Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grand Junction To Host Amtrak Train Day This Saturday

Amtrak is going to visit Grand Junction this Saturday, October 10th from 10 AM to 4 PM MDT. Actually, Amtrak visits there every day in the form of Amtrak's California Zephyr, the popular Chicago-to-San Francisco train, making stops at Fort Morgan, Denver, Fraser, Granby, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction. But this Saturday will be a bit different.

They call it the Amtrak Exhibit Train Tour and its already made a stop in Denver last weekend. Sharp-eyed photographers might still get a chance to catch it in transit along the former Rio Grande railroad's Moffat Tunnel Route between Denver and Grand Junction sometime this week, assuming they need a couple of days to set up. Keep your eyes peeled and your lens caps in your pockets! Comment with a link to photos of your experience or send them to me, if you'd like.

Looks like a fun day this Saturday October 10, 2015, in Grand Junction!◊

Friday, September 25, 2015

Denver & Rio Grande Steam Engine 168 Moves To New LIfe In Antonito

Shaking off over 75 years of sitting cold and drained in a park, Denver & Rio Grande steam engine 168 left Colorado Springs this week on a flatbed trailer for Antonito to be refurbished by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic for use on the 63 mile narrow gauge, heritage railroad. As announced back in April, the C&TS will lease the class T-12 locomotive for 45 years from the City of Colorado Springs, the owner, after receiving the locomotive from the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1929. This was twenty years after the passing of Gen. William J. Palmer, founder of both the D&RG in 1870 and Colorado Springs in 1871. No official word yet on when work will commence in Antonito.

More Regarding the Move

Special Request: Please take time to visit one or more of the links above, comment there, and share your interest with others on Twitter, Facebook, & Pintrest and other social media. Supporting this effort--even just "generating buzz" about it--is important for this and future projects to succeed!◊

Monday, September 7, 2015

Special POTD: Sadness On a Sunday Morning

As a finishing touch to the featured article on the 3600s, Dave Straight placed his photo "Sadness on a Sunday Morning." I can't look at it without an emotional reaction and I don't trust myself to be reliable in those moments. Yet, to not say anything would seem criminal.

Special Photo of the Day: Dave Straight
At the end of our summer, it's the end of the era of steam, specifically March 25, 1956. My father is not yet 16 years old and his days of driving an ice truck are still ahead of him (let alone parenting me and my three older siblings). Someone older, who would be in his 80s or 90s today, probably looks at the line of used steam engines as dirty, pre-war relics and thinks they look pitiful next to the modern first-generation diesels, all shiny and pristine. Oh, how different a perspective 60 years later!

Today, I still find it incredible that no one gave serious effort to save one of the largest locomotive classes in the world--and certainly in Colorado--off in a corner of a park somewhere in Denver, Pueblo, Grand Junction or Salt Lake City, someplace indebted to the Rio Grande's years of faithful service where such space would have easily been had for the asking. If they had, future generations could have possessed something tangible and real, not a paint scheme or a model, but a life-size representation of the Denver & Rio Grande Western's Main Line Thru the Rockies in an era that is gone forever.◊

Monday, August 10, 2015

EPA Explores Gold King Mine Leak With Predictable But Unplanned Result

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." - Ronald Reagan

In what could be described as an official Federal agency doing what it does best, the Orwellian-named Environmental Protection Agency in the course of its duties made a well-intentioned but badly planned exploratory excavation at the site of the Gold King Mine. This excavation triggered a release of one million three million gallons of severely contaminated water that had seeped into the mine since it ceased operations nearly a century ago.

The moment that the EPA folks might have said, "Uh... Oh, no." A small leak begins to seep a new flow after their exploratory excavation. Photo: EPA - Your government in action
The Gold King Mine was connected by bucket tramway to the Gold King Mill, which was served by the 7-mile long Silverton, Gladstone & Northerly Railroad--the last of the four fabled Silverton Railroads--from 1899 until 1917 when it was foreclosed on by Mears, who merged it with the Silverton Northern for operations until 1938 when the closure of the mines spelled the demise of the SN. In reality, Mears only had 7 years to get what he could because the SG&N line only saw traffic until 1924. Only 25 years of operation, and then the mine sat for 90 years like a ticking time bomb, the mining companies, miners, machines and precious metals all vanished like ghosts.

