Let me start by saying how much it means to me to be asked to write a review of this book. Not just for my love of the Rio Grande, but because of what this book is specifically about. The people who contributed to it. The book that preceded it. The family that worked for the Grande, in the locations highlighted within. Lastly, my time working in the same area, albeit for Utah Railway.
I grew up listening to stories of working “the hill,” I listened in awe to what seemed to be tall tales. Many a day and night were spent watching trains in all the places this book features. I even got to tag along with Dave Gayer on a few railfanning trips that no doubt helped contribute to this work. I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Rio Grande passing into history from my backyard.
The first book I ever bought was Rio Grande: Scenic Line of the World (Hyrail Productions) by Dale Sanders, published in 1994. It was a book written about the then-current times of the Grande passing into a merger with Southern Pacific. Dale’s involvement is recognized immediately, as Rio Grande: Jewel of the Wasatch is laid out in the same format and appearance as that 1990s book (hardcover landscape 12 x 9 inch with dust jacket). This new publication is the third in a series to Chuck Conway’s other books, including 2011’s Crest of the Continent (out of print) and 2014’s Heart of the Rockies, all from White River Productions. With the release of this third volume, Rio Grande’s entire system is now covered. These volumes complement Dale’s book, and in many ways these three White River-produced titles could be considered sequels to Rio Grande: Scenic Line of the World. I wore Dale’s first book out and will probably do the same with Chuck’s efforts.
The reviewer’s childhood home is just out of frame to the left of this photo. The engineer of this train would have seen a young Adam Pinales standing in his backyard waving about three minutes before reaching this spot.
For the majority of fans, Rio Grande was a “Colorado railroad” only; very few have been exposed to the Utah side, due to the lack of publications on the area. This book was very much needed and provides a glimpse of the beauty the Utah Division gave to the railroad. Yes, Rio Grande did go farther west than Grand Junction, Colo., and Jewel of the Wasatch provides an in-depth look at the operation through 208 pages, loaded with stunning images.
The seven chapters take you west-bound, starting in Grand Junction, which is the beginning of the Utah Division. Included in the presentation are the branch lines to Ridgeway and North Fork. From there, you will follow the main line through the Grande Valley, into Ruby Canyon, and up to the high mountain desert of eastern Utah. A typical freight of the day would have a crew change at Helper, Utah, which is halfway between Grand Junction and Salt Lake City. From there, manned helpers are added in Helper (Coincidence? Nope!) to move the tonnage up the 2.8 percent grade of Price Canyon, reaching Soldier Summit at an altitude of 7,440 feet. Trains then drop down the Spanish Fork canyon into the Utah Valley, and on to Salt Lake City.
The book takes you on an accurate journey westbound throughout the first six chapters. Chapter 7 features all the branch lines Rio Grande operated, again east to west. Detailed maps are included at every pertinent point so the reader will never feel lost. Every chapter begins with a page of text outlining the history, business, and geographic features of the pages to follow.
Hours and hours were spent at Gilluly, Utah, watching trains climbing up three levels. Gilluly had a center siding, and the reviewer remembers vividly five trains working on the hill, and Amtrak crossing in and out of all of them to get through without any of them stopping! Rio Grande was the first road in the country to install centralized traffic control (CTC), and dispatching like this proved they had it perfected!
The photography is simply stunning. The collection of photographers that contributed to the book is just as noteworthy. To have this many of today’s greats all in one book is worth twice the price alone: James Belmont, Steve Seguine, and Blair Kooistra, just to name a few. The forward was written by one of the most knowledgeable wordsmiths of 20th-century railroading, Mark Hemphill.
Rio Grande: Jewel of the Wasatch contains a large collection of crisp images, most of which have not been published before. The print color is on point, and the information is very accurate. This book is a wealth of knowledge for any Rio Grande fan.
From a modeling standpoint, if this book doesn’t convince you to model Rio Grande, I’m not sure what will. Beautiful scenes, short fast trains zipping in and out between long coal drags, and a daily passenger train! What more could you ask for? I have built an N-scale empire depicting Soldier Summit, and from what I just described, you can see why I chose that! N scale lends itself perfectly to this railroad, in both the availability of equipment and just the nature of 1:160 modeling. Big trains in big scenes without taking up a warehouse! A huge thank you to Chuck Conway for the time it took to put together such an amazing book, that is surely a must for Grande fans and rail enthusiasts alike.
Adam Pinales lives in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area. He is an Amtrak conductor and models N scale indoors and G scale in his backyard. This is Adam’s first review for Model Railroad News.
Rio Grande: Jewel of the Wasatch
by Chuck Conway
White River Productions, Inc.
P.O. Box 48
Bucklin, MO 64631