit a realistic version of all 3 into any space available to me.

And so I started to turn towards "protolancing."  I came up with the idea to model a fictional 4th short line north from Silverton, and to call it the Silverton & San Pablo.  It would follow the imaginary Rio San Pablo (a tributary to the Animas) to a town of the same name and continue on to a mining district above, based on the Red Mountain and Guston areas on the Silverton RR.  I even came up with a fairly nice track plan to fit in a bedroom.  But by that point, college was impending and time became a limiting factor, so the S&SP, like many prototype would-have-been lines, was only ever a "paper railroad."

Through college, I maintained an underlying interest in the hobby but didn't really actively participate.  I did, however, continue to buy books on narrow gauge and one of those was the death blow to the Silverton & San Pablo concept - Dorman's excellent "The Chili Line and Santa Fe the City Different" instilled in me an interest in the D&RG's Santa Fe Branch.  This was particularly problematic as someone who wanted to model the Silverton area; it might be feasible to model some hybrid Mears short line in the San Juans, but combining that in a satisfying way with the dramatically different high desert and adobe buildings of New Mexico just didn't seem possible.

Fortunately, yet another book opened my eyes to a different possibility.  This one was "Utah Ghost Rails" by Stephen Carr and Robert Edwards.  Through it, I started to realize the vast number of small (and not so small) narrow gauge railroads that once ran all over the country and have been almost completely forgotten.  I'm sure there are dozens that no one has ever attempted to model!  This made me suspect it would be possible to "sneak" another one into that group - to invent a prototype that was so geographically remote and plausible that people might just assume it was one of the many obscure but real railroads they had never discovered.  And in that context, I could adopt whatever features I found appealing about any number of prototype railroads.  I also found in "Utah Ghost Rails" the canvas on which to invent this railroad: southeastern Utah - an area rich in spectacular geography and conspicuously devoid of any actual historical railroads.  Initially, I intended just to use the area as a blank slate on which to throw whatever topography and railroad influences I wanted - an Ophir-like loop here, a pseudo-Alpine Tunnel there - but the more I looked at the reality of the region, the more I realized I couldn't improve on it.  Here was a small corner of the country with deep river canyons, high alpine mountains, open sagebrush country, and red rock desert in almost unbelievably close proximity to each other.

This was where I wanted to lay my 3' gauge rails.