The spill itself points to a larger problem that Colorado and the western states have ignored for some time and will not simply "go away." Some estimates put the number of potential problems near 55,000 sites. While not all of these sites are going to turn loose a toxic brew of lead and arsenic compounds, they are going to continue to challenge Colorado and the nation with potential spills in the foreseeable future. At this point, reactionary plans at the EPA are just going to anger more and more of the population around the Four Corners with poisoned taps, poisoned livestock, and poisoned crops. One can only assume that tourism is the next thing to go.

The bitter irony is that the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad's original reason for construction by the Rio Grande, to capture revenue by servicing the mines of Silverton, is now threatening its present stock-in-trade, the scenery of the Animas River, for which tourists pay top dollar. Until residents of the San Juan district, the state, and the nation make the decision to fix the problems of the past, they will continue to lose their future. If mines were stabilized and the stained rocks of the Animas were cleaned up and restored, I would wonder if we have enough engines to haul yellow narrow gauge trains filled with tourists up & down the Animas each day. So, San Juan residents, Coloradoans, and Americans, what do you choose: yellow rivers of poisoned water or rivers of yellow revenue trains of tourism?◊

Friday, July 31, 2015

POTD - Full Moon Lights An Empty Main Line

Photo of the Day: Kevin the Krazy 1
On the night of a full moon in early April, near Salida but far from the city lights of Denver and Pueblo, photographer Kevin A. Sadowski opened the shutter on his Canon for a full 30 seconds, allowing as much starlight as possible to reach the sensor at the back. Waiting in the stillness, the quiet of the Royal Gorge Route over Tennessee Pass has not been broken by a revenue freight for 18 years. At the end of the half-minute, Mr. Sadowski was probably a bit colder, and in possession of the Photo of the Day.◊

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

POTD - Bowie Black Diamonds

Photo of the Day: Kevin the Krazy 1
A Union Pacific coal drag leaves Somerset towards Paonia, allowing a worker of a private orchard to cool his heels while it clears his crossing. While coal from eastern states has all but played out or otherwise dropped from domestic use, "high-BTU, low-sulfur, compliance thermal coal" from Bowie on the former Rio Grande is still in demand. On the other hand, recent layoffs at the same mine have threatened to destabilize the western slope's economy and make scenes like this one vanish forever. The first of two POTDs this week by Kevin A. Sadowski.◊

Friday, July 24, 2015

D&RGW 3600 Locomotives


by Dave Straight and John Hill

3600’s. Mention that number series and those who follow the Denver and Rio Grande’s steam locomotive fleet will smile and fondly remember the 2-8-8-2 articulated giants, the world’s largest at their construction in 1927. Built by the American Locomotive Company, the first ten were class L131 numbered 3600 through 3609 and followed by class L132 numbered 3610 through 3619 built in 1930. 131,800 pounds of tractive effort, 63" diameter drive wheels, 26" x 32" cylinders and weighing in at 649,000 pounds. I remember being told that for every four scoops of coal into the firebox, one went straight up the smokestack.

Sadly all met with the scrapper's torch in 1955 and 1956, five in 1955, engines 3600, 3603, 3614, 3617 and 3618, the remainder in 1956 with none saved for posterity. Unfortunately, this was the same for all but one locomotive of the D&RG standard gauge steam fleet. 

