The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a narrow gauge heritage railroad operating over sixty-four miles of former Denver & Rio Grande Western trackage between Chama, NM, and Antonito, CO. Trains are scheduled seven days a week mid May to mid October from both Chama and Antonito. They meet at Osier, the halfway point on the line, before going on to either Chama or Antonito. Passengers can make a one-way trip and return by bus, or a round trip to Osier from either terminus by changing trains at Osier.
We started out in Antonito, about thirty miles south of Alamosa, CO, or a hundred and fifteen miles north of Santa Fe, NM. The depot is at the intersection of US Highway 285 and CO Highway 17 on the southern edge of town.
Digimarc and the Digimarc logo are registered trademarks of Digimarc Corporation. The "Digimarc-Enabled" Web Button is a trademark of Digimarc Corporation, used with permission.
The D&RGW started as narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande with a line south from Denver to Pueblo, CO, in 1870. The D&RG also built west from Walsenburg to reach Alamosa, CO, in 1878. From there, a line went south through Antonito, CO, to Santa Fe, NM, as well as west to reach Durango, CO, in 1881 and continuing north to the mining areas around Silverton in 1882.
A standard gauge line was also constructed south from Durango, CO, to Farmington, NM, in 1902, perhaps in anticipation of standard gauging the entire line.
From 1881, the D&RG and then the D&RGW, which took over the D&RG from bankruptcy in 1921, ran the daily San Juan passenger service between Alamosa and Durango. Like many other passenger services after WWII, however, the San Juan suffered the effects of greater automobile use with reduced passenger numbers, and the train was finally cancelled in 1951.
Built to reach mining deposits in the San Juan Mountains, freight traffic over the San Juan Division was primarily mining related machinery, food, coal and timber By the 1950s, however, freight traffic also began to dwindle, particularly as the D&RGW shifted freight to its subsidiary trucking firm, Rio Grande Motorways.
Traffic on the San Juan Division became increasingly intermittent during the 1960s with about three trains a week. Crew were laid off and nine locomotives were retired in 1962. The line closed completely for the first time in the winter of 1965, and the last train ran west to Durango on 5th December 1968.
In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico negotiated with the D&RGW to buy the Chama-Antonito line for $547,120. The joint Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission was then established to oversee management of the line.
The building pictured above and below was built in 1971 and was the first C&TS depot.
The C&TS actually operates as an interstate common carrier, and is consequently subject to inspection and regulation by the Interstate Commerce Commission, US Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. But, as well as complying with modern operating requirements, the railroad has adopted standards to ensure that any work it does to property or equipment maintains historical accuracy.
Over the years, operation of the railroad was contracted to various companies paying a percentage of their gross income to the Commission.
Most of the facilities at Antonito were built by Cumbres & Toltec operators, as the original rail yard, wye and depot building were not sold to the states of Colorado and New Mexico by the D&RGW. The water tank, above left, was built in the mid 1970s. Apparently, up until that time, locomotives were watered using a garden hose! Above, the track supply tool shed beside the water tank is another modern construction. It is typical of ones used by railroad section gangs to store tools and equipment.
Work began on constructing the car and engine house, above, in 1974, and the first two stalls were completed in 1975. A further two tracks were added in 1979. It is mostly used for car repairs. The engine house at Chama handles most of the locomotive repairs.
In 2000, after several companies made offers that were unacceptable to the Commission, the Rio Grande Railway Preservation Corporation was formed by the volunteer Friends of the C&TS to take over the running of the railroad on a non-profit basis.
The storage building above was formerly used as a dining facility by a saw mill operator. It is apparently sometimes referred to as "Fort Knox" by railroad employees.
Part of the loop track passes across the
foreground of the lower photo. This was built in 1969 to replace a wye and allows easy turning of locomotives without the multiple switching required on a wye. Behind the storage building is a repair track used by the Friends of the C&TS to work on historic freight cars. Just to the right are the bunkers used to store coal for the locomotives. The D&RGW originally had a coal chute at the depot but engines are now coaled using a front loader.
With sixty-four miles of track snaking through some of the toughest country in the US, the C&TS rosters a number of maintenance of way vehicles. Top, rail laying equipment and, lower photo, crew car #108. Much of the right of way is inaccessible by road and is subject to heavy snow in winter. The line also passes over the highest point on any US passenger railway at the 10,015 ft elevation Cumbres Pass. The fourteen and a half miles of track from Chama to Cumbres has a ruling grade of 4%
The C&TS was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and was selected in 1999 as one of the Twenty Best Rail Trips by the Society of International Railway Travellers.
