Friday, January 30, 2015

POTD - Snowy Morning Down At the Depot

Photo of the Day: John West
It's a cold morning a few days before Christmas 1961 in Durango Colorado. With the snow from a few days before filling the narrow-gauge yard beside the Depot, a crew readies K-36 Mikado 488 and heads south into the low winter solstice sun. Photographer John West fills in the details.
A caboose hop leaves Durango headed for Farmington. It will pick up its train at Carbon Junction, where the cars were set out the prior evening by a train from Chama. The caboose, two loaded boxcars, two flats of farm tractors, and a MofW tank car are the only cars from a 50 car train that made it all the way into Durango, the balance were Aztec and Farmington cars that were set out at Carbon Junction. The MofW tank car had been used to fill cisterns at Ignacio and Lumberton on its eastbound trip to Chama two days before.
In just eight short years, all the locations from Chama to Durango listed above will see their last train as Rio Grande abandons the narrow gauge except the short but incredibly scenic--and lucrative--Silverton Branch. Antonito to Chama will be resurrected after a full year of abandonment by the states of Colorado and New Mexico and 488 now resides in Chama.

Note: John West also has his own photo site, NarrowGaugeMemories.com, in addition to his fine photographs at RailPictures.Net.◊

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

POTD - A Silver Lady Passes Her Castle Gate

Drew Jacksich makes his debut here with Photo of the Day. Mr. Jacksich gets around if a quick tour of his flickr site is any indication. His photos appear in Wikipedia articles, and with good reason, because not only do they have some historic significance, but the bulk of them have some real beauty.

D&RGW 5771 EB Castle Gate June 1975x4
Photo of the Day: Drew Jacksich
Such is the case with his photograph of the Rio Grande Zephyr at Castle Gate, Utah in June 1975, just 40 years ago this year. The last remnant of the Silver Lady and the last privately controlled inter-city passenger train was 4 years into her proud, tri-weekly service following the demise of the popular California Zephyr, begun in 1949 by the Burlington, Rio Grande and Western Pacific railroads as a Chicago to San Francisco train timed to view Colorado's Rocky Mountains in the daylight.◊

Friday, January 16, 2015

Slow Order - Rough Track

Note: This post is entirely personal. If you are interested in seeing life on the other side of this screen and site, read on.

Photo: Parker_2
And, we're back. I took some 6 weeks off of writing here on Colorado Railroads mostly because of the intensity of this past year. Losing a loved one is always hard, and as my close friends know, losing my mother-in-law is particularly difficult considering she birthed and raised the woman who is my most treasured gift and my crowning glory. Only a few short years ago, I lost the last of my grandparents and now, for my children to lose one of theirs, it has been very hard to grieve this loss.

I don't usually crack the pages of this site apart to let folks in. I'm very private and I don't volunteer information to just anyone. Nonetheless, I am forced to admit that these last few months have been hard, even without considering the grief.

Photo: SDRandCo
My condition is very difficult to predict. One of the few telltale signs that I've been able to understand as an indicator of my future condition is the weather. Because my condition is in part arthritis-related, any weather system that approaches my location will have an adverse affect on my condition. Likewise, eating certain foods seems to produce an adverse response in my body. This response aggravates the symptoms of my condition. For example, a rare departure from my diet would be to eat pizza, which I did on Sunday. Eating three pieces of the standard, hand-tossed, two topping pizza has produced widespread pain, inflammation, and fatigue. Not my favorite aperitif!