Author Dave Straight met several engineers, hostlers and the like while out photographing the final days and hours of the great beasts. Here are a couple of antidotes from the fellows he met as well as himself; 

“A hoghead named Alvie Powell, brought the first 3600 into Phippsburg, Colorado approximately in  1947. Alvie was an engineer who worked over the hill in the D&SL Days. He was quite a character, and he liked the 3600’s.”
“The last two 3600's under steam were: the 3609 and the 3619. Ironically the last 2 numbered engines in each class. Sadly enough, the last day they operated, was Oct. 27th,1956. They left Tabernash that afternoon. Joe Preiss and Flory Iacovetto, engineer and fireman respectively. Both were D&SL employees. Joe was a veteran from the days on the line over Corona/Rollins Pass." 
“About a week before their leaving Tabernash, A hostler let me up in the cab of the 3609."Just don't touch anything!" they told me. But I got to blow the whistle. I can't tell you how much of a charge I got out of that. Later on, we went over to a little diner across the highway. The cook had a little, black & white TV set on. It looked like a blizzard on Corona Pass! His rabbit ears antenna weren't much good. He started lamenting about those (censored) steam engines and how their steam generator "jacked up the reception." Plus the fact, some (censored) was blowing the whistle! Of course, needless to say I kept my mouth shut for a change. What a sight to see the 3609 pound out of Tabernash, tied to the tail of a Moffat Tunnel freight. ‘Twas quite a day.” 
“Another character said he had a 3600 running at 75MPH, that’s right, 75MPH between Flat and Troublesome. If you’re not familiar with those names they are between Kremmling and Parshall along the Colorado River. I leave this one for you the reader to decide but…”

Dave’s friend, retired D&RGW employee Gerry Decker, relates in a letter to Dave about his father Dean who was a D&RGW conductor. Gerry says,
I don’t have too many 3600 stories. Dean was on the first one west with tonnage. He said the road foreman got off after a few tunnels and rode the caboose to Bond. He told Dean at Bond that he wouldn’t have ridden through another tunnel if they gave him what it cost new at the factory! He referred to it as ‘a miserable S.O.B!’ ... Frank Woodruff was on one west and they stopped someplace east of Bond. Don’t remember where. Frank went to the headend and the Hogger was passed out drunk. Frank told the fireman, who was promoted, to run the engine and he refused so Frank sent the head brakeman to the rear end and Frank ran the engine into Bond. He said, ‘That S.O.B., never thanked me for saving his job or even bought me a cup of coffee!’ 
Dean always remarked how bad they smoked. The company issued the crews some old WW1 gas masks and he said they were useless! The best they could do was keep a box of packing waste and a bucket of water in the cab. They would grab a wad of waste, dip it in the water, and cover their faces in it while going thru the tunnel. Dean also carried a small mirror with him to help pick cinders out of his eyes. He said he could get a cinder in his eye by just looking at a picture of a 3600. ... Dean said that there was a practice in helper service for other engines to be ahead of a 3600 because they put out too much smoke and heat that would about kill the crews on the smaller engine. He said they tried that at first but that didn’t last too long.” 
Author Dave Straight’s attached photo of the 3600’s and a 3700 being towed to their demise brought forth his comment, “The sound of hissing air being sucked into and blown out of the cylinder cocks was a sad moment as I stood and watched them fade away.”

3607 at the Pueblo Coaling Tower on Feb 12, 1956 Dave Straight Photo
3619 near Fraser 10-20 1956 Dave Straight3619 at Tabernash CO 10-20-1956 Dave Straight

 L 131 3609 at Tabernash Colorado  Sept 30, 1956 Dave Straight

3612 at Winter Park CO Sept 30, 1956 Dave Straight Photo

3609 at Winter Park CO Robert LeMessena Sept 1956 DPL-WHD Photo
3619 South of Tabernash CO  10-20-1956 Dave Straight Photo
3600 at Mitchell Curves with Train 35 on May 31 1941 R.H. Kindig, DL Straight Collection
3609 West of Malta CO with Train 33 with 71 Cars 3-24-1940 R.H. Kindig, DL Straight Collection
3606 and 1510 South of Littleton CO with 107 Cars 12-1-1940 R.H. Kindig, Dave Straight Collection
3612 at Tabernash Colorado Ready for Helper Service Sept 30, 1956, Dave Straight Photo