One of thirty standard gauge locomotives (#1101-#1130) built as D&RG Class 190 Vauclain compounds by Burnham, Williams & Co., later part of Baldwin, it was equipped with 17" x 30" high pressure and 28" x 30" low pressure cylinders.
They were all modified
in 1907 as simple-expansion locomotives with 21"x 30" cylinders.
After the Durango-Farmington line was converted to narrow gauge in 1926, the C-41s were rebuilt at the D&RGW's Burnham, CO, shops as 36" gauge K-37 class engines. #1004 was rebuilt in 1928 and renumbered #495.
Trying to put as much power as cheaply as possible over a single set of wheels on a 36" gauge, the railroad added a trailing axle under the C-41's firebox and moved the wheels 1½ feet closer together in a new frame. The firebox was also reduced from 249 sq ft to 172.5 sq ft.
The rebuild incorporated
many new components, such as new frames, smaller drivers (down from the C-41's 54" to 44") and superheating. The outside frame also had the benefit of allowing a large boiler of standard-gauge dimensions to be used on a 36" gauge engine.
The rebuild included removing boiler tubes and, as part of the firebox overhaul, installing 46 sq ft of thermic syphons. The only D&RGW narrow gauge steam locomotive to have thermic syphons, the added steaming capability made the K-37s something of a favourite with firemen.
The newly rebuilt locomotives initially worked out of Salida to Gunnison, CO, and up the D&RGW Crested Butte Branch as well as the Monarch Branch. They also worked from Alamosa to Antonito, CO, over Cumbres Pass to Chama, NM, and on to Durango and the Farmington Branch.
This locomotive is another of the thirty D&RG Class 190 Consolidation type (2-8-0) Vauclian compound locomotives built by Burnham, Williams & Co., in 1902. Originally #1120, it was simplified in 1907. Renumbered #1020 and redesignated a C-41 by the D&RGW in 1924, it was converted to narrow gauge K-37 #494 in 1928.
The K-37s weighed 187,250 lbs, down from the
C-41's 188,095 lbs, but increasing the weight on the drivers from 148,280 lbs to 163,445 lbs. With a 46.6 sq ft grate and total heating surface of 2,102 sq ft, including 495 sq ft superheating, the K-37s operated at a boiler pressure of 200 psi delivering 37,091 lbs tractive effort compared to the C-41's 39,886 lbs.
Another K-37, #491, is on static display at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO.
#484 is one of ten narrow gauge Mikado type
(2-8-2) locomotives built for the D&RGW by Baldwin in 1925 (#480-#489). When we visited, it was undergoing repairs in the engine house.
On the D&RGW, #484 hauled freight trains as well as the San Juan, and was the helper engine from Chama to Cumbres on the last eastbound San Juan service on 31st January 1951. It also hauled the last D&RGW chartered excursion from Alamosa to Cumbres and return on 9th October 1966.
Above, while #484 was being shopped, its tender was parked out in the yard.
#487 is another of the ten Mikado type (2-8-2) locomotives Baldwin built for the D&RGW in 1925 (#480-#489) at a cost of $27,950 each.
The product of nearly fifty years experience of mountain operations, they were the last narrow gauge engines bought by the railroad and were part of a general upgrading of its narrow gauge lines in the 1920s. Originally assigned to the Marshall Pass line between Salida and Gunnison, CO, as well as to helper service from Chama to Cumbres, they were later assigned to the Third Division out of Alamosa. Equipped with special valves to allow brake control between locomotives while double-heading, they became the workhorses of the narrow gauge railroad.
The K-36s also worked on the Farmington Branch when traffic boomed in the 1950s with the development of the oil industry in the San Juan Basin.
In 1955, the Farmington freight office handled more business than any other station on the D&RGW system.
#487 was last operated by the D&RGW on 27th October 1967. Soon after, the railroad abandoned most of its narrow gauge lines.
Above, a view of #487 front on from the western end of the engine house. The locomotive underwent an overhaul starting in 1973 and returned to service on the C&TS in 1974.
#487 is 68' ¾" long and weighs 187,100 lbs, 143,850 lbs on its 44" drivers. With a 40 sq ft grate, 2,693 sq ft heating surface (including 575 sq ft superheating) and
20" x 24" cylinders, it operates at a boiler pressure of 195 psi delivering 36,200 lbs tractive effort.
The tender weighs 98,500 lbs and has a capacity for 5,000 gallons of water and 9½ tons of coal.
Much of the route from Ontonito to Cumbres Pass is inaccessible by road, so we headed straight to Cumbres and waited for the eastbound train to arrive from Chama.