What are the holidays known for? We sing, in part, about the weather, and we talk about the food. Can you imagine what a minefield Christmas it is to me and my family? Therefore, it shouldn't come as any surprise why I might take off the month of December. I hope you can forgive me my absence, and let's do everything we can to have a great 2015!◊

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

POTD - Deep In The San Juan Mountains

She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain...
Photo of the Day: Adam Baker

Few photographs manage to capture how deep the San Juan Mountain range is, how extreme the differences in elevation can be between the lofty peaks and the valleys below. Adam Baker of Flickr managed just such a view when he and his friends were returning from a trek to climb Mt. Eolus. I have climbed enough to know that Eolus is a 14er that isn't for the novice or the faint of heart!◊

Monday, November 17, 2014

Colorado Christmas Trains 2014

Kids and Christmas are a natural fit for
the magic and adventure of trains
Photo: CarolinaWebDesign
If you're a kid or a kid at heart, Christmas is a special time. To a child, anything can be possible at Christmas. Accordingly, when you combine that with the magic and wonder of trains, memories can be made that last a lifetime or longer.

This year, instead of posting the updated Christmas Trains in Colorado, I was able to put together a permanent page with a map that will be available year after year and year-round.

Instead of a yearly post competing with previous years' entries for attention from folks (and Google), the page will be easier to find and use at their convenience. Additionally, a single source will keep old data out of the way.◊

Friday, November 7, 2014

Photo Essay: Los Pinos May 20th 2013 -- John Hill, photographer

So today's a little bit different. Today, we're going to appreciate some of John Hill's efforts at preserving a bit of history. Just because it says Cumbres & Toltec Scenic on the sides of the cars or that it was just last year doesn't mean it isn't historic or significant. The stuff these people do on the C&TS are just as worthy and require just as much strength as it did for the old hands of the D&RGW. And whether Mr. Hill's work is comparable to Al Chione or Otto Perry or one of the many photographers of the narrow gauge of years before is not for me to decide. But I do know what I like. And what I like keeps me watching John Hill's work.

Take, for example, the lowly mudhen 463. She's a teakettle, make no mistake, but she has been fortified with the efforts of many strong men who have worked hard to keep her faithfully steaming and, when she could no longer run, to keep at her until she could again. One thing Gene Autry's mudhen has taught me: Never give up on an old friend. If you stick with them, they will often surprise you with their strength of heart.

Today, I give you a 5 photo essay called,

Los Pinos May 20th, 2013 

Photos by John Hill, supplemental text by Steve Walden, editor


On May 20, 2013, Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge Mikado 463, the 13th of her class of K-27 locomotives, steams peacefully, about to begin a new day of work. Tell me she doesn't look fine, with her outside frame drivers so low they nearly fail to clear the spikes and her long, low boiler. That's where they get the name Mudhen, because they are so low to the ground.*


On May 20th, 2013, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad called upon the pride of Antonito, donated to the city by Gene Autry in 1972, to pull in front of K-36 Mikado 487, one of ten workhorses that have been the mainstays of both the C&TS and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Running across the broad San Luis valley toward Lava tank, you might be fooled into thinking this wasn't a mountain railroad.


With only the wind to tell you their true speed, the true battle is with gravity, and both locomotives are working with all their might to pull their train through Los Pinos, only a few linear miles between Osier and the summit of Cumbres, but quite a few more, considering the route used to gain the vertical feet between the two locations. May 20th, 2013, the two engines are making the most of the 0.8 miles of tangent track they've just covered as they round the curve to point them nearly 180 degrees in the opposite direction. With plenty of spring's snow lying about at this altitude, there are no doubts about this being a mountain railroad now!


Puffing away on May 20th, 2013, mudhen 463 and engine 487 show their worth to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic as they have for so many years before for the Rio Grande. With a combined 198 years between the two engines, you'd think this scene would get a little old, a little mundane. Ho-hum, right? Not on your life, even if it were another date! But this particular date is pretty special.


As the train continues toward Cumbres Pass and Chama, the white flag on the back brings up the markers. The date, May 20th, 2013, contributing photographer John Hill would be the first to tell you, was the very first trip in well over a decade for little mudhen 463. She had spent nearly a dozen years idled by a desperate need for extensive repairs. Extensive to the point of stripping her down and rebuilding from the frame up. Spending her hundredth birthday and several more in the darkness of a shop was no picnic, and no way for the rarest of Rio Grande Mikados to survive. No, this return was special for many reasons, and many hands worked hard for her to return to steam.

