Return of the Incredible Shrinking Moab Burro Crane
In the spring of 2013, I made one of my many visits to Moab, Utah. The shutdown of the federal government and national parks was still five months away. Arches National Park
was open and visitation was climbing. As I approached the main entrance
at Arches, hundreds of vehicles waited for entry. Bypassing the
turnoff, I drove north on U.S. Highway 191, toward the airport and Crescent Junction, beyond.
As I approached the turnoff to Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands National Park, I noticed an interesting piece of equipment, parked on a railroad siding. The siding was part of the Potash Branch, which is the rail line from Brendel to Potash. That rail line also carries radioactive, contaminated soil from the infamous Moab Pile to a disposal site at Brendel, near Crescent Junction, Utah. After turning on to State Highway 313, I stopped at a barren, windblown area adjacent to the Seven Mile siding.
Resting on the siding, along with its tender car, was a Union Pacific Railroad Model 40 Burro Crane (#BC-47). The Burro Crane is a “maintenance of way” (MOW) vehicle that is self-propelled, and able to lift and move railroad track and materials. With sufficient supplies on its tender car, a small “road gang” can actually build a rail line as the Burro Crane extends the tracks ahead of itself.
With its steel doors and security panels closed, the Burro Crane looked lonely and deserted. That is the thing about Burro Cranes, with their quaint name and anthropomorphic looks. One almost immediately ascribes a personality and other life forces to this mechanical contraption. Although the area was deserted and desolate, I could picture the Moab Burro, as I named it, waiting for nightfall and then scooting up and down the Potash Branch as it pleased.
After taking a few pictures of the Moab Burro, the Seven Mile sign and the La Sal Range to the east, I climbed back in my truck and drove toward Moab. Upon returning home, I began researching the rich history of the Burro Crane. Built in Chicago by the Cullen Friestadt Company, there were many twentieth century iterations of the Burro Crane. Like a 1950's Chevy, the Model 40 Burro Crane was the classic of all Burro Cranes. It was compact, featured a diesel engine, was easy to maneuver and had tremendous lifting capacity.
Later, I was fortunate to meet Frank J. Cullen, the last family member to run the Cullen Friestadt Company as a private business. I like to call Frank J. Cullen “The Father of the Burro Crane”. After researching the Burro Crane online, I compiled all of that history and published it at www.BurroCrane.com. In addition to the official history of the Burro Crane, I also enlisted Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone to help tell the Moab Burro story.
After standing alone on the rail siding at Seven Mile for several years, the Moab Burro had become a fixture of the landscape and a landmark to those who knew it. It even appeared on Google Maps satellite photos of that era. Although the Moab Burro still appeared on Google Maps as of late 2017, the Burro Crane itself went missing by 2015, never to return. Since Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone love a good mystery, I asked them to help find the missing Moab Burro.
Some say that the dynamic duo found the Moab Burro, but that radioactivity from the passing Train of Pain had caused a dimensional shift around it. In October 2017, The Other (a shadowy figure) drove with Plush Kokopelli back to Seven Mile. There, they searched for the Moab Burro and Coney the Traffic Cone, who had both gone missing. Did both the Moab Burro and Coney shrink so small that they became invisible? That was what Plush Kokopelli and The Other hoped to discover.
Upon arrival at Seven Mile, The Other carried Plush Kokopelli to the railroad tracks. Neither Coney nor the Moab Burro was visible. Soon, Plush Kokopelli floated up like a drone, overlooking the scene. As he landed on the tracks, the Moab Burro reappeared, right next to him. Soon, Coney the Traffic Cone reappeared, as well. Neither of them seemed to notice that the Moab Burro had transmogrified from a large piece of railroad equipment to the size of a toy.
To Coney the Traffic Cone and Plush Kokopelli, the Moab Burro looked as big and powerful as ever. Now, let us see if we can get the Union Pacific Railroad to reconstitute the Moab Burro back to its original size. If the full-sized Moab Burro were to reappear at Seven Mile, that would be magic.