Cumbres means "crest" or "summit" in Spanish, and D&RG grading crews reached here in July 1880. A number of people lived at Cumbres Pass, and there was a post office here until 1937. A two storey, seven room depot was built in 1882 but
was torn down by the D&RGW in 1954. The
current depot building is a section house also built in 1882. It housed the section foreman and his family, as well as providing a kitchen and dining area for the section crew. It was occupied until 1968.
This water standpipe replaced a wooden water tank originally located just to the right in the 1930s.
Water to the standpipe is gravity fed from a cistern on the hill above. The cistern is filled from a spring several miles to the north.
An employee lived here who tested the brakes on all trains before they headed down to Chama. In later years, it housed track section maintenance crew.
Along the west side, there were pens for sheep, pigs and
chickens, as well as coal storage.
Cumbres was an important station on the D&RGW system. Helper engines were serviced and turned here and about 3,000 ft of sidings were used to inspect and store freight and passenger cars as eastbound trains were reassembled for their onward journey after coming up from Chama in several "cuts".
A 50' gallows frame turntable was installed in
1884 and a 67' diameter turntable house was built to cover it in 1887. The turntable appears to have
been moved to Monarch, CO, some time after
Today, locomotives can be turned on the wye (above)
Bottom view above, on the right, the remains of 526' long snow shed 330A built in the 1880s.
The snow shed represents the last covered wye in the US. After 1968, when trains stopped running all year, the shed was no longer maintained and most of the original structure collapsed from the heavy snow falls.
The remaining part of the shed was restored by the Friends of the C&TS in 1990-91.
Top, a sign at the section house gives the arrival and departure times of the old D&RGW passenger trains and the new C&TS ones.
Lower photo, we hear the bark of #489 approaching, a plume of smoke drifting across Wolf Creek Valley as it labours up the last part of the 4% grade to Cumbres.
#489 was built as standard gauge #1125, one of thirty Vauclain compound Class 190
Consolidation (2-8-0) type locomotives built for
the D&RG by Baldwin in 1902. In 1924 under the D&RGW, it was simpled with 21" x 30" cylinders, reclassified as Class C41 and renumbered #1025. In 1930, it was converted to a K37 class Mikado
type (2-8-2) narrow gauge locomotive with
20" x 24" cylinders and 44" drivers. It weighs 187,250 lbs and delivers 37,901 lbs tractive effort.
#489 was a helper engine on the last revenue train run by the D&RGW over Marshall Pass from Gunnison to Salida, CO. It also hauled the scrap train over Marshall Pass following abandonment of the line in May 1961.
We caught up with #489 on the horseshoe curve at the head of Los Pinos valley just west of Cumbres. The horseshoe curve allows the track to climb the valley without a steeper gradient.
Note the water tank. It was built in 1880 at a cost of $600 and rebuilt in 1986. Water is fed by gravity through a pipe from a well and reservoir about a half mile to the southwest. In the 1890s, as well as a water tank, there was a watchman's house, section house, bunk house and coal house here. The section house and bunk house were torn down in 1938.
Just beyond the water tank, the train heads due south as it parallels the lower leg of the curve (on the left in both the views above).
Although it is only 2½ miles as the crow flies from the water tank to Cumbres, the train
will have to travel another six miles and climb 305' to get
#487 at the end of the sixty-four mile trip from Antonito. It is only thirty-four miles between the two towns as the crow flies.
#463 is one of fifteen K-27 Class Mikado type
(2-8-2) locomotives built by Baldwin in 1901. Built as Vauclain compounds, they were soon simpled. Later, #452-#456, #458, #459, #461, #463 and #464 were fitted with superheaters, piston valves and Walschaert valve gear.
#463 has a 24' 6" engine wheelbase and 11' 5" driver wheelbase. It weighs 140,250 lbs, 108,300 lbs on its 40" drivers. With a 30.17 sq ft grate, 113 sq ft firebox and total heating surface of 1,933 sq ft including 407 sq ft superheating, it operates at a boiler pressure of 200 psi delivering 27,022 lbs tractive effort. The tender weighs 83,300 lbs light and has a capacity of 4,100 gallons of water and 8½ tons of coal.
#463 was owned by Gene Autry from 1955 to 1972. It was donated to City of Antonito, CO, in 1972, restored and put into service on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway in 1994.
Above, looking north along the Chama yard. Chama is the main headquarters for the C&TS.
The first train arrived from Antonito, CO, on 31st December 1881, and the line to Denver, CO, officially opened on 18th January 1881. Chama was built as a railroad town to service locomotives and equipment. Located between Alamosa and Durango, CO, for many years it was a busy place, with several trains passing through each day. Engines and crew were changed here, trains were "cut" and helpers were added to eastbound trains for the climb to Cumbres.
