2017 Denver Convention Report
by John Adams
I can report to you that the 2017 FOBNR Convention in Denver was both wonderfully planned and executed by the Denver Committee. The 26 attendees seemed to really enjoy themselves and the Convention went quite smoothly.
Again, this year we preceded the actual convention with operating sessions on 2 local model railroads. Doug Geiger welcomed us to his Granite Mountain Railroad on Tuesday evening and John Parker hosted us on his BNSF Fall River Division on Wednesday morning. Both HO layouts ran exceptionally well and certainly inspired all of us to work to get to their level of excellence. They also were outstanding hosts in offering the FOBNR visitors the first choice of assignments and filling in the rest of the jobs with their regular crew.
Wednesday afternoon we returned to Denver from Longmont and checked in, renewing friendships developed over the years and greeting first time attendees. We then walked next door to attend our welcoming dinner. Returning to the hotel the Denver committee went over the agenda for the convention. We then had an excellent presentation by Kevin Morgan about the Brush Sub that we were going to visit Thursday morning. He gave us an excellent presentation about the traffic and operation on the Brush Sub and in Denver in general. While coal traffic is certainly down, it is still moving in volume down the Brush Sub and onto the Joint Line. Jay Morgan (no relation) then talked about his time as a dispatcher on the BNSF, working in several localities. He gave an excellent description of the dispatching process and the challenges of dispatching trains efficiently
On Thursday morning we met EARLY, leaving for the first tour @ 6 AM. We caravanned to the Pawnee Power Plant near Brush, CO. This is a coal fired power plant, receiving Powder River Coal from BNSF. We had an overview of the plant that went on-line in 1981. We then went to the top of the boiler 250′ above ground level and worked our way down all the way to the base of the boiler. We were able to see the turbines, still functioning perfectly after 36 years, and the transformer field. We then were taken to the coal dumping facility where we were able to watch the process of unloading bottom dump cars. This used to be a rotary dump facility but was converted to a bottom dump to increase unloading speed and decrease maintenance costs. Leaving the plant, we headed back along the Brush sub, sneaking a peek at a few freights along the way.
After a quick lunch, we met at the RTD Light Rail Maintenance facility in south Denver. On our tour we first visited the parts warehouse, which was 3 stories tall and very automated. It was fascinating to see bits and pieces of the light rail cars sitting in bins and shelves. Then we went onto the shop floor to see the two series of vehicles that they are working on. They even had one on a lift to allow us to see the underside of the vehicle, including one truck removed for rebuilding. They also were able to show us the drop table where they were able to work on wheels. The innovative system to electrify the entire shop to facilitate movement of the cars in and out of the shop was also quite interesting.
After navigating the Denver traffic we returned to the hotel and most of us decided to walk next door to have dinner. Following that we were able to watch railfanning pictures before we had the annual Membership meeting. While often this meeting brings many new issues from the members, this year it seemed to be more of a report from the Board to the members assembled.
On Friday AM we headed over to the BNSF Intermodal Ramp where the solitary BNSF employee (the manager) showed us the facility which handles at least 4 intermodal trains daily. We were able to watch the workers at the facility demonstrate the process of lifting a trailer or a container with a side-lift crane. Our guide also discussed the process of loading and unloading intermodal trains. We then traveled back to the BNSF yard near our hotel and were able to hear a presentation of the functions of the yard facilities in Denver, both in supporting the multiple local freights originating and terminating freight at the multiple businesses in the Denver area, as well as supporting the continuing coal traffic through Denver. The final morning stop was the Denver Diesel Shop. Here we were able to watch a crew from Hulcher lift a new traction motor and axle into the lead truck of a GP38-2. The facility no longer is assigned road diesels, but cares for all the locomotives used on the multiple local freight locomotives. The heavy cranes are gone, but mobile cranes, as well as the lifting capabilities of outside contractors, continue to be able to do many repairs locally. We also learned that the abandoned looking building next to the shop is actually still used by the Denver Police to train their drug sniffing dogs to find drugs and their officers in urban assault techniques!
On Friday afternoon we headed for Longmont and a tour of InterMountain Railway, a noted manufacturer of HO and N scale rolling stock and locomotives. They also told us that they actually started in O scale, then went to HO and later N scale. They also started with all their products being kits and have now transitioned to entirely ready to run. We were able to tour the areas where they determine what models they will build and what paint schemes will be applied to the models. We were able to see the process for creating new models and learn how these decisions are then sent on to China by CAD programs where the molds are made and then assembled and painted and shipped back to the US. About 25% of this work is still done in the US, but the majority is sent to China to hold down the costs to allow them to be competitive with other manufacturers. InterMountain actually owns a 20′ shipping container which shuttles between Longmont and their Chinese factory.
We then were able to visit Doug Geiger’s Granite Mountain Railway and John Parker’s BNSF Fall River Sub. Both of these layouts, which had been available for operating sessions prior to the Convention, were again open as displays for all the Convention attendees. Both HO layouts, although very different, were very impressive in their scenery and operating abilities.
Another return to Denver led to the Friday evening Board meeting. At the meeting we welcomed Peter Ferch to the Board as John McKenzie decided to not run for the Board again. John will continue as the FOBNR Archivist. We also voted to keep the present officers and accepted an offer from Dave Poplawski to lead a committee for the 2018 Convention in the Chicagoland area. Dave is also planning a special 25th Anniversary Edition of the Expediter for January, complete with the release of a new FOBNR logo! The Board also decided to have quarterly meetings, both at the Annual Meeting and 3 times yearly by conference call. John Parker will arrange to coordinate the FOBNR calendar for 2018.
On Saturday morning we hiked (literally) over to Denver Union Station where the Director of Public Relations gave us a tour of the different areas of Denver’s intermodal transportation hub. We were able to see the Light Rail side, the Commuter Rail lines to DIA and Westminster, as well as the bus depot linking all of these transportation systems. We learned that the projected investment in new commercial and residential development had already reached the level expected for 2035! There will still be a direct view of Denver Union Station and the iconic Travel by Train sign, as this is now guaranteed by statute. He explained that the FRA mandates that Light Rail and regular railroads cannot share the same roadbed, necessitating Commuter Rail (or heavy rail) in these situations. Thus the new Airport line, Westminster Line and G Line are heavy rail.
Leaving the Union Station we headed for the Colorado Railway Museum, but first with a stop at the new Caboose Hobbies. At the CRM we had a box lunch and then were able to ride the narrow gauge line and had an excellent tour of the Museum grounds. Having some time before the Annual Banquet Pat Lana graciously offered on short notice to open his N scale Crandic Railroad layout for viewing by Convention attendees. Pat has one of the best Midwest prototype layouts you will ever see, particularly with his agricultural scenery.
We then met for our Annual Banquet, where we had another meeting with the Terminal Superintendent of the Denver Terminal. He was only 37 years old, and now is in charge of the entire Denver terminal area. He shared with us some of the challenges of dealing with a large number of local shippers and customers, as well as the continued movement of coal. He shared with us some of the improvements in the Denver area being accomplished, particularly in terms of upgrade switches and trackage. We then had an excellent dinner and had our annual auction with a number of items donated by Jim and Denise Cunningham and we were able to raise $137 for the organization.
We then ended the Convention, planning to meet again in the Chicagoland area next summer!