The Galloping Goose Story
The “Galloping Goose” (misnomer – should be “Geese”) initially was spawned (1890-91) from the ups and downs of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS also referred to as “The Southern”). Conceived and built by the amazing “Pathfinder of the San Juans,” Otto Mears, the 160-mile, narrow-gauge railroad ran from Ridgway north to Durango and through the towns of Telluride, Rico, Dolores and Mancos. The RGS (1891-1951) was built to transport immense amounts of silver and gold being produced by the mining communities of Rico, Ophir and Telluride. In addition, the RGS hauled passengers in and out of these areas, but revenues came mainly from hauling precious metals. On both ends of the railroad, there were interchanges with The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG), later known as the Denver and Rio Grande Western.
Repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused the Silver Panic of 1893 and plummeting and silver prices. Many silver mines were closed. Thousands of miners and other people left Colorado’s mining regions. The RGS slipped into receivership and barely survived. Over the next 36 years the RGS hauled freight and passengers until the stock market crashed in 1929. Even afterwards the RGS provided transportation for small amounts of freight, a few passengers and, most importantly, the U.S. Mail. But the RGS couldn’t afford to operate a steam locomotive to ship U.S. Mail. The end of the RGS loomed in 1931 until its Chief Mechanic, Jack Odenbaugh, working in Southern’s Ridgway shop, devised an ingenious way to construct seven homemade “railcars” that were cheap to build and operate. The official names given to them by RGS were “Motors”.
Later these unusual railcars would be unofficially named “Galloping Geese” for various reasons: how they looked, with a silver-painted body, operated, and sounded as they kind of waddled down poorly maintained, uneven RGS tracks. In addition, hood covers looked like goose wings when opened up to prevent motors from overheating. The clincher for the Goose moniker was its horn sounding somewhat like a honking goose. The first Goose (RGS Motor #1) was built from a recycled Buick body, frame, and engine. Motor #2 had a larger and enclosed freight compartment (a requirement to haul U.S. mail).
Motors #3 through #5 and #7 were built from 1928 Pierce-Arrow limousine bodies but with freight compartments the size of a boxcar. These were rebuilt in 1946/47, using World War II surplus GMC gasoline truck engines and a Wayne Corporation bus body. In 1950, the freight/mail compartment was converted to carry 20 additional passengers for sightseeing trips, with a one-man crew and operating on gasoline rather than steam. Motor #6 was made from a Buick as well but designed to service maintenance needs from a flatbed attached behind the cab. Later on, Motors #3 through #5 received replacement Wayne Buss bodies. These Motor cars handled daily services until 1940 when the RGS finally could afford to run regular freight trains. Even after that, however, the Geese completely replaced passenger trains.
The RGS deserves a great deal of credit for operating throughout the Great Depression, World War II and all the way to abandonment in 1952, using steam engine powered trains as needed for hauling heavy freight and livestock shipments. After 1933, the only choice for RGS passengers traveling through southwestern Colorado by rail became the waddling, honking Galloping Goose. Thrilling stories were told about an unheated Goose “flying” over the top of Lizard Head Pass in a blinding blizzard.
In 2000 a replica was built of Goose #1 that replaced the passenger steam train between Dolores and Durango scrapped in 1933. This replica is displayed at the Ridgway Railroad Museum and is operational. Today Goose #2 is preserved at the Colorado Railroad Museum and also is operational. At the Rio Grande Southern closure, Goose #3 was sold to Knotts Berry Farm amusement park in California where she runs occasionally. Goose #4, almost the same as Goose #3, is the only non- operational Goose among those who survived. She is displayed in the city of Telluride. Goose #6 and #7 also are preserved at the amazing Colorado Railroad Museum.
In 1952, members of the Dolores Rotary Club purchased Goose #5 from the court-appointed receiver for $250. It was then put on display in Flanders Park in Dolores as a reminder of the town’s railroad heritage. The Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores was founded in 1987. The Society has built a replica of the original RGS Dolores depot. Today the building contains the Society’s railroad museum and a gift shop. The Society has completely restored Galloping Goose #5 to operating condition. Goose #5 has become a very popular attraction operating on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSRR), a narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates on 64 miles of track between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico.