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Kitbash a Rio Grande Steam Generator

In 1965, the Rio Grande converted two PB-1 locomotives into steam generators. For the first few years, they retained their original Alco trucks, but in later years they were replaced with EMD trucks. —Lee Berglund photo, WRP Collection

Kitbash a Rio Grande Steam Generator

July 2023by Luke Lemmens/photos by the author except as noted

My longtime modeling friend Mike Wichowski models the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Growing up, we had a similar interest in Midwestern roads, but over the years his curiosities tended to drift west toward the mountains. After looking through some of his Rio Grande books, I quickly figured out why: Scenic mountains, interesting equipment, and the challenges of conquering the Rockies.

When I was looking through some of his reference materials I spotted this interesting steam generator car, D&RGW 253, which was used to provide steam heat to passenger cars. Converted from an old Alco PB, it had been retrofitted with two-axle EMD trucks, which made it look completely out of proportion. Also, the grille had been modified. It was definitely an interesting piece of equipment and I noted to myself that someday it would be an interesting modeling project to try to build.

Rio Grande

In 1965, D&RGW converted two PB-1 locomotives into steam generators for use on passenger trains. While the railroad’s EMD B-units had steam generators, the converted PBs were used as backup or to supplement during the cold months. According to DRGW.net, PB-1 6012 became generator 252 in July 1965 and 6002 was converted to 253 in October of that year. Generator 252 spent most of its time based in Salt Lake City just in case the Rio Grande Zephyr (the railroad’s premier train between Denver and Salt Lake City that lasted until 1983, well into the Amtrak era) needed steam. It was scrapped in 1991.

Generator 253 was based in Denver and regularly appeared on the Zephyr, as well as the famous Ski Train between Denver and Winter Park, Colo. After Rio Grande stopped running the Zephyr in 1983, 253 was used exclusively on the Ski Train. The Ski Train dated back to the 1940s and brought skiers and riders from downtown Denver to Winter Park Resort, on the west side of Moffat Tunnel. The Ski Train even outlasted the Rio Grande, running until 2009. In 2015, Amtrak revived the service, calling it the Winter Park Express.

Rio Grande

During the 1960s and 1970s, generator 253 retained its six-axle Alco trucks, but in 1980 those trucks were replacd with foux-axle EMD trucks. In the late 1980s, it was converted from steam to electric Head End Power (HEP). The 253 was finally parked around 2000 when HEP-equipped F40s were acquired for the Ski Train. In 2006, the generator was sold to the Algoma Central where it reportedly still survives.

Recently, a friend posted that he had some undecorated Proto 2000 PBs he was looking to sell. Thinking back to the D&RGW steam generator, I approached Mike to see if he wanted to buy one so I could kitbash it. He agreed and I got to work on the project.

Rio Grande

I’m not shy about pulling out the saw to start cutting on a model. I enjoy chassis modifications and have previously done some modifications to retrofit different trucks under different manufacturers’ chassis and have even scratchbuilt chassis. This project was right up my alley.

I started with the chassis modifications. After realizing that swapping the trucks wouldn’t just be a simple switch, my first thought was to scratchbuild a new chassis, but the Proto 2000 chassis fit so well with the shell that I focused on redesigning the truck bolsters instead.

I had a set of Athearn “blue- box” EMD trucks lying around. I figured the unit in real life did not serve as motive power so there was no reason to get fine running powered trucks underneath it. I created a new cross member from brass. I drilled and tapped that to the frame near the side to make sure everything would line up before I cut out the original bolster pivot location pin…

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This article was posted on: June 16, 2023