About a decade ago the Durango Railroad Historical Society had given up hope of finding a refrigerator car (reefer), especially a 30-ft version. Those that were known of were either in the hands of organizations and even those that had more than one were not prepared to sell. As far as we could tell there were no other survivors. How wrong we were.
Then in 2013, Tom Necchi, a Durango narrow gauge enthusiast, told DRHS board member Duane Danielson about his friend, Grant Houston, who had searched for reefers in the San Luis Valley with his father many years ago and met with success. Duane contacted Grant, who then gave him a list of numbers and locations and offered to help with the search.
So in October Grant led Duane and fellow DRHS member, Dennis D’Alessandro, on a tour of the same reefer sites that he and his father had discovered many years ago. They found seven reefer bodies with no trucks or undercarriages. Five were sitting on the ground,so their sills had rotted away. Nearly all had deteriorated from lack of paint and other maintenance. However, two reefer bodies were gems although they too had been stripped of trucks and draft gear. Ron Pleasant and Steve Meyer of Pleasant Western Lumber Company in Monte Vista had them under a roof and on blocks as part of a building for 57 years. Only one side of each car was weathered; they formed the two outside walls of a storage building.
In a special effort Duane initiated and completed a special funding campaign that raised the funds to purchase the two reefers and move them to Durango. It was successful enough even to purchase some parts for the undercarriage.
We bought the cars in April 2015 and transported them to Durango. Reefer 54 was then transported to Silverton and placed beside the Silverton Northern engine house in Silverton where the body will be restored and the car used to store parts and supplies. Meanwhile work on 39’s undercarriage and trucks is underway and we have appleid for a State Historic Fund grant to fund the resmained of the restoration.
Text and Photos by Duane Danielson.
DRHS Board member Duane Danielson recently gave a lecture on the history of refrigeration and the railroads use of reefers to bring fresh food to more remote part of the United States. The D&RGW was no exception both on the narrow and standard gauges. Duane went in search of a surviving narrow gauge reefer for the DRHS to buy and restore. It formed part of the DRHS’s commitment to preserve as many different types of D&RGW freight and work cars that were once common sights on the railroads in South West Colorado. He found two suitable cars, one of which, #39, has been fully restored and is now on display in Silverton
The presentation was recorded and can be seen on YouTube HERE
In the spring of 2015 we purchased two D&RGW refrigerator (reefer) car bodies in relatively sound condition because they were on blocks and under a building roof. We decided to restore Reefer 39 and to use the body of Reefer 54 for use as storage unit next to the Silverton Northern (SN) Engine House between it and our SN track west of the D&S Shenandoah Loop.
First, we had to prepare a path and resting location for the reefer body on the easterly side of the engine house. Many volunteers helped remove many piles of rail and track materials. Bill Alsup of Silverton brought his 20-ton crane to move heavy mining artifacts. Gene Lincoln brought his tractor from Delta to remove a fence post after the fence was cut and to move many smaller but still heavy rail frogs and guard rails. We hired a local contractor to build a short driveway ramp from 8th Street to ground level along the engine house.
With the tight space beside the engine house and the limited reach of Alsup’s crane for the 7-ton reefer body, we had lift the body off the trailer and place it short of its permanent location. We placed it on thick planks laid across the tops of a pair of 75# rails so we could slide it forward its permanent location. It will this rest on permanent ties near the front of the engine house. We plan to complete this move in early June 2016.
September 30, 2015. Bill Alsup lifts reefer body off trailer after Nipper Alsup and Dave Taylor position straps and spreader bars. Judy Schleuter
Durango Railroad Historical Society is comprised of a dedicated group of individuals who are united by their interest in narrow gauge railroading and focus on the preservation of southwest Colorado’s railroad history.
The Durango Railroad Historical Society is a non-profit corporation in Colorado and is a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.