D&RGW Prospector and Royal Gorge

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This page was last updated on July 4, 2020.

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After 1953 the Royal Gorge (Trains 1 and 2) and Prospector (Trains 7 and 8) ran as a combined train from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, arriving just after midnight. After a 40 minute stop at Grand Junction, The Prospector then continued on to Denver by way of the Moffat Tunnel. Two hours later, The Royal Gorge departed for Denver by way of Tennessee Pass, Royal Gorge, Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

For motive power, by the mid 1960s, both trains were handled by F-units. The Alco passenger units were used on the Royal Gorge after they were removed from service on the California Zephyr.

The following was posted to Trainorders.com on November 23, 2007:

Trains 7&8 came into service November 17, 1941 with two Budd built 2 car mini streamliners. The first car contained the power plant and traction motors to move the train, a small baggage area, 44 seats, and men's and women's restroom. The second car contained men's and women's restrooms, eight sections, two chamberettes (small bedrooms with no bathroom), and a dinette lounge that had table seating for eight and lounge seating for four in the observation area. The cars on one train were the John Evans and David Moffat and on the other the Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Unfortunately the train was phenomenally popular and demand exceeded capacity. Also, the steep mountain grades of the Grande proved lethal to its machinery and many times it was brought into its destination by steam power. The train was discontinued on July 5, 1942.

In October 1945 the Prospector was resurrected using standard (heavyweight) equipment and usually ran with six or seven cars. In 1948 the Prospector became "Streamlined" and diesel powered. I put streamlined in quotations because it was using modernized heavyweight cars in the black with yellow stripes scheme which on passenger train is quite striking.

Pullman Standard streamlined lightweight cars built new for the train were delivered throughout 1950 and placed into service on the Prospector as they arrived. These cars were built in slots that had been purchased by the C&O which had placed the largest order of passenger cars in history. Realizing it had bit off a lot more than it could chew the C&O began selling the slots that many knew cars were to occupy on the Pullman assembly line to other railroads as the back log of orders for new equipment was so large that it was five years from time of order until new equipment arrived on the property. Rio Grande purchased 25 slots from the C&O, in other words 25 cars from Pullman that were to be built for C&O. The Rio Grande also purchased three domes from C&O outright and they occasionally found their way into the Prospector.

By the end of 1950 the Prospector was fully re-equipped and running on an overnight schedule between Denver and Salt Lake City. The 10-6 sleepers on the train presented a problem though as government per-diem would only pay for sections in sleeping cars but not roomettes. The Rio Grande sent their sleepers back to Pullman and had five roomettes at one end of the car converted into sections, giving the cars a 5-6-5 arrangement instead of their previous 10-6 (the roomettes split into two batches of five at either end with bedrooms in the middle unlike Budd cars that had bedrooms at one end and roomettes at the other.)

The train usually ran with five or six cars. There could have been a baggage up front though it wasn't certain, then the baggage crew dorm chair cars 1230 or 1231, next was a 52-seat chair car in the 1240-1247 series, sometimes a second 52-seat chair, next diner lounge 1280 or 1281 (these were named Mt. Timpanogos and James Peak respectively), then one or two of the 5-6-5 sleepers from the 1270-1273 series (1270 named John Evans, 1271 D. Moffat, 1272 B. Young, 1273 H.C. Kimball).

The Prospector was discontinued on May 28, 1967. Unlike other railroads that degraded service at the end the Prospector exited with head held high still as fine and stout a passenger train as any in the nation. It ran daily its entire lifetime complete with all service intact including sleeping cars and full service dining cars that served Rio Grande mainstays such as fresh Rocky Mountain Trout and Navy Bean Soup until the last run.

The Prospectors drumhead was a black on white drawing of a prospector leading a mule over some rocks.

The following was posted to Trainorders.com on November 23, 2007 by Robert Webber:

There were cars that were bought outright (the three chair-dome-observations built for the Chessie), cars that were built for the D&RGW within the C&O order slots, and then two cars bought from a Pere Marquette order.

