The Wreck Of The Rio Grande Southern Engine #217

Wreck of Engine No 217west of durango
Durango to Ridgeway

The Rio Grande Southern operated between Durango, Colorado, and Ridgeway, Colorado from 1890 until 1951. It handled freight and passengers during this time. It was originally built to reach the mines in Rico and Telluride. After the Silver Panic of 1893, it became key in transporting oil from the Fruitland oil fields to the Midwest Refinery in Salt Lake City.
The line was constantly plagued with rock slides, avalanches, floods, and fires. After the Silver Panic of 1893, money issues became a problem. The line constantly operated with second hand and refurbished equipment.

Wreck of Engine No. 217

Wreck of Engine No 217
Inspector onsite at the wreck of #217

On the days preceding the accident, heavy rains fell in the eastern La Plata Mountains. Lightner Creek, four miles west of Durango, Colorado became a raging torrent. Engine #217, on lease from the Denver and Rio Grande railroad, had been to Millwood Junction, assisting a train running heavy. They were returning to Durango, running light (without cars).
The Mancos (Colorado) Times reported that at 1:40 AM on the morning of September 8, 1919, Engine #217 approached the bridges at Lightner Creek. Engineer, Ralph Peake stopped and made a hasty inspection the bridges. He determined them safe and slowly crossed the first with no problem. On the second bridge, #162B, the last two pilings gave way, turning the engine into the water on its right side. Peake was unable to free himself from the cab and drowned. His fireman, John Adams escaped without injury.
The wreck of Rio Grande Southern engine No. 217 highlighted the growing concerns among carriers about railroad safety. It underscored the Rio Grande Southern’s attitude toward safety. Two theories prevailed within the RGS management. One that accidents were caused by carelessness. The other that management was responsible for rail safety. The accident occurred amid a growing “Safety First” movement in the industry. Carriers were becoming more proactive in the maintenance of equipment and operating practices.

D & RG-train wreck - Copy
The notation on this photo refers to engineer Harry Hurley. Harry was an engineer killed in a train collision east of Sublette in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico on December 14, 1919. It is possible that Harry was a friend or acquaintance of the person making the notation and there was confusion about the two accidents.
My sincere thanks go to the family of Linda Bonds for the use of the first photo. Additional thanks to the members of the Narrow Gauge Discussion Forum for their help in the discovery of the time and place of the wreck.

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