From Our Collections: Kiefer and Cheedle Photo Collections

In the Museums of Western Colorado is two large photo collections of former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad employees, Warren Kiefer and Ray Cheedle. Because both men were railroad employees, the collections give a rare insight into operations and the personnel of the “Rio Grande” as it was known.

When Mr. Kiefer’s family moved to the Salt Lake Valley, he would ride his bike down to the Salt Lake City train station and watch the daily operations, making copious notes. After graduating high school in 1938, Kiefer hired on at the Southern Pacific railroad. In 1941 he then hired on at the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad as a fireman. He was trained on the Rio Grande’s famous 3700 class 4-6-6-4 challenger steam locomotives, which ran on the railroad’s Salt Lake Division. On May 3, 1943, Warren along with his engineer and engine attendant received the first official recognition given by high military authorities to D&RGW civilians for outstanding performance in aid of the war effort at home.

During his many years of railfanning, Kiefer photographed the operations of all the railroads of Utah; the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, D&RGW, Utah Railway, and lesser railroads in the area. His photo locations range from the canyons east of Ogden south to Helper, and include Colorado. A few photos from vacations in the northeast are included as well. Nearly all the photos were taken between 1949 and 1951.

In 1981, Kiefer donated many of his photos to the Museums of Western Colorado. The vast majority of the photographs in the Kiefer collection are of the types called either a “Roster Shot” or “Action Shot” in railfan parlance. A roster shot is a frontal ¾ photograph of a stationary locomotive. The term roster shot comes from the term locomotive roster which refers to the collection of locomotives a railroad owns.

Mr. Cheedle was a Carman (a man who inspects and repairs railcars) for the Rio Grande, was an avid photographer and worked for McDonald Douglas. He photographed special events, mishaps, retirements and daily activities all over the Western Slope of Colorado and in Eastern Utah for the railroad. He also photographed many other aspects of Western Slope activities. He had some of his work published in the Rio Grande’s company newspaper the Green Light and The Daily Sentinel.

As an avid photographer, Mr. Cheedle took a wide range of images. His collection includes some “action shots” of special trains or first runs of new ones. Case in point: the first coal train loaded in Carbondale, Colorado and delivered to Geneva Steel in Utah was photographed by Cheedle. He also took a great many photographs of retirement parties of railroad employees. These photographs show a rare look into the social aspect of railroad life. Because Mr. Cheedle worked for the railroad, he could go anywhere and photograph anything. Some of the interior shots he took of railroad buildings are extremely rare. For example, the Grand Junction machine shop was photographed right before it was purchased, dismantled, moved and rebuilt by Grand Junction Steel. He also took interior shots of the Grand Junction ice houses, the only ones known to this author. Most photographs were taken between the 1950s and the early 1970s. The Cheedle Family donated his vast photo collection after his death in 2015.