History happens every day, but Los Pinos, May 20th, 2013, was special!◊

* - When first published, I originally called the class Sports Models, which is actually a common nickname for the subsequent class of Mikados, the K-28s. Special thanks to Charles Weston of Yahoo! Group DRGW for clearing this up!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

POTD - Classic Film

They say film is dead. Tell that to Chris May. A loaned camera, a roll of Tri-X film (Kodak black and white) and some time at Union Station with Amtrak's California Zephyr produced an opportunity to capture an image that feels timeless. "Union Station: Travel By Train." How many couples have stood on Union Station's platforms, Pullman coaches, engines and fellow passengers buzzing about them?◊

Union Station Couple
Photo of the Day: Chris May

Friday, October 17, 2014

POTD - Morning Sunlight Warming a BNSF Warbonnet

I've been following a photographer posting under the the name of "BUFFIE" for some time now. Their specialization is in industrial Denver's yards, so the scenic quality is harder to quantify, but today's photo is clearly a well thought-out effort. Here's a warm welcome and congratulations on making Photo Of the Day for the first time!

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=502329
Photo of the Day: BUFFIE
When Santa Fe revived the Warbonnet scheme in the early 1990s, the result couldn't have been more positive. The now-standard full-width nose of the cab strongly resembles the EMD full cowl body that so iconically represented the railroad during the zenith of its passenger service and the hood portion retains the "blue bonnet" feel from its more recent past in terms of shape and lettering. After the BNSF merger, the eventual decision was made to switch to a new combined paint scheme that reflected the "northern heritage" of BN as well as the Santa Fe, now known as Heritage 2.

Only last Monday (the 13th), BNSF 755 wears her colors as proudly as possible, while her bolsterless trucks and undercarriage rust more closely resembles the earth around her than the fine silver that matched her flanks. The GE Dash 9-44CW has just now received the full morning light of the sun to warm up with, while a puddle reflects the red, yellow, and silver that used to roam in far greater numbers--not once, but twice!--under the blue skies of America's vast southwest.◊

Monday, October 13, 2014

POTD - Snowy Rails in Middle Park Wash the CZ in Wintry Wonder

Amtrak killed the Ski Train in a blatant fratricide. So why is it still the subject of a Photo of the Day award, especially in a place its victim once called home? Because art and reality can be separated at times and because it can be unprofessional to let a grudge get in the way of artistic triumph.

Amtrak in the snow - Colorado
Photo of the Day: Steve Brown (sjb4photos), Amtrak in the snow - Colorado 
Amtrak Train No. 5, the California Zephyr, makes its way through Middle Park approaching Fraser, Colorado in March 2003. It is presently four hours late due to the recent snow storm and when it leaves Frasier, it will be seven hours late due to freight congestion on the Union Pacific's Moffat Route brought on by the same storm. Not the worst delays ever seen by Amtrak, but it certainly doesn't help Amtrak's sorry reputation for poor timetable performance.1,2,3 That may have been why a grinchy Amtrak never could abide the Ski Train service from Denver to Winter Park and back that was seldom if ever so late.◊

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friends Video Shows Rare Mudhen In Its Natural Environment

On June 21st of this year, the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad put together a video of a double header between Chama and Los Pinos. The Friends all-volunteer organization helps preserve the historic elements of the part of the  Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's narrow gauge San Juan Extension that the C&TS operates. They paint. A lot. But that's part of what preservation is. They also do a lot of restoration that would otherwise lay undone.



Incidentally, I may be hearing things, but it sounds like someone is being a bit stingy with the sand or a bit too generous with the steam. Several times as the train climbs out of Chama, mudhen 463 spins her drivers. This is not all that good for the machinery or the rails. Working the throttle with a sensitive touch can keep the engine delivering the maximum energy to the rail.◊