Above, looking south along the yard towards the depot building.
The current depot was built in 1899 after the original, built in 1882, was destroyed by fire.
The brick building on the right with the wooden doors is what remains of a nine stall roundhouse built by the D&RG in 1899. Between 1947 and 1955 seven stalls and the turntable were removed as a result of changes to D&RGW operating practices. The building in the middle with the sloped roof, also built in 1899, holds machine tools, work benches and supplies for maintenance of engines and cars.
The building on the left is a modern repair facility built in 1977-78. It has a jack to lift engines off their wheels, as well as a large service pit.
Above, the coal tipple at Chama was built in 1924 to replace a 60 ton coal chute built in 1902. It is the only wooden coal tipple to have survived in the US, and is one of very few coal tipples that is still functional.
The small, green roofed shed beside the tipple is a sand house. A stove inside the building dries sand, which is then shovelled into a hopper where compressed air drives it up to the sand tower for storage. Sand is then gravity fed into the sand domes of locomotives via the hose running down from the tower (visible in the photo on the upper right). Sand is applied to rails to assist traction when starting or hauling heavy loads on grades.
Cars carrying coal were pushed onto the coal loading track (on the right in the upper photo), dumped into bins and hoisted by bucket to the top of the tipple.
Coal was loaded into locomotive tenders through the large central loading chute on the other side of the structure (lower photo).
Built as D&RG Class 190 #1121, the locomotive was renumbered #1021 in 1924 following reorganisation of the railroad into the D&RGW. It was rebuilt as a narrow gauge engine by D&RGW's Burnham Shops in 1928 and renumbered #492. After striking a rock near Navajo, NM, on 6th August 1963, it was rebuilt with smokebox parts from #490, which had been retired the previous year.
Although the narrow gauged K-37s are actually about 2% lighter than the K-36s, they were 3,600 lbs heavier on the drivers and quite hard on the track. Crews considered them "stiff", they handled sharp curves badly and they were prone to derailing.
The locomotive hauled the last freight train operated by the D&RGW on its narrow gauge line on 31st August 1968, and the last eastbound passenger train from Durango over Cumbres Pass to Alamosa in November 1968. The two day special trip was organised by a group interested in preserving the narrow gauge line for members of the National Park Service, the press and D&RGW officials.
#483 was also the last K-36 used by the D&RGW when, on 6th December 1968, it performed a deadhead equipment move for the railroad.
#483 was the only operable engine when the C&TS took over the line in 1970 and it was used to transport equipment to Chama.
The locomotive was retired in 1977 because of worn out running gear and a thinning rear tube sheet. Although the C&TS hope to restore it to operation, its current condition makes this seem unlikely.
GE built fifty-eight of these narrow gauge switchers between 1943 and 1954, almost wholly for railroads in South America.
#19 was sold to Scenic Railways, a tourist railroad, in 1972 and was later bought by the C&TS Commission. When it arrived, it was initially nicknamed "The Pineapple", but railroad crews on the C&TS have now dubbed #19 the "Bumble Bee". The locomotive is used for switching, special work trains and, occasionally, for chartered passenger trains.
You can see another ex-Oahu Railway & Land Co., 47-ton GE switcher, #15, on the Colorado Railroad Museum page of this website.
It is one of two ex-D&RGW rotary snowplows owned by the C&TS. Built as D&RG standard gauge #1 in 1889, it was the twenty-fourth snowplow built by Cooke Locomotive Works in Patterson, NJ, later part of Alco. The plow was converted to narrow gauge by the D&RG in 1907 and renumbered #OM (known as "Old Maude" by railroad crews).
The rotary mechanism at the front was operated by a self-contained steam engine inside the car, which is why #OM is coupled to a tender, but the plow could not move under its own power.
This coal fired rotary snowplow is still used by the C&TS.
The crew consists of a pilot (a qualified locomotive engineer) to co-ordinate forward movement, a wheelman (also a qualified
engineer) to control the the snow deflector and a fireman.
This 5-ton gas hydromotive switcher was bought at auction for $3,500 by the Friends of the C&TS on 2nd July 2002. It was built in the 1950s by the Rogers Brothers Corp., in Albion, PA, primarily a manufacturer of highway truck trailers. It is affectionately known as the "Critter" by C&TS crews, but I haven't been able to find out much more about it.
"Lil' Critters", as these diminutive switchers were often known, were mainly used in factories to move rolling stock that had been left by mainline systems for the factory to load and unload. Because of their short wheelbase, they could manage extremely tight curves that larger diesels could not.