The Galloping Goose Historical Society is requesting that the town of Dolores transfer the title of the Galloping Goose No. 5 over to them.
The GGHS is seeking official ownership of the historic rail bus, citing the organization’s dedicated stewardship,and with stipulations that it will always be based in Dolores.
The historical society presented its case to the Dolores town board Monday during a workshop with the Dolores Rotary Club.
Under its ownership proposal, GGHS promises that the Goose would remain “on prominent display in Dolores as a permanent attraction” except for about three weeks out the year when the Goose runs on host railroads.
Also, it wouldn’t be sold or leased. And if the GGHS ceases to exit, ownership will revert to the town of Dolores.
Fairly recently, a 50-year mix-up about who legally owns the Goose came to light. As explained later, it was revealed in 2002 that the town actually owns the Goose, which has caused strained relations with the GGHS.
Dolores town attorney Mike Green has advised the town board that keeping ownership with Dolores has advantages. Furthermore, he says that because the town is the legal owner, a lease needs to be negotiated with the GGHS in order for the rail-bus to operate on host railroads.
But the GGHS feels it deserves an ownership transfer because it restored the Goose, built a museum, pays the liability and excursion insurance, complies with railroad regulations, and has trained motormen and experienced mechanics.
The meeting between all the parties was organized to improve communications and work out a solution.
Bill of sale
GGHS president Lew Matis gave a detailed history of the Goose No. 5, including how it was bought and restored, and how the depot and museum were built.
In 1952, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was abandoned, and five members of the Dolores Rotary Club purchased the No. 5 for $250. They were Dr. E.G. Merritt, Jack Kinkade, Newell Musgrave, and C.H. Webb.
But in an effort to avoid sales taxes, railroad receiver Pierpont Fuller transferred the title to the Town of Dolores, not the Rotary Club.
“I am not sure that a sale to the Rotary Club would be exempt (from taxes),” Fuller wrote in a July 28, 1952 letter. “If you prefer, I will redraw the bill of sale.”
That was never done, but for half a century, the GGHS believed the Dolores Rotary owned The Galloping Goose No. 5, and conducted all its business through them.
Then in 2002, the letter detailing the sale, and the actual bill-of-sale in the town’s name, were discovered when rotary member Jack Kinkade produced the documents from a safe.
“In the early years, we were not aware of these two documents,” Matis said. “Our frame of reference was that the Rotary Club owned Galloping Goose No. 5.”
In 1954, the Goose was placed in the northwest corner of Flanders Park, where it stayed for 47 years with minimum maintenance.
“Weathering took its toll, and in 1987, the GGHS was formed to fund raise for stabilization and restoration,” Matis said.
In order to showcase the railroad history of Dolores, the town granted the GGHS a land lease for $1 per year to build a replica depot and museum. The GGHS raised $145,880 through grants and contributions, and in 1991 completed the depot and museum, which opened soon after.
In 1994, the No. 5 was listed with the Colorado Historical Society on the State Register of Historic Places. The Goose was moved in front of the museum, and fundraising began to restore it to operating condition for passengers.
In 1997, the Colorado Historical Society awarded a $28,213 grant to GGHS to restore the rail bus. In 1998, the No. 5 was brought back to life at a total cost of $78,022.
Since restoration, the GGHS has spent $31,244 in repairs, and raised $40,374 from its members for maintenance. Between 2004 and 2011, the town of Dolores donated $10,761, in addition to the land for the museum.
In the spring and summer of 1998, the No. 5 made two successful excursions on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, and on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It has since made yearly trips to both destinations.
“The tours are very popular, and we sell out almost every trip,” Matis said. “No. 5 has made 38 excursions since 1998, with a total of 6,000 passengers.”
The museum has also been popular, said office manager Denise Bowyer, seeing 76,542 visitors since it opened. The railroad museum and gift shop are run by volunteers. The museum recently expanded its exhibits to feature all seven of the original Galloping Geese.
Throughout the 1990s, official documents and agreements erroneously inferred the Dolores Rotary as the owners of the Galloping Goose No. 5.
For example, in 1994, the Colorado Historical Society lists the Dolores Rotary as the owners. In a 1999 letter, Dr. E.G. Merritt, one of the five who purchased the Goose, wrote, “We wanted the Galloping Goose No. 5 to always be a part of Dolores. If the Rotary club loses its charter, ownership will revert to the town of Dolores.”
The GGHS admits that ownership is actually in the town’s name. But it believes that because of all of their contributions, the GGHS should be the owner.
GGHS board member Marie Richmond said the Rotary Club purchased the Goose with the intention of preserving the history of Dolores.
The town’s flagship attraction has put Dolores on the map for railroad buffs, and supports the tourist economy, she said.
“As we enter into discussion, we are hoping for a transfer of ownership,” Richmond said. “We are best suited to preserve and protect the Goose with the assurance it will never leave Dolores.”
Laurel Ramatore, a Dolores Rotary board member, said the ownership transfer has her support.
“I’m impressed by the degree of commitment from the historical society,” she said. “They want the Goose to remain in Dolores in perpetuity and that was the intent of the original buyers.”
Ed Merritt, whose dad was one of five men who chipped in $50 to buy the Goose in 1952, urged cooperation.
“Whichever way it goes, preserving this unique piece of history in Dolores is the most important goal,” he said. “We all want the same thing, and it will take all boards working together to make it happen.”
In Durango, a similar situation has recently played out. The Durango Railroad Historical Society restored locomotive No. 315 at its own expense, but it was owned by the city of Durango.
The historical society sought ownership transfer, and on May 20, 2014, the title conveyance was approved by the Durango City Council.
The Dolores town board will review the GGHS proposal and discuss it at their February board meeting.