A rail-fan favorite, Colorado Narrow Gauge 2020 pictures the trains of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Established in 1870, the Rio Grande eventually
operated 2,783 miles of track connecting Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Serving mountain communities, farms, and mines from the 1800s into the
mid-1900s, the Rio Grande ran trains through mountain gorges, and across the highest rail mainline in America to deliver on the D&RG’s early motto,
“Through the Rockies, not around them.
Engines and trains pictured include:
• Denver and Rio Grande Western Mikados (2-8-2) 486, a Class K-36, and 494, a Class K-37, are on a 2% grade ascending eastbound four miles west of Falfa, CO. In the fifty-plus years since the last train ran through this area, Durango's Mercy Medical Center, attending medical offices and other businesses are starting to fill the valley as it appears here. The only evidence that there was ever a railroad in this area is the remnant of a small pile trestle, located several hundred yards west of Three Springs Road, the main road from U.S. Highway 160 to the hospital.
• It is maximum effort time as Denver and Rio Grande Western 499 on the point and rear helper 497 (both Class K-37 Mikados) bring eighteen carloads of sheep up the 4% grade around Windy Point, CO in October 1963. The hard climb is almost over, as Cumbres is only one mile away. After cutting out helper 497 and the caboose, 499 would pull ahead, and 497 would couple on to the train any cars that had accumulated from other Cumbres turns and the caboose. After a successful air test, 499 would head for Alamosa, where the livestock would be unloaded, fed and watered, then moved into standard-gauge cars for transport further east. 497 would return light to Chama. In early 1964, because it was no longer needed, 499 would be removed from service rather than being rebuilt in the Alamosa shops.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western Rotary Snowplow 0Y is working in two- to six-foot drifts. It is being pushed by 487 and 488 (all locomotives in this image are Class K-36 Mikados). The location is about two miles east of Los Pinos, CO on March 6, 1962. The outfit left Alamosa the day before, and they hit some deep drifts around Osier; they tied up there for the night. Engine 484 followed the rotary train with all of the outfit cars, bunk cars, cook car and the like. The next day, as soon as the sun was up, and after hand-shoveling coal into the tenders on the plow and both locomotives, they were on their way. They reached Cumbres at about 4 p.m. that day and went on to Chama, where they tied up. This was the last Denver and Rio Grande Western rotary ever to operate.
• Rio Grande Southern 455 is leading a southbound freight across Bridge 19-A near Wade, CO on April 15, 1949. In this view, 455 is rolling down a 3% grade. 455 was one of an order of fifteen locomotives purchased from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903, originally one of their Class K-27's. In September of 1939, they sold it to the Rio Grande Southern. It was wrecked in a runaway accident on the Dallas Divide in November 1943. It was rebuilt several years later and served until the RGS was abandoned. It was cut up for scrap in 1953.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 489 (a Class K-36 2-8-2 Mikado) is on the point of an eastbound scrap train, coming off the Marshall Pass Line, abandoned in 1953. 489 is coming down Poncha Pass near Otto, CO, on route to Salida on May 24, 1955. 489 would see another year of service on the Monarch Pass Line; it was then moved to Alamosa, where it saw regular service west out of Alamosa until 1962, when Rio Grande retired it. From there, 489 went to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad in 1970. It was eventually rebuilt and remains in service today.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 483 (Class K-36 Mikado) is on an eastbound Illini Railroad Club passenger special just east of the siding at Oxford, CO on June 9, 1960. The refrigerator car is for any passenger luggage. The rear car was 9605, an open-end pipe gondola for people who enjoyed the fresh air. Later it was modified, had a roof added and several more like it were added to the passenger car fleet, all dressed up and painted to match. Passenger excursion trains were part of operations of the last 18 or so years of operation. The Rocky Mountain Railroad Club always ran their excursion around Memorial Day. In earlier years, they rode the Rio Grande Southern, and trips on the D&RGW's Monarch Branch, Poncha Pass, Marshall Pass, two trips in the Black Canyon, as well as Alamosa to Silverton, with one trip to Aztec, New Mexico. Other railroad groups also scheduled June trips, then also some in October to take advantage of riotous Fall Color on Cumbres Pass. The last excursion was a one-day trip from Alamosa to Cumbres and back on October 9, 1966.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 278 (a 2-8-0 Class C-16 Consolidation) is making up a train at Gunnison, CO in July 1946. 278 was built in 1882 for the Rio Grande by the Grant Locomotive Works and served the Rio Grande for 71 years. It was donated first to the town of Montrose for display, but can now be seen near Cimarron at the western end of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River.
• Rio Grande Southern 42 (a 2-8-0 Consolidation) was leased to Brinkerhoff Brothers, the company hired to scrap the railroad. In this view photographed on September 16, 1952, 42 is taking water out of the Dolores River near Stoner, CO. 42 was originally Denver and Rio Grande Western 420, part of a ten-locomotive purchase from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1887. In November of 1916 it was sold to the Rio Grande Southern, which used it until 1952. It was sold three more times in the 1950s. It was finally purchased by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge and is in their roundhouse museum.
• It is June 1, 1951, and Rio Grande Southern 74 (a Consolidation 2-8-0) has stopped at Vance Junction, CO to take on a load of coal. As can be seen, the trip was well attended. 137 people rode in two short cabooses, three gondolas and the RGS business car "Edna." It was a two-day trip; travel on the first day was from Ridgway to Telluride. There were some colorful stories describing where everyone stayed and where they ate after arriving at Telluride, since this was decades before skiing and million-dollar condos. Travel on the second day was from Telluride south to Lizard Head Pass Summit, where the train was turned, and then returned to Ridgway. This was the last Rocky Mountain Railroad Club trip on the Rio Grande Southern; abandonment came less than six months later.
• It is August 1956 and 481 (a Class K-36 Mikado) is approaching Romeo, CO with a southbound freight. The unusual nature of the train is apparent if you consider the locomotive and consist. 481 is a narrow-gauge locomotive. Behind it is a standard gauge idler car, equipped with both standard and narrow-gauge couplers. Next come six standard-gauge cars. Then another standard-gauge idler car. Finally, there is a narrow-gauge caboose bringing up the rear, coupled to the standard-gauge idler car. An Antonito turn was scheduled, but apparently there was no standard gauge locomotive available, so the railroad did the next best thing. This is proof that trains of two gauges did occasionally run together.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 488, a Class K-36, and 494, a Class K-37, both 2-8-2 Mikados, are on an eastbound livestock train 1.5 miles west of Cresco, CO on October 6, 1961. The sheep on this train were loaded at Lobato, only a few miles west of this location. There is a rear-end helper, 484, a Class K-36 Mikado, but only the steam from its pop valve is visible. Ahead is a six-mile, 4% grade to Cumbres. While all the power is still with the train, road engine 494 will take on water, then the train will move off the 4% grade to the yard east of the snowshed. Both helpers will be removed there and an air test will be in order. Then, with no further delay, 494 will roll on to Alamosa with its load of "woolies". The two helpers will each take on water and return to Chama running 15- to 20-minutes apart.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 498-491 (both locomotives are Class K-37 Mikados) are on the point of a double-headed westbound freight passing through Arboles, CO in December 1959. Within a few years, this entire scene would be under water. With the construction of the Navajo Dam, about fifty miles southeast of Durango, newly forming Navajo Lake would inundate miles of both the Piedra and San Juan Rivers including Arboles and part of the Rio Grande right-of-way. Between 1961 and 1962, a new line would be built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The 11 miles of new line replaced about seven miles of existing track. This relocation would serve the Rio Grande until cessation of operations in December 1968.
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