“Front-Range Explorers” Trip
May 29 to June 7, 2016

Photos by Dave Ingles

The “Front-Range Explorers” rare-mileage trip was the 17th and likely last “classic” one in a series that began with the big 1987 trip from Duluth, Minn., north into Canada, reaching Hay River, Northwest Territories, and covering most of the old Northern Alberta Railways, the entire more-modern Alberta Resources line of CN, and most of the British Columbia Railway. They were organized by Clark Johnson, owner of the business-car-style private car PV "Caritas” (Latin for charity), a converted Frisco Railroad sleeper, under the aegis of High Iron Travel Corp.
Caritas and ex-Frisco sibling sleeper “Cimarron River,” owned by St. Louis brothers Tony and Andy Marchiando (the latter now lives in Virginia), have operated together on most Explorers and the many shorter weekend or multi-day High Iron Travel trips, are believed to be the most-traveled PVs in the country. “Cimmy” still wears Frisco gray and red (to replicate former stainless-steel sheathing), but Caritas now is in IPH’s version of Illinois Central orange and brown. The two frequent traveling partner cars bring up the rear of the Front-Range Explorers consist in this photo at "journey's end," resting in Amtrak's Midway Station in St. Paul after arriving from Minot, N.Dak., on Monday, June 6. Next morning, the 7 cars will go on the rear of #8, the "Empire Builder," to Chicago, carrying perhaps about half the 52 passengers, the others having left in St. Paul to fly home.
Clark now is in his mid-80s and slowing down, and wife Nona Hill has said “this is it.” Her first High Iron trip was in 1991. They live in Madison, Wis., and Clark will continue to consult on future rare mileage trips, to be organized by Jim Fetchero, a Charlotte, N.C., resident who now is the Car Operations Manager for Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH), of which High Iron Travel became a subsidiary a few years ago in what I believe was partially an estate-planning move. . Clark and Nona are pictured here in dining car 448 during the Front-Range Explorers.

Officially, the Front-Range Explorers began in Fort Worth, Texas, and ended in St. Paul, Minn., with all trackage over BNSF Railway, the last Class 1 friendly to such charters. The lead photo is not of our special train but of a diesel still in BN Cascade Green, with the Rockies’ Front Range as a backdrop, in Longmont, Colo., on Friday, June 3rd. It was not possible to frame our train on a curve with the Front Range as a backdrop,  hence this photo, as all our BNSF travel was on the “former BN side” including Fort Worth & Denver and Colorado & Southern.

The trip was operated under Amtrak’s aegis and used a pair of Amtrak P42s as motive power, 57 and 172. Departing Fort Worth on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, the train made overnight layovers in Amarillo, Texas; Denver, Colo. (two nights, with a layover day to among other things, re-stock the train); Gillette, Wyo.; Forsyth, Mont.; and Minot, N.Dak., before terminating on the afternoon of Monday, June 6, at Amtrak’s former Midway Station in St. Paul, now strictly a PV storage and switching facility, since St. Paul Union Depot, now Amtrak’s Twin Cities calling point, lacks them.

Our special had 7 cars, all except “Cimarron River” provided by IPH (listed from front to back): 11-BR sleeper “Baton Rouge,” originally Seaboard Air Line “Tallahassee” (note the original and current state-capital names), later Amtrak 2234 and then an American Orient Express crew car; “Colorado Pine,” built as Louisville & Nashville “Plantation Pine” with 6 roomettes, 4 double bedrooms, and 6 sections (still in place), renamed by a Denver-based private owner; “Belleville,” a 6-compartment, 5-bedroom sleeper built as CB&Q “Silver Quail,” presently leased from Mid-America Rail Car by IPH for its Pullman operation; ex-NYC full 48-seat dining car 448, later PC 4548, then to Ross Rowland’s High Iron Co. (no relation to Clark Johnson’s outfit); “Prairie View,” ex-GN “Great Dome” lounge 1394 restored to its original GN identity except for IPH’s SLRG reporting marks, signifiying registry on San Luis & Rio Grande, its Alamosa, Colo.-based tourist line; “Cimarron River,” its original Frisco name, later CN and VIA Rail Canada’s “Rainbow Falls”; “Caritas,” built as Frisco “Pierre Laclede” and later CN and VIA “Churchill Falls.” The two Frisco cars had 14 roomettes and 4 double bedrooms. “Cimmy” still has that configuration, but 2 roomettes are used for public toilets, one with a shower stall; the bedrooms’ toilets still function. “Caritas” has kept its 4 original bedrooms, with a fifth “master room” and bath added for the owner, then a galley, two dining tables for four, and a 10-seat rear lounge. A public shower replaces an attendant’s area in the front end.

All 7 cars moved from Chicago to Fort Worth on the back of Amtrak “Texas Eagle” #21 on May 29, making for a 15-car train with 3 engines. A bonus was that this was during a bridge replacement program by UP on the normal route south of St. Louis that had the “Eagle” detouring between there and Poplar Bluff, Mo., via the Chester Sub on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. For this writer and many of the Explorer-record 52 revenue passengers, this meant riding 24 miles of UP’s Hoxie Sub between Dexter, Mo., and Poplar Bluff for the first time. At the Explorers’ end, the train parked overnight at Midway and on Tuesday morning, June 7, was coupled to “Empire Builder” #8 to go to Chicago, units 57-172 coupled ahead of #8’s pair and the cars on the rear, making for a 4-engine, 18-car behemoth. I was assigned a roomette in “Cimarron River,” and Otto Dobnick and I rode “Hiawatha” #334 from Milwaukee to Chicago to join the group, almost half of whom rode south on the “Eagle,” the others flying into Love Field or DFW Airport.

The approximate rounded-off mileage totals for the trip include:
Total for Explorers, Fort Worth to St. Paul, 2,354
Total for equipment, Chicago-Fort Worth-Denver-St. Paul-Chicago, 3,984
This writer’s non-Explorers totals by segment: Hiawatha, 85; Texas Eagle, 1,058; Wye Move in Fort Worth, 2; Denver RTD round trip, Union Station to Airport, 46; Amtrak Empire Builder, 333.
New mileage for this writer, by segment and by 1963 owner: Dexter-Poplar Bluff, Mo., MoPac, 24; Quanah-Amarillo, Texas, FW&D, 143; Denver RTD, 23; Gillette, Wyo.-Moran Jct., Mont., CB&Q 228; Moran Jct.-Jones Jct., BN, 1.5; West Glendive-Sidney*, Mont., NP, 49.5 Sidney-Snowden, Mont., GN, 29. (*”Sidney” is point 4 miles south of town, the former Newton Jct. of NP and GN branches.)

What follows are albums day-by-day, beginning in Chicago and ending in Milwaukee, each with a representative photo and a link. – Dave Ingles

Sunday, May 29, 2016
Milwaukee–Chicago–Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Poplar Bluff, Mo.–Fort Worth, Texas
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Fort Worth–Amarillo, Texas
Wed., June 1, 2016
Amarillo, Texas - Denver, Col.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Denver Layover Day
Friday, June 3, 2016, Part One
Denver to Cheyenne, Wyo.
Friday, June 3, 2016, Part Two
Cheyenne - Gillette, Wyo.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Gilllette, Wyo.– Forsyth, Mont.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Forsyth, Mont.– Minot, N. Dak.
Monday, June 6, 2016
Minot, N. Dak.–St. Paul, Minn.
Tuesday, June 7 2016
St. Paul, Minn.–Milwaukee, Wis.
Front-Range Explorers
Depot Album

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