A rail-fan favorite, Colorado Narrow Gauge 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.”
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Rio Grande locomotives, locations and trains pictured include:
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 489 is backing a cut of empty flat-bottom gondolas up the 4.5% grade of the middle leg of the Garfield Switchback, on route to the limestone deposits located at the Monarch Mine, a little more than twenty miles west of Salida, Colorado. It is December 3, 1950 and winter has so far barely been felt here. The Monarch Mine was located at the foot of the summit of Monarch Pass on U.S. Highway 50, so winter is just a few days away any time after Halloween. The limestone was used by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in the manufacturing of steel. In 1956 this line was converted to standard gauge. The axe fell in 1981 when the entire Monarch operation was abandoned, and closing an interesting chapter in Colorado railroading.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 480 is on the point of a westbound passenger special emerging from Toltec Tunnel —also known as The Rock Tunnel— on June 6, 1960. There are two tunnels on the San Juan Extension. The first one, called the Mud Tunnel, is located about 4.25 miles west of Sublette, New Mexico. It had to be timber-lined because it was dug through unstable earth. It is 342-feet-long. The second tunnel is the 366-foot-long Rock Tunnel. Located about four miles west of the Mud Tunnel, the Rock Tunnel was cut through solid rock, so no supports of any kind were needed.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 492 has an eastbound trainload of empty pipe cars headed back to Alamosa to be loaded and sent west again on March 5, 1958. 492 is just south of the highway crossing at Oxford, Colorado and the La Plata Mountains in the background are still covered in winter snow. About two years after this image was made, the snow was so deep throughout southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico that for the first time in many years a rotary snowplow train cleared tracks west of Chama, all the way to Durango. That was in 1960, much different than in recent years when Colorado experienced severe drought.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 478 and 498 are leaving Durango, Colorado with an eastbound freight on May 3, 1956. Rio Grande's three remaining 470s at this time were primarily freight locomotives. The San Juan passenger train ran its last miles in January of 1951, and at this time the Silverton Train was a shadow of what it is today. So, the 473, 476 and 478 would help move a lot of freight, just as they are doing in this image. The American Locomotive Company built and delivered ten copies of these Class K-28s in 1923. Seven were taken to the White Pass and Yukon during World War II, used and abused, and then returned in such terrible condition that they were scrapped in 1945.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 478 and 476 are double-headed with a westbound freight approaching Romeo, Colorado, 22 miles south of Alamosa on May 28, 1968. Both locomotives have been put through the back shop and are being returned to Durango for the 1968 Silverton Train operation. This day’s consist is 22 loads of pipe and a caboose destined for Farmington. The decision had been made to run to Durango with this freight in one day. The crew on board will take the train to Chama, where a Durango crew will then move it west. The next day the pipe would be delivered to Farmington. This was to be the first of only five freights operated in 1968, the last year of narrow-gauge freight service.
• Though, it is June 3, 1957 a touch of winter still remains as Denver and Rio Grande Western 486 and 493, along with 480 shoving on the rear are running an eastbound Cumbres Turn as it approaches the siding at Coxo, Colorado. The 480-489 outside-frame Mikados (2-8-2) were delivered new to the Rio Grande by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925, and eight of the ten are still in service, four each on both the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (480, 481, 482 and 486) and the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (484, 487, 488 and 489). 483 still remains, out of service on the Cumbres and Toltec. 485 was scrapped in 1955 after rolling into and then tipping over in the turntable pit at Salida, Colorado.
• Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #4 has stopped on its northbound trip in the Summer of 1949. It is an excursion special; the entity chartering it and its charter date have both been lost to history. This is just west of the snow shed and depot at the summit of Lizard Head Pass. The Lizard Head Mountain looms up in the background. Lizard Head Pass Summit is about 14 miles north of Rico, Colorado. It was the highest elevation on the Rio Grande Southern at 10,250 feet. Roads in the area were primitive on a good day until well after the railroad was abandoned. And Goose #4? It is on display at Telluride, Colorado as you read this.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western "mudhen" 464 has drawn a switching assignment at Durango this pleasant August 1956 day . This is also the day that flat car 1293 decided to "give up the ghost". 464 coupled into it, pulled forward and pulled the entire front end, coupler and all, right out of the car. A company truck has come to the rescue, picked the car up and placed it on a larger flat car. This is definitely a candidate for the RIP (Rest In Peace) track.
• Rio Grande Southern 461 is departing Brown, Colorado after stopping for water on September 4, 1951. 461 was one of 15 Class K-27 Mikados built for the Rio Grande in 1903. Rio Grande Southern purchased 461 from the Rio Grande in September 1950. The Rio Grande Southern was abandoned in 1951, and the scrapper of the railroad, Brinkerhoff Brothers, leased 461 and used it to help dismantle the railroad. In May 1953, when no buyer showed up with an interest in saving it, it was cut up for scrap along with sister locomotive 455. Today, two other K-27's still exist. 463 was donated to the Town of Antonito in 1971. It was rebuilt and operates on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. 464, the last of the series, was purchased and rebuilt by the Huckelberry Railroad in Michigan; it is in tourist train service in Genessee County, Michigan.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 480, a Class K-36 Mikado, has a westbound freight in tow as it leaves Chama, New Mexico on October 3, 1961. Even though this is a fairly heavy freight, one K-36 or K-37 locomotive could handle a 30-car train fairly easily. But after arriving at Gato, help would be needed due to the roller coaster terrain between Gato and Falfa, Colorado. In this case, a helper engine would be run light the 60-plus miles from Durango to Gato, turn on the Gato wye, and after taking water there would lead the double-headed consist 51 miles to Falfa. At Falfa, the helper would cut off and run light back to Durango. The train would follow in twenty minutes or so. This final step was instituted after a disastrous accident four miles west of Falfa in 1958. While running downhill double-headed, the slack action running in and out between the locomotives caused a derailment and one of the crew members was fatally injured.
• It is September 12, 1967 and Denver and Rio Grande Western 497 and 493, Class K-37 Mikados, had arrived at Cumbres only about an hour before this picture was taken. 497 departed eastbound light for Alamosa. 493 was scheduled to attach the caboose to the train the pair had brought up from Chama. As they moved the caboose, someone noticed brake rigging hanging too low, and one of the brakemen can be seen working to repair it. The work took about an hour and 493 was on its way.
• Denver and Rio Grande Western 488 and 484 are coming through the South Alamosa, Colorado Yard on December 8, 1964, running on the main line. This yard is all laid with three-rail track, at this time it was three-rail all the way to the west end of the Antonito, Colorado Yard, some 29 miles away. The two Class K-36 Mikados will travel to the south end of the Alamosa yard, then back to their train which waits on the far right-hand track. The bulk of this consist will be delivered to Farmington, New Mexico for gas and oil drilling, but the lead car carries a load of telephone poles for Durango. This day 488 and 484 will move the freight to Chama, New Mexico. The winter of 1964-1965, which was mild, was the last winter during which the Cumbres Pass Line operated through the winter. The end of freight operations was only four years away.
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