The domes would only be found on The Prospectors west of Grand Junction, they continued east on the Royal Gorge (when in either train). They would RARELY be found east on the Moffat on the Prospector. They were also used on the Yampa Mail and occasionally on charters/tours from Denver to Glenwood Springs, Salt Lake City or Oakland on the CZ. Rarely were they on the CZ east of Denver.

The P-S cars had unique features (compared to most other cars of the day) due to Robert Young's (C&O CEO) somewhat strange (at the time) requests. He called sections "tenements" and the roomettes on the 10-6 (actually 5-6-5) were built with privacy and ease of use in mind. The cars with the kitchen in the middle were, in some ways a failure due to having the best ride reserved for the kitchen - and the worse ride for the paying customers in the lounge and/or dining sections. All of the lavatory facilities were of a new design where the user used foot pedals to initiate flushes, water into the sink, etc.

The elements in the design of the cars and the specifics as to the assignments and some consists can be found in a variety of the Prospector back issues, and also a publication from the C&OHS Second to None.

All three Budd domes are still in existence, one in a museum in Daytona Beach. Several cars are still at the ACR or the Potomac Eagle tourist train - the Royal Gorge is in PV service.

The following comes from Jim Eager, in an email dated February 17, 2005:

See Mike Davis's article "Prospector: The Judge's Train" in Colorado Rail Annual No.9.

The main reason that photos show such such varied consists was that the Prospector and Royal Gorge were combined west of Grand Junction, so photos of the train taken east of GJ would show a very different train from photos taken west of GJ. In your case (Soldier Summit) you need to focus on photos taken on the west end.

In 1953 The Prospector was an all-lightweight train when it left Denver, with only one of the baggage-coach combines ahead of the streamlined Pullman coaches, diner-lounge, and 5-5-6 sleepers. But at Grand Junction the lightweight baggage, RPO, sleepers and the dome-obs off the Royal Gorge could be added to the consist, along with extra power. In the peak summer tourist and Christmas holiday periods there could be extra cars, including extra head end cars, coaches, and heavyweight Pullmans, so when you are modeling will affect the train's consist.

Earlier Trains

July 17, 1934
The Panoramic (Train 5 and 6) was created between Denver and Salt Lake City right after the Moffat tunnel was completed. This was a daytime-only train.

June 11, 1939
The Exposition Flyer was created to run during the daytime, for passenger traffic between the Golden Gate Exposition and the New York Fair.

Fall 1939
The Panoramic was made into a night train and combined with the Mountaineer (Train 19 and 20) between Grand Junction and Denver.

The Prospector

Trains 7 and 8

(See "Prospector, The Judge's Train," by Michael B. Davis in Coloroado Rail Annual, published in 1971 and reprinted in 1999; 48 pages of history, photos and information about this train.)

Two-Car Train Sets (1941-1942)

November 17, 1941
A two car light-weight overnight train was introduced as the Prospector (Train 7 and 8). President "Judge" McCarthy, personally named the new train "Prospector" after a carving of a miner and his burro that belonged to him. The new train and Budd-built equipment had difficulties getting started with the beginning of World War II as well as not standing up to the tough operating conditions in the Rockies.

July 5, 1942
The two two-car Prospector trains were removed from service after just nine months of service.

Interim Trains (1944-1945)

January 16, 1944
The Advanced Exposition Flyer (Train 8, eastbound only) was created as a night train between Denver and Salt Lake City. The cars came back as Train 5, the Panoramic.

May 13, 1945
A westbound Advanced Exposition Flyer (Train 7) was created. It left one hour earlier than the eastbound Train 5, The Panoramic, and arrived 10 minutes ahead of it at Salt Lake City.

Heavyweight Cars (1945-1949)

October 1, 1945
The Advanced Exposition Flyer (Train 7 and 8) was renamed Prospector and given a new timetable between Denver and Salt Lake City. Typical consist included five heavyweight passenger cars, including two Pullman sleepers, a diner, a coach, and an observation-lounge.

