With restoration work on the two stocks cars completed the focus of DRHS volunteers’ efforts switched to the two D&RGW reefers, #39 and #54. #54 is simpler to deal with. It needs only slight attention to roof and sheathing and then will be moved to Silverton for much needed storage. The other car, #39, will eventually undergo a full restoration.

Both cars came to us stripped of all fittings below the car body and though quite a lot of parts are common to other D&RGW freight cars of that period, 30 foot reefer trucks are unique. All the cars in this series, built in 1908, were equipped with 4’8”, 20 ton archbar track with inside brakes – they were placed inside the frames close to the springs to prevent water from the ice bunkers dripping on the brakes and freezing. These trucks are very rare and so the problem was finding something suitable. Despite an extensive search we found nothing that even came close and decided that the only answer was to build them ourselves.

Dennis D’Alessandro took on the task of building a pair of historically correct trucks using original parts wherever he could and fabricating the rest.

Previously board members Duane Danielson and Dennis A’Alessandro made a special trip to Kansas in January ’15 and obtained several main structural & rolling components: wheel and axle sets, journal boxes, and truck bolsters. The the proper length arch, top, and bottom bars for the trucks (4’ 8” wheelbase instead of 3’ 7” for other freight cars) were fabricated. We procured two new needle beams and we’re fabricating new truss rods out of steel rather than wrought iron, which isn’t readily available.

Reefer 54 still had its striker plates that had been overlooked during the scrapping process. They were removed and prepared for installing on Reefer 39. These are unique to the 30’ reefers and are quite rare. The four inch thick buffer block behind the striker was missing on Reefer 39 and not in usable condition on Reefer 54, so new oak blocks were fabricated.


Reefer # 39 has been stored at Holt Sheet Metal over the winter with a large tarp over the top of the car for protection, since we found that the roof must be replaced because of severe rusting around the ice hatches.
Our goal this year has been to put the trucks, bolsters, and truss rods back in place to the car can be moved without having to hire large cranes to lift it on a flatbed truck hauler. Also on the list is to put a new roof on the car and repair the siding. With that in mind, our objective so far has been securing all the parts necessary to accomplish this task. Dennis D’Alessandro has built the correct size truck frames for the wheelsets, which were given to us by the San Juan County Historical Society. In the next two weeks we will start assembling the trucks back together and we will have an exact copy of D &RGW narrow gauge reefer trucks.

We found a bottom reefer bolster, which is extremely rare, complete with spacers on the side of the Ames Slide over on the RGS and together with the top bolster that is still in place under the car, we will install them after we have four more side spacers for the bolster fabricated and two center spacers custom made. Hopefully this will all be in place by July or August so that we can begin installing the trucks under the car and placing the truss rods under the car that we had custom built in place.

D&RGW Reefer 39 at Holts Metal in Durango.
D&RGW Reefer 39 at Holts Metal in Durango.

Sometime this summer San Juan Timberwrights will come on site and replace the rotten or broken pieces of car siding. Finally, in October Holt Sheet Metal has been contracted to put a new Murphy tin roof on the car. We will have to fabricate new ice hatches to make the car secure from the elements. Still missing on our search for parts on the reefer are ice hatch hinges and the latches that keep the doors open for air flow during transit. Anyone out there know of a source for us?

Duane Danielson, Project leader.

D&RGW Freight Cars

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.