If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Ridgway in mid-spring through early fall, you can check out a tour of the railroad yards and even take a ride on one of the narrow gauge trains on Saturdays. The community provides knowledgeable volunteers with an extensive background in the train industry.
Very few people realize it, but the reason Ridgway was built in the first place was to be a central location and railyard for the big railroad companies that traversed the area. Both the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and the Rio Grande Southern Railroad converged here and so it became the obvious spot to create the Ridgway Railroad Depot. The railroad systems spread out throughout the ‘San Juan Skyway’ and further with the two main segments traversing the distance between Ridgway to Telluride and Durango and from Montrose, passing through Ridgway to the town of Ouray.
As with just about everything in the ‘Skyway’ area, the motivation for having them built in the area was because of both silver and gold. Precious medals were discovered in the San Juan Mountains about the time of the civil war but it wasn’t until the 1880’s that the gold and silver rushes began in earnest. There was so much precious metal that was pulled out of the various mining camps throughout the area and it all had to be transported out of the region. Narrow gauge railroads were the obvious answer at the time as they were strong and powerful and their width between wheels (3′) was narrow enough to deal with the narrow gorges that winded their way up riverbeds and over mountain passes on the way to the mining camps.
Shortly after this lucrative industry was started however it had just as quickly run out of steam when the pricing of the pr 222ecious metals took a giant nose dive in the early 1890’s. This left a perfectly constructed railroad network in the region with no ore to haul. That is when the rail lines shifted to carry passengers back and forth as well as agricultural cargo and livestock. The margins were of course quite different and the big engines at that point were an ‘overkill’ so a cheaper, lighter and more efficient type of engine was designed to travel on the same tracks. These new passenger trains became known as the ‘Galloping Goose network’ and seven of them were constructed and put into operation. Not only did they haul passengers and agricultural goods but they also carried the mail to the outreaches of its network.
Today the ‘Galloping Goose’ fleet is no longer in operation, but you can learn a tremendous amount about them when you visit the Ridgway Train Depot on Saturdays. Not only can you visit and walk through the restored rail cars and caboose but you can spend all the time you want wandering through the museums on property with classic photos cataloguing this bygone era. You can also catch a ride of about 5 minutes in length and actually ride the tracks on whatever vehicle they have available for you on that day. The day we rode they were offering rides on one of the Galloping Geese mail delivery vehicles and also on what was at the time, the depot manager’s specially transformed Model T which was adapted to ride on the narrow gauge itself. Each Saturday is a bit different but you are welcome to come for free and enjoy the fun, as well as have an educational experience. And don’t forget, kids love the train.