October 27, 1945
The following comes from the October 27, 1945 issue of Railway Age magazine:

Rio Grande Quickens Passenger Schedules -- The Denver & Rio Grande Western, on October 14, established new daily passenger train service in each direction between Denver, Colo., and Salt Lake City, Utah, via the Moffat tunnel route, on a schedule of 15-1/3-hr., westbound and 15-1/2-hr. eastbound, a reduction of 1-1/2-hr. as compared with the fastest previous westbound schedules and 1-1/3-hr. less than previous eastward schedules.

The new trains, No. 7 and 8, are known as the "Prospectors" and carry standard sleepers, a full-length lounge car, diner and coaches. In addition, the westward "Prospector" handles a tourist sleeper from Denver to Oakland, Cal., via the Western Pacific's "Exposition Flyer" from Salt Lake City. Departure from Denver is at 4 :30 p. m. with arrival at Salt Lake City at 7 :50 the next morning. Eastward, the new train leaves Salt Lake City at 5 :00 p. m., arriving in Denver at 8 :30 the following morning. (Railway Age, October 27, 1945, page 688)

Circa 1947
Two FT diesels were assigned to replace the steam engines and the cars were painted black with yellow stripes to match the diesels.

Circa 1947
The train consist was changed. The observation-lounge (Canyon series) was dropped as was the diner of their “Peak” and “Mount” series. Substituted for the diner was the “Mount” Diner-lounge. Baggage cars 729 and 738 were converted to dormitory-baggage cars for use by the crews of the new Diner-lounge. Typical consist include heavy weight passenger cars; Dormitory-baggage, Coach, Diner-Lounge, Two Pullman sleepers (5 cars)

Baggage car 722 was also remodeled as a baggage-dormitory car. The coaches and diner-lounges had been remodeled in the 1930s with bread-loaf roofs with the application of air conditioning ducts. These three baggage-dorms had their roofs remodeled to match.

The new D&RGW passenger Alcos were used on the Prospector and Exposition Flyer two years before the Exposition Flyer was changed to the California Zephyr. The California Zephyr was not created until all the new stainless steel Zephyr cars were added. (The Alcos were originally purchased for the California Zephyr and painted in the factory black with 4 yellow stripes, however this paint scheme only lasted 5 months with the CZ in 1949).

Lightweight Cars (1949)

October 1, 1949
The Prospector was equipped with lightweight cars, purchased from Pullman, but originally built for Chesapeake & Ohio.

February 11, 1950
Royal Gorge (Train 1 and 2) and Prospector (Trains 7 and 8) were combined west of Grand Junction. (Jack Thode's "A Century of Passenger Trains", page 90)

A nation wide coal strike crippled the railroads since many of them had coal-fired steam locomotives. The government ordered the combining of trains where ever possible. This made the Rio Grande temporarily combine the Royal Gorge (Train 1 and 2) with the Prospector (Train 7 and 8) west of Grand Junction.

March 22, 1950
The Prospector was given new stainless steel streamlined cars. Typical consist between Denver and Grand Junction before combining with the Royal Gorge included a baggage-coach, a full coach, a diner-lounge, and two Pullmans. Royal Gorge cars were added at Grand Junction which typically include adding a Railway Post Office baggage car, baggage car, vista-dome coach and a Pullman (at times it is possible a modified Heavyweight Pullman). During the summertime it is also possible a second Pullman was added to the Royal Gorge to continue on the Prospector. The Royal Gorge‘s buffet-lounge and a diesel were left at Grand Junction for the return trip. A heavyweight diner was sometimes used in place of the buffet-lounge during the summer on the Royal Gorge, and during the Christmas holidays.

