Wednesday, March 21, 2007

SP 1744 Steam Locomotive To Run On La Veta

It appears the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad just completed the purchase of former Southern Pacific Railroad standard-gauge steam locomotive #1744. This engine was listed recently for $800,000 by Ozark Mountain Railcar.

Built by Baldwin for SP in 1901, the 2-6-o Mogul is an oil burner. She has been reconfigured a few times, including going from compound to simple and having a superheater added and boosting the boiler to 200 p.s.i. After serving mostly in Califronia, her first service life effectively ended September 24, 1956, when SP retired her, placing her in stand-by status because of her good condition. According to Ozark, she saw occasional excursion service until the fall of 1958 when she starred in a feature film, entitled This Earth Is Mine released the following year.

She was donated to the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers on May 9, 1959, where the locomotive was on static display at Corine, Utah along with Union Pacific 2-8-0 #264, sitting pilot to pilot as a representation of "the driving of the golden spike." This was prior to the actual rail park at Promontory, Utah.

She went to the Heber Valley Railroad (the Heber Creeper) in the 80s. According to Christopher Hawkins,
I learned to fire on SP 2-6-0 #1744. At that time, this engine just wasn't a good steamer at all, it's 63" drivers were designed to sprint down the San Juaquin Valley at 50mph, not climb a 2.5% mountain grade at 15mph like we were running her. Even retired SP hogheads [engineers] couldn't get her to steam; damper wide open, damper closed, fire door propped open, blower set for takeoff, she just didn't cooperate, and that made excellent firemen out of us, because there was no mercy, you had to plan ahead for everything. Later, we found that by cutting an auxilliary breathing hole in the oilpan near the burner, it allowed the fire to rise up and fill the corners of the firebox, she steamed like a firecracker after that!
In the 90s, rebuilding began for excursion service in Ft. Worth, Texas but work was not completed until she was sold to the New Orleans and Gulf Coast, a subsidiary of the Rio Grande Pacific Corporation, in 1999. Work was begun in Ft. Worth and a few break-in trips were made before she was shipped to the Big Easy. The next year, she began her work for the NO&GC. All too quickly, the venture folded in a couple of months and the 1744 has been for sale, serviceable, but will need some work before a full season can be expected out of her.

Here's hoping that the 1744 can leave her troubled past behind and begin to boost interest in the La Veta Pass route.

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