Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mudflow, Debris Shortens Route of Durango Train

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had to shorten its route today after high water and debris--mostly mud--from rains made a mess of things in the Animas River canyon. Tuesday's trips had already made it to Silverton when the mudflows occurred, tying up the track and forcing at least two trains to return to Silverton and wait for buses to take them from there back to Durango via US 550.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

POTD - Empty Hoppers In the Sunset

From a river named "The Animas" in the San Juan mountains to a town named Las Animas on the eastern plains, it's hard to believe they're in the same world, let alone the same state at the same rough latitude (0.5° difference). From narrow gauge Rio Grande rails hung precariously on canyon walls to standard gauge Santa Fe rails somewhere in a vast prairie, these are Colorado Railroads!

Empty Hoppers In the Sunset - Coal hoppers wait their turn for service in beside a
piece of disused rail in the quiet town of Las Animas, Colorado, on June 16, 2008
Photo: Jenny Vaughn

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

POTD - D&RGW 315 Crossing the Animas River

John West is an accomplished photographer with many years of experience and hundreds of publishable and historic photographs under his belt, 13 of which are available for purchase. His pictures bring narrow gauge enthusiasts immeasurable joy and pleasure.

Originally Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad engine 3, the Denver & Rio Grande numbered it 424 before the Denver & Rio Grande Western numbered it 315.  Durango Railroad Historical Society restored the engine from March 2001 until she moved under her own steam in August 2007.

On August 23, 2010, during last year's Railfest, Mr. West captured #315, a former Denver & Rio Grande Western 2-8-0 steam locomotive as it crossed the Animas River near Tacoma, Colorado, on former Denver & Rio Grande Western rails, now operated by Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which will host its 13th annual Railfest later this month.

D&RGW Consolidation 2-8-0 #315 leads a photo freight over the Animas near
Tacoma on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad August 23, 2010
Photo: John West


Monday, August 1, 2011

POTD - 135 Years of Statehood, Rail Tourism

Today's POTD honors Colorado and her 135 years of statehood. Prior to August 1, 1876, Colorado was a territory carved out of portions of Kansas Territory and Utah Territory with smaller parts of the Nebraska and New Mexico Territories. Since it was the only state admitted to the union that year, the centennial of the United States, Colorado became known as the Centennial state.

Property speculators and railroads were anxious to entice settlers and pioneering families to come west and generate revenue by living and working out there. While trappers and later miners were eager to make a fortune off the land, farmers, tradesmen and other people that make lasting communities weren't typically as anxious to risk all in a move out west. Unscrupulous promoters wrote fifictitious accounts, one even going so far as to claim that steam boats were departing daily at Denver on the South Platte River. As you can see from this photo, even with modern-day dams keeping the South Platte flowing year round, the river--if you can call it that--would not be navigable by such craft. Such fiction was unfortunately common and many would-be settlers would not trust written accounts. Therefore, it was all the more important that photographs were taken and reproduced as much as possible showing Colorado to be a land open to new settlers and the skills they had or were willing to learn. Photos that depicted the scenic wonders of the west were just as helpful in promoting the nascent tourism industry.

Railroad travel and tourism in Colorado got a healthy boost from the work of William Henry Jackson, whose photographs brought on a continuous flow of curious and moderately wealthy tourists who had never seen such drama and beauty. One such photograph is of Toltec Gorge along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Jackson made trips up and down the line in a photographer's special train that usually included a mobile dark room for his plate glass negatives. His train is just barely visible (top right) from this point in the canyon, nearly 800 feet below the tracks.

[No. 1021. Rio de los Pinos, (Rio San Antonio) and rock formations in the Toltec Gorge, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Shows a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad train near the Toltec tunnel high on the rock cliff].
A D&RG train steams above the floor of Toltec Gorge on the San Juan
Extension. The undated photograph is between 1878 and 1898 (maybe 1880?)
Photo: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Such a view (from the top, anyway) is still available today on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which took the Rio Grande's property and turned it into a thriving heritage railroad.

If you are interested in the history, the Colorado Railroad Museum has a new exhibit, Trains and Tourism in Colorado. It opened this summer and has a great deal of historic artifacts. Imagine columbines, Colorado's state flower, being gathered by the armful on "Wildflower Excursions" over a century ago, where the ticket was $1.50, which would be about $34.92 today.1

1 - Converted per scale at

Friday, July 29, 2011

POTD - Maintenence

I said on Wednesday that it was a two-parter and this being Friday, I'm sure you're expecting something different. It is something different ...sort of. Actually, it's the same photographer, and the same subject, a steam engine, is involved, but that's where the similarities end.

Christopher May got my attention with this black-and-white image of two volunteers at the Colorado Railroad Museum during Shay Days. It is titled very simply, Maintenance, and it highlights a fundamental truth that it is not just a steam engine that works to keep the steel wheels in motion over steel rails. Each iron beast, steam or diesel, standard gauge or narrow, represents many, many man-hours of hard work, heat, pressure, oil and tools exhausted in keeping the rails plied with people, consumables and goods. Sometimes it's a gantry crane lifting a multi-ton assembly for a 2-dollar part replacement that gets focused attention. Today, it was near a cylinder on the geared drivetrain of a Shay locomotive at a narrow-gauge haven in Golden.

