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“Firing on the Grande”

Diane RabsonI was the first woman locomotive fireman on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in Pueblo and Minturn, Colorado, from 1978 to 1979. My jobs included work in the switch yards, as a roundhouse hostler, and running the helper engines in Minturn, bringing the engines back from Tennessee Pass. In the 1980’s the Rio Grande (or, as we called it, the D&RG) was rolled into the Southern Pacific system which was then superseded by the Union Pacific. UP shut down the route from Pueblo to Minturn in 1996.

Here’s Diane Rabson on the “point,” lead unit of the helper engines, in Minturn, Colorado, summer, 1978.

Rio Grande Railroad: The Helper Engines, Minturn to Tennessee Pass and Back

“I recorded this Super 8mm film in the summer of 1978. It shows highlights of a trip made from the helper engine consist pushing a train up to Tennessee Pass. Red Cliff, Camp Hale and the Eagle River are featured as well as a brakeman “cutting in” the helpers in Minturn.”


Not long after I left my job on the railroad in 1979, I wrote several stories about my time on the Rio Grande. I’ve collected three of these stories into a short memoir, “Planet Railroad.” The first story, entitled “Huerfano,” is not only about learning to run locomotives, but about the men I worked with who had to accept me—or not—as a pioneer and their equal in the workplace. “Huerfano” means orphan in Spanish, and both refers to a geological feature on the Eastern plains of Colorado as well as my own feelings at times as the only woman in the yards, at the roundhouse, and on the road. Read an excerpt from “Huerfano”

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