The Railway That Goes the Wrong Way, Published 22 February 1937You and I, who have been riding something like a hundred miles an hour most of the night, and have climbed to a mile altitude in doing so, are just about to leave the Burlington Zephyr and grab the Rio Grande, the railway that goes through the Rockies, not around them. All right then, let's go.
Showing no apparent effects from its 1,034-mile, dark-to-dawn run, the long silver Zephyr stood noiselessly in Denver station, just as if it had not moved all night. But now it was my turn to do a little moving, which I did pronto behind a red cap who rushed my carpet bags upstairs and down over to the Second No. 1 of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. You might as well get properly acquainted with the Rio Grande, for we're going to be with it for three days anyway. I was just about to climb aboard the one coach on the train, when up stepped a man, verified from my own lips that I was Cross, and announced he was J. E. Kemp, trainmaster of the Rio Grande at Denver, and that furthermore, he was going to accompany me as far as Pueblo, 120 miles down the line. I was delighted. Perhaps you recall that I told you, while still riding the Rock Island, that a Mr. Shields approached me in the solarium car. apologized that he had overheard what I was saying about the Rio Grande, and that since he was the vice-president of the line, he would like to help me. I told him I'd accept all help with unbelievable alacrity. The result of this was the immediate despatch of a whole sheaf of telegrams from Atlantic, Iowa. Then Mr. Shields shook hands and went to bed. Mr. Kemp therefore was the first tangible result from those yellow papers. You will find, my pupils, that from now on, I was to be met at every conceivable point by D. & R.G. officials. No Oriental potentate could have moved over a railway better attended to than I did, thanks to Mr. Shields, and with a bow too, to H. I. Scofleld, general manager. Thus you will pick up, from now on, a fresh change of faces every divisional point as we move over the Rio's rails.
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My trip on this line was to take me to Salt Lake City, and on to Ogden, Utah, through the Royal Gorge and over the Marshall Pass, more than two miles in the air, and through, over and under a good many other scenic ecstasies as well, but before I go any further. I want to say a word about the Rio Grande. The word Rio is pronounced almost universally by the railways on that line as RYE-O. but the correct pronunciation is supposed to be REE-O. The Rio Grande is most like the Canadian Pacific of all transcontinental railways on this continent in that it goes through the Rockies amid scenes of astounding grandeur, and fighting Nature every inch of the way. Other railways in the United States manage mainly to go around the Rockies, but the Rio Grande goes right through them, hence the slogan: Through the Rockies; not around them.
To begin with, the Rio Grande does a funny thing. In starting off to reach Salt Lake City it begins by going 120 miles in the wrong direction. Thus it runs due south, and perhaps a little east, on its way to Salt Lake City which is some north and away west. Therefore, after travelling about three hours, you are still farther from Salt Lake City, absurd as it may seem, 120 miles down the line, than you were when you began. The last couple of years of course, the Rio Grande has developed an optional route through the Moffat Tunnel, and that is a great story in itself, the possibilities of which I shall. barely scratch.
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Knowing the Rio Grande starts off for Salt Lake the wrong way, and realizing that its grades were, according to other comparisons, absurdly abrupt, the late Mr. Moffat of Denver conceived the idea of a giant tunnel through the Rockies, hitting out for Salt Lake as the crow flies, and when the bonds for the rock blasting were floated, it was confidently predicted that the day the Moffat Tunnel was through, the Rio Grande would be too.
The smart men said, and I remember them saying it while I was out there before back in 1925 when the work had been abandoned for some time, that the Rio Grande would be so much scrap when the Moffat Tunnel of the Denver and Salt Lake got through. Moffat himself lost a fortune in the business, if you are interested in the pay-off, and more than one Denver citizen went to the cleaners over the Moffat route. However, just as Beauharnois ended up in the enemy camp, so did the Moffat Tunnel finally come into the hands of the rival the big bore was to exterminate, namely, the Rio Grande.
When the tunnel was finished, the railway would still go nowhere, the era of building railroads was over forever, and the Denver and Salt Lake had as much chance of getting to Salt Lake as I would have standing in the middle of the street and thumbing a ride from a passing plane. The D. & S.L. just ended up no place, except continuously in the red.
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Now we shall jump from a mile or two high in Colorado to my own desk. I was sitting beside a typewriter one Saturday afternoon, with the radio turned on, when suddenly, I heard a train bell. It so happens that I never knew of a train to come down St. James Street in all my life, and concluded consequently, there must be a radio drama starting to come in over the radio. I rushed over to the noise box, and was about to shut it off and see what the Goldstein Hill Billies had to say, when to my amazement I found it was a real broadcast, from a place called Dotsero, Colorado. That very afternoon, they were linking up the Moffat Tunnel with the Rio Grande at Dotsero, Dotsero is Orestod, the end of the D. & S.L. spelled backwards. So, instead of the rival line becoming streaks of rust, it was preventing its inept opposition from doing the same, and a few days afterwards, the Panoramic Limited started going through the Moffat route and saving over seven hours on the old run via Pueblo.
I therefore could have gone via the Moffat, but I was not particularly interested this trip in that stunt, for reasons which will soon become apparent. However, I want to leave the Moffat with one last note. They tell me engineer and fireman wear gas masks going through the tunnel, to prevent possible asphyxiation.
Well, I have only just got you started on the line that goes the wrong way, and I'll pick you up again in Colorado, and tell you why I think the mile-high state is like Mary Queen of Scots.