3602 at the West Portal of Tennessee Pass  3-24-1940 R.H.  Kindig  Photo Dave Straight Collection

Sadness On a Sunday Morning
L-131/2 class locomotives 3611, 3615, 3610, and L-105 class leader 3700 are pushed to their doom at the hands of a scrapper's torch. The culprit at the back is FT 5431 and 2 B-units on March 25, 1956 in Pueblo,CO. This is, to my knowledge, the last photograph of these steam engines, forever lost. Dave Straight Photo
"The sound of hissing air being sucked into and blown out of the cylinder cocks was a sad moment as I stood and watched them fade away."

Editor's note: Dave and John both have my deep personal gratitude for their patience in letting me put this article together. Having to work with my errors and delays is something that few can work with and it speaks to their great fortitude and generosity. I look forward to writing about the 3600s and hopefully, I will be able to use their incredible photographs and collections in the future! - SRW, ed.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

OT: Walking In My Shoes

I don't go off-topic very often on this blog. You should get what you came here for. However, today is my birthday, and my wish is for you to take a few minutes and watch this video. I live this video every day, every week, every year since 2002. Please take a moment to walk in my shoes.

Companion article in Palo Alto Online

Please feel free to contact me at for my story.◊

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train Passes Through Monument

On Monday evening, Walt Loevy caught the UP-led Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey circus train on it's way north through Monument on the west side of the grade with dusk approaching. Be warned: the flange noise on the curve is pretty loud! He catches up with it at Greenland, well after sunset for a final look.

By the way, the RBBX train--the longest privately owned train in the world--was featured on the single season of Extreme Trains. The hour long episode is here.◊

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Announces Lease To Fully Restore T-12 Engine 168

Colorado Springs City Council has approved a lease of D&RG 168 by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad for the purpose of full restoration to steam. It was initially proposed to the city in October and surprisingly--Nathan Holmes of called it "a rare moment of sanity and agreement"--they accepted. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic's eventual success in restoring D&RGW 463, one of two surviving Mudhens, probably influenced the council's decision.

Denver & Rio Grande 168 In Antlers Park
Rio Grande 168 rests placidly under a thin blanket of snow on April 10, 2004.
Photo by Steve Walden*
The 168 is one of two surviving T-12 class narrow gauge ten-wheelers purchased by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1883 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. The Rio Grande, having spent the previous two years in a frenzy of expansion needed a number of new narrow gauge locomotives to service the new lines. The other surviving engine, 169, rests in Alamosa, 30 miles north of the eastern terminus of the C&TS at Antonito.

Only a year after her presentation on Aug 27, 1939 (DPL)
The city will lease the locomotive to the railroad for 3 consecutive 15 year terms. This is inclusive of the time to take it apart and fully restore all parts that have corroded or wasted in the 77 years since it last saw service. The locomotive last saw a full cosmetic restoration completed in 1984 and has received periodic upkeep. As it has occupied the same location for nearly 8 decades, the locomotive's static display predates most buildings downtown.

June 13, 1943 Same engine and city but can you spot
all that's changed in less than 4 years?
Both photos: Otto Perry (courtesy DPL)
Most of the buildings, that is, with the exception of the Colorado Springs D&RG Depot, located across the street from Antlers Park. The close proximity of two of the oldest artifacts of Colorado's most extensive railroad has often resulted in their pairing in presentation in promotional and tourism material. The depot had for years served as a restaurant until a change of ownership and subsequent mismanagement forced it to close in 2011.

It is one of the ideas that for many years I had dreamed might one day come about. Could the city that was founded by Gen. Palmer only a year after his "baby road" one day find a way to return to steaming operation a locomotive that had such a history and connection to the city? I once thought it impossible, considering the difficulties of other organizations and other cities. Now, ...who knows what's next?◊

* On a personal note, this was one of my first digital photographs since 1997.