June 1, 1952
The June 1, 1952 public timetable shows a combined Royal Gorge/Prospector train 7-1 arriving in Ogden at 9:50 AM, and train 8-2 leaving Ogden at 3:50 PM. Apparently the whole train did not continue from Salt Lake City to Ogden. Under the equipment for the Prospector, train numbers 7 and 8, the cars listed read Denver to Salt Lake City. However, the equipment listing for train numbers 1 and 2, the Royal Gorge, reads "Vista Dome Chair Car and Chair Car between Denver and Ogden, (In trains 7 and 8 west of Grand Junction). (Steven Seguine, email to D&RGW Yahoo discussion group, April 12, 2005)

March 7, 1954
The March 7, 1954 public timetable was the first issue that did not include service from Salt Lake City to Ogden. (Steven Seguine, email to D&RGW Yahoo discussion group, April 12, 2005)

February 1, 1955
The D&RGW public timetable dated February 1, 1955 included the following note: "D&RGW passenger trains originate and terminate at Salt Lake City. Tickets reading via D&RGW between Salt Lake City and Ogden will be honored on Union Pacific trains."

The equipment notes from the same timetable included the following:

Nos. 1 and 2 -- THE ROYAL GORGE

Grill-Lounge between Denver and Grand Junction. (Diner-Lounge between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City in Trains 7 and 8)

Standard sleeper between Denver and Salt Lake City, 10 Sections, 2 Compartments, 1 Drawing Room. (In trains 7 and 8 west of Grand Junction)

Vista Dome Chair Car between Denver and Salt Lake City. (In trains 7 and 8 west of Grand Junction)

Nos. 7 and 8 -- THE PROSPECTOR

Diner-Lounge between Denver and Salt Lake City.

Standard Sleepers between Denver and Salt Lake City. (2 cars) 5 Sections, 6 Double Bedrooms, 5 Roomettes.

Chair Car between Denver and Salt Lake City.

October 24, 1959
The overnight Denver-Grand Junction local mail and express Mountaineer (Train 19 and 20) was discontinued. Its express and mail traffic was added to the Prospector using the lightweight RPO and baggage cars. The Royal Gorge subsequently made do with heavyweight baggage and RPO cars. Baggage and express off the Royal Gorge was transferred at Grand Junction or the cars forwarded to Salt Lake.

October 25, 1960
The second Pullman was eliminated from the Prospector as a regular sleeping car line because of increased air travel and Interstate highways took away passenger traffic from the Prospector. However if needed, the car was added if there were reservations for it.

Up to four 85ft TOFC flats were added to the end of the Prospector carrying Rio Grande Motorways and grocery chain trailers between Denver-Grand Junction and briefly to Salt Lake.

January 1964
The Vista-dome coach was left with the Royal Gorge ‘s buffet-lounge and a diesel at Grand Junction as a cost saving move. During the summer, the summer only Pullman from the Royal Gorge was not added for that year. Instead the Vista-dome was reinstated to continue to Salt Lake City in its place.

January 1966
The 1200-series passenger cars were repainted to a single-stripe color scheme to match the standard diesels that had one stripe.

May 1966
The Grand Junction-Salt Lake City mail contract was cancelled, leaving RPO service only between Grand Junction-Denver. The RPO would lay over at Grand Junction.

December 6, 1966
D&RGW had received permission to discontinue the Royal Gorge passenger train on December 6, 1966. The Royal Gorge route was Denver to Grand Junction by way of Pueblo and Tennessee Pass. The Prospector route was Denver to Salt Lake City by way of the Moffat Tunnel.

March 31, 1967
All remaining mail contracts were cancelled, so the RPO was dropped.

May 15, 1967
Discontinuance of D&RGW's Prospector passenger train in 1967.

"We find that the operation by The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Company of passenger trains Nos. 7 and 8, between Denver, Colo., and Salt Lake City, Utah, is not required by the public convenience and necessity and that continued operations thereof would unduly burden interstate or foreign commerce." (ICC Finance Docket 24404, approved May 15, 1967. In ICC Reports, Volume 330, page 108.)

(View the ICC Report at the HathiTrust)

May 28, 1967
The Prospector was discontinued because of lack of passengers and the decision of the Post Office Department to stop mail use on the train.

