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.◊

Bob Craine, Director of Friends of the C&TS, Passed Away Suddenly Sept 21

On a side note, there is some sad news from the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Apparently, the Director of the Friends organization suddenly passed away last month. According to the Friends' announcement, Bob Craine suffered a massive heart attack on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma that evening. He was 66 years old.

My prayers are with his wife, Debbie, as she grieves her loss. To me, it is a higher compliment  Mr. Craine's tribute page shows that he was a good man who affected other lives for the better.◊

Monday, October 6, 2014

POTD - Pumpkins Under a Wicked Sky

Note from Steve: this marks the 600th post to Colorado Railroads!
Photo of the Day: Kevin Morgan
How could POTD not lead off with a Pumpkin shot? It's October! And early fall is no time to let your guard down with respect to bad weather Last year proved that well and good. A westbound BNSF manifest is stopped at Leyden on the Moffat Route in front of an eastern horizon with a color that might just give you shivers if you were heading that way.

Speaking of color, even if it wasn't power-short BNSF providing no shortage of color (orange predominantly), it still would be a profoundly colorful shot. Dark blue, gold, white, red, green, and all are mirrored in the train itself! Manifests, pumpkins and dark skies. Worthy, indeed!

On a side note, Kevin Morgan says about this train,
The westbound BNSF manifest was stopped on the main at Leyden because the head end had lost its comm link with the rear DPU. The conductor walked back to the DPU to try to get the link to re-establish. It was determined that the comm radio on the lead unit was broken, so a new unit had to come out of Denver to rescue the train.
Those darn GEs!  You'd almost forget that at one time GE made radios.◊

Friday, October 3, 2014

Know Your Union Pacific EMD Locomotives

There's something about being able to identify a locomotive. Perhaps being able to identify something allows a person to connect with the subject. This was a big deal in the days of steam when spotting a specific engine class could tell you not only what railroad, but whether it was a brand new lighwogjtstreamliner or a thundering Pullman heavyweight behind her. Today, identifying diesel locomotives in main line service isn't always simple matter.

For a complete guide on identifying locomotives,
this is probably your best bet! Schraders / Library
On one hand, when I first started trying to figure out the make and model out on the Moffat Route and elsewhere, there were EMD locomotives and GE locomotives. I quickly figured out a fast rule of thumb: The GE's always seemed to have an exhaust on the roof, usually in the middle of the hood section. These days, the exhaust is even easier to spot. I just look for the fluted aluminum stack sticking up about a half-foot above everything else. If it's there, it's a GE loco rather than an EMD.

On the other hand, Identifying the model of a locomotive isn't as simple as a quick look. While it's relatively easy to tell the difference between a GE and an EMD locomotive, it's significantly more complex a task to determine the model.

This isn't a comprehensive guide. There are books like Greg McDonnell's 2008 guide that are much more researched. However, there is a fairly consistent means of identifying the two most popular, state-of-the-art models by EMD that are in use on the Union Pacific railroad (as well as BNSF). It involves examining the radiators.

A vertical comparison between different versions of EMDs SD70 locomotive as seen on the Union Pacific railroad
Click to enlarge. Photo collage by Alan Radecki (CC 2.5), Identification and graphics by Colorado Railroads
As you can see, the three different versions on top are all considered SD70Ms, and the fourth is the Tier 4 compliant SD70ACe. The 3 bottom locomotives all have flared radiators, but only the ACe's have space between the radiators and the end of the hood.

As late as 2004, EMD produced the previous version of the SD70s AC version, the SD70MAC, which might better explain the disparity in suffixes of the EMD model numbers.

Deciphering the EMD Model Numbers

SD stands for Special Duty because it was anticipated that this design would see only limited use as opposed to General Purpose (GP) road switchers. While GP locomotives have 4 axles, SD series have 6 axles, 3 per truck, with each axle powered independently. The notation for this by AAR standards is C-C. As far as it being Special Duty, EMD no longer produces any of the GP series.

70 indicates the place in the series. As a rule, EMD numbered SD series on the 5s, but skipping 55 and 65. Since SD70, EMD filled SD75 and then SD80 and SD90 series in short succession, but the latter 2 were non-starters with design shortfalls. The SD70, like the SD40, has built a reputation for reliability.

M was applied as a suffix applied to comfort or safety cabs when they were the option and not standard. When the SD70M was introduced, the standard cab was the short hood, low nose design from the early days of EMD locomotives. Today, the situation is reversed, with any company that wants one to specify the Spartan cab. So far, the Spartan has but few takers.

AC Initially, all diesel electrics functioned using Direct Current (DC) produced by a prime mover as two phase AC and then rectified to DC. Today's AC units change that DC electricity to three-phase AC. This solves some problems that have dogged DC diesel-electrics for years.

e eco-system friendly, specifically "EPA Tier-3 emissions certified" as EMD says on their site.

One last thing...

Incidentally, I've appreciated Union Pacific's long-standing choice of the American flag for the side of it's locomotives. Sure, it's not a big leap from the UP shield to the flag, but being an American (and especially a Coloradoan) is particularly important to me.◊