Incidentally, there are times when a photograph invites a black-and-white shot treatment, but this one fairly stands up and demands it. Great work, Chris!

West Side Lumber Shay engine #12 gets a hand or two during some Maintenance at
Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO on May 14, 2011 during "Shay Days."
Photo: Christopher May/GhoSStrider

Thursday, July 28, 2011

POTD - An Hour Or Two Earlier Makes the Difference

Today's Photo of the Day is the second by GhoSStrider, as Christopher May is known on flickr. This was apparently on the same trip, taken earlier in the day as the sun was still in its sunrise mode. As you can see in comparison with yesterday's POTD, which was taken later, the passage of a "couple hours" can change everything. Change the light in color, angle or both, you change the photograph. The rich color really comes through, even with the grass and the grain elevator.

Northern Colorado, which varies in area with whom you ask, is part of the Colorado Front Range Urban Corridor. Despite this "urban" definition, the people and landscape of this strip between Cheyenne and Denver is a mix of semi-industrial, suburban, and commercial islands strung like pearls along the I-25, US 85, and US 287 lifelines linking the two cities, surrounded by vast agricultural ventures that epitomize rural, non-urban life. Any journey out east will tell you that urban isn't what they should call the Front Range piedmont. Coming out of Brighton as the 844 works its way north, the landscape shifts agrarian for the first but not the last time.

The best part--from a railfan's point of view--about the old Denver Pacific line is that, despite its history, it's not all that old. UP maintenance crews have kept this line in good shape, and the relatively level grade lets 844 pick up some speed on its way.

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844 paces down the rails through Brighton on a beautiful
Saturday morning July 23, 2011 on her way to Cheyenne's Frontier Days in WY
Photo: GhoSStrider

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recent Moonlight and Wine Tasting With Prime Rib At Osier

The Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a volunteer organization that supports the historic equipment of the Cumbres & Toltec. Every year, they host some great trips and dinners, raising funds for the historic restoration and maintenance by volunteers. This recent video is a prime (rib) example of the Friends trip, open to all who love the railroad.

POTD - Terry Ranch Road

Today's picture of the day comes from last Saturday's Cheyenne Frontier Days special chartered by the Denver Post. Chris (GhoSStrider on flickr) has been building himself up as another of Colorado's young and talented railroad photographers for several years now. He deserves a two-parter, the second you will see tomorrow.

Terry Ranch Road
Denver Post's Cheyenne Frontier Days Special approaches Terry Ranch Road, just
north of the Colorado border on its final miles to Cheyenne Frontier Days 7/23/11
Photo: GhoSStrider

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

POTD - Silver Sky Vanishes Into the Dark

Some photos need to be cropped and others don't. I've learned that it's a good idea when shooting to leave some extra space around what you're shooting. Like my barber said, "We can always go shorter." Risk a slight loss of definition for a better chance of making a great photo. Not having the right size is nearly always the cause for an awesome photograph missing the cover of a magazine. A primary example of this is today's Photo of the Day: Silver Sky farewell at Moffatt Tunnel.

Former California Zephyr Sleeper/Observation/Dome car Silver Sky
just before vanishing into the darkness of the Moffat Tunnel, 1987
Photo: Chip colorado zephyr

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trainstar: Guide to Temporary Train Station

What changed at this year's Cheyenne Frontier Days Special (here/there) was the location where passengers boarded, near the temporary Amtrak station. Helen Bushnell, blogger for Train Star, completed a very helpful guide to Denver's Temporary Train Station, in place for the duration of DUSPA's remodeling of Union Station, due to end in 2014. She's put together a fairly decent travel guide in her post. Of note, she pays attention to details that are meaningful to most, including the disabled and the folks that are onboard and jumping off to grab a few items at the nearest convenience store. Thanks, Ms. Bushnell, for helping folks Travel by Train. If anyone is still looking for official information, here's the best available directions (PDF) and the site.

POTD - Photo of the Day Debut

Today, we start a new format for POTD, Photo Of The Day. The purpose of POTD is, lest we forget, to give photographers more exposure and to get them noticed. There is no commercial interest driving this feature, just a love of the art. All clicks on the photo will be directed to the photographer's hosting site whenever possible.

The first Photo of the Day for the new format is a personal favorite. I was present at the unveiling of the Union Pacific's Heritage fleet's tribute to the Denver & Rio Grande Western, SD-70ACe UP 1989. Kevin Morgan was also there, and I'll admit, his skills--and camera--are better than mine.

UP SD70ACe 1989 on June 17, 2006 at the Union Pacific equipment yard
Photo Kevin Morgan

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reader Poll Results

The poll has closed and we have our results! Of those voting on location, Here on this blog took all the votes. I'm glad, because starting up blogs is a headache. Of those voting on length and frequency it was pretty much split down the middle. With 43% of the voters picking weekly with deeper coverage and 57% picking daily and short, I might try mixing it up with deep and weekly one week and short, quick and daily the next. I'm not completely certain.

What is certain is that Picture of the Day will start on this blog on Monday. See you then!