May 28, 1967
Last run of the Prospector passenger train, "Rio Grande's overnight Denver- Salt Lake City Prospector expired May 28. After loss of mail contract, Nos. 7 and 8 could come up with passenger receipts of only 71 cents a train-mile vs. operating expenses of $4.58 a mile." (Trains magazine, September 1967, page 17)

July 27, 1967
The Royal Gorge made its last run. The Royal Gorge train was discontinued from Denver to Salida by way of Pueblo and Tennessee Pass.

Prospector Train Consists

Typical Prospector consist between Denver and Grand Junction before combining with the Royal Gorge include five streamlined cars; a Baggage-Coach, a full Coach, a Diner-Lounge, and two Pullmans.

Typical Prospector consist between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City after combining with the Royal Gorge west of Grand Junction in 1950 include a compliment of the five streamlined cars above, plus an RPO Baggage Express, a streamlined Baggage Express, a streamlined Vista Dome Coach, and a modified heavyweight Sleeper Coach and/or a modified heavyweight Coach.

The streamlined Buffet-Lounge (during winter) or heavyweight Diner-Lounge (during summer) from the Royal Gorge was left at Grand Junction.

The Royal Gorge

Trains 1 and 2

June 2, 1946
Royal Gorge service began as a replacement of the earlier Scenic Limited as Trains 1 and 2.

Cars possible on the Royal Gorge were:

December 5, 1948
The Royal Gorge was consolidated with the Exposition Flyer.

March 21, 1949
The Royal Gorge was reinstated as a separate train when the Exposition Flyer was replaced by the new California Zephyr.

February 11, 1950
Royal Gorge and Prospector were combined west of Grand Junction due to a coal miner's strike. (Jack Thode's "A Century of Passenger Trains", page 90)

December 6, 1964
Royal Gorge service was cut back, running between Denver and Salida by way of Pueblo. Salida to Dotsero (Tennessee Pass) no longer had passenger service.

July 2, 1967
Colorado Public Utilities Commission's decision in application No. 22557. "The decision discloses that on July 7,1967, the Denver and Rio Grande was granted authority to discontinue passenger trains Nos. 1 and 2 operating between Salida and Denver, Colo. This would eliminate the Denver and Rio Grande passenger service described at the hearing between Denver and Pueblo." (ICC Reports, Volume 330, page 912)

July 27, 1967
Last run of the Royal Gorge passenger train. The train had made it first run on June 2, 1946 as a replacement of the earlier Scenic Limited as Trains 1 and 2. The Royal Gorge was consolidated with the Exposition Flyer on December 5, 1948, but was reinstated as a separate train on March 21, 1949 when the Exposition Flyer was replaced by the new California Zephyr. The Royal Gorge service was consolidated with the Prospector west on Grand Junction on February 11, 1950 due to a coal miner's strike. Royal Gorge service was cut back to Salida on December 6, 1964, and service ended on July 27, 1967. (Jim Eager, email to D&RGW Yahoo discussion group, June 27, 2001)

"The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted the Rio Grande railroad authority to discontinue trains No. 1 and No. 2, the daily passenger trains between Denver and Salida, on July 28. This authority meant the last run of the two trains would be on July 27." (Green Light, August 1967, Volume 28, Number 5, published monthly by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad)

"Rio Grande has dropped what was left of the Royal Gorge, the 1-unit, 1-baggage-car, 1-coach, Nos. 1 and 2 between Denver and Salida, Colorado." (Trains magazine, October 1967, page 12)


Email from Allen Breuch, to the D&RGW Yahoo discussion group, August 20, 1999, message 6540, with comments by Jim Eager on August 21, 1999.

More Information

A Century Of Passenger Trains...And Then Some..., by Jackson C. Thode (Rocky Mountain Railroad Club, 2001; reprint of 1972 original; 144 pages)

"Prospector, The Judge's Train," by Michael B. Davis in Coloroado Rail Annual, published in 1971 and reprinted in 1999; 48 pages of history, photos and information