Rio Grande Locomotives Photo Archive by John Kelly Soft Cover
Rio Grande Locomotives Photo Archive by John Kelly
Chapter 1: Thru the Rockies, Not Around Them - Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives 8
Chapter 2: Scenic Line of the World - Standard Gauge Steam Locomotives37
Chapter 3: Main Line Thru the Rockies - Diesel Locomotives73
Chapter 4: Rio Grande's Colorful Colorado113
Rio Grande Locomotives - Narrow Gauge, Steam and Diesel
Throughout its history, the Rio Grande Railroad operated narrow gauge steam, standard gauge steam, and diesel locomotives in the spectacular Colorado Rockies. Founded by Gen. William J. Palmer, a Union veteran of the Civil War, the original Denver & Rio Grande built a narrow gauge line south from Denver toward Mexico in 1871. Those plans changed when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway gained control of Raton Pass in New Mexico, forcing Denver & Rio Grande to build their line west along the Arkansas River via the Royal Gorge, to the booming gold and silver mining regions near Leadville, Colorado, in 1878. Denver & Rio Grande's La Veta Pass route was completed in 1877 from Walsenburg, Colorado, to the rich mining areas around Silverton, Colorado. The railroad continued laying track in the Colorado mountains, building a network of narrow gauge rails spaced three feet apart, including many branch lines. By 1882, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had reached the Utah state line and connected with the Rio Grande Western Railway, a system built in Utah. After years of financial problems, takeovers, and fierce competition, the two companies merged as the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) in 1920. At its peak mileage the D&RGW, also known as Rio Grande, operated nearly 6,000 miles of track.
During the late 1870s and early 1880s, more than 20 different American companies, including Baldwin Locomotive Works, built narrow gauge locomotives for various railroads. Many of them were designed after British engines with outside frames and inside connected cylinders. American locomotive builders preferred inside frames (between the wheels) with outside cylinders and rod connections. Narrow gauge engines were really just small versions of standard gauge locomotives. They used standard boilers, cylinders, and valve gear. The most popular model was the 2-6-0 Mogul with approximately 450 built. Rio Grande narrow gauge locomotives were scaled down in size and pulling power, which made them ideal for operating with light freight traffic and small passenger trains. Their narrow gauge roster included the tiny Baldwin-built 2-4-0 Montezuma weighing only 25,000 lbs. Other engines were 2-8-0 Consolidations and 2-8-2 Mikados. Some Mikados had snowplows attached to the locomotives' front pilot (cow-catcher) to plow deep and drifting snow in the Colorado Rockies.
The original narrow gauge classification scheme used by Rio Grande was based on locomotive weight. This method was replaced in 1924 by a new system based on locomotive tractive effort (the pulling force exerted by a locomotive). By the late 1880s narrow gauge railroading was losing popularity due to limits on locomotive size and pulling power. In addition, competition from the Colorado Midland Railway forced Rio Grande to convert its narrow gauge rails to standard gauge (4 feet 8.5 inches). However, the railroad continued to operate several narrow gauge lines, including the scenic Marshall Pass line until September 1955. Today, thanks to preservation efforts you can still experience Colorado narrow gauge tourist trains. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates from Durango to Silverton, Colorado, and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado.
Rio Grande's main line from Denver to Ogden, Utah, was converted to standard gauge in 1888, and the La Veta Pass Line was changed to standard gauge in 1899, including route realignment to lower the summit, straighten curves, and reduce steep grades. American locomotive companies continued to build new and improved standard gauge locomotives with larger, coal-burning fireboxes for more power. Rio Grande purchased these faster and bigger locomotives from Baldwin Locomotive Works beginning in 1929. Fourteen standard gauge Class M-64 4-8-4 locomotives were ordered (17001713), followed by five Class M-68 locomotives in 1938. Baldwin called the locomotives "Northerns," but Rio Grande company records labeled them "Mountains."
By 1956, all Denver & Rio Grande Western standard gauge locomotives were retired or scrapped in favor of diesel machinery. Rio Grande's first diesel locomotives were switch engines, not road engines. Those included Baldwin VO-660's, General Electric 44-ton switchers, Fairbanks-Morse models H-10-44 and H-15-44, and American Locomotive Company RS-3's. American Locomotive also built passenger cab locomotives (PA1) and cab-less boosters (PB1) in three-unit sets for California Zephyr passenger service. By the 1950s most Rio Grande passenger and freight road engines were purchased from builder Electro-Motive Division (EMD). Those included the FT, F3, F7, F9, GP (General Purpose), and SD (Special Duty) series.
In 1961, three diesel-hydraulic ML-4 locomotives (4001-4003) were ordered from German manufacturer Krauss-Maffei. The ML-4s did not perform well in the mountains and were sold to Southern Pacific Railroad in 1964. Colorado's mountainous terrain and many tunnels caused a unique problem for Rio Grande locomotives. Diesels give off heat and heat rises, so when running upgrade at full throttle and through tunnels, the locomotives would often shut down from overheating. The railroad worked with Electro-Motive to develop SD40T-2 "Tunnel Motor" locomotives, recognizable for their squared-off hoods and roof-mounted radiators. The SD40T-2 (3,000 hp) rode on a longer frame with lower radiator intakes to draw in cool air near the floor of the tunnel and keep the locomotives from overheating. Between 1974 and 1980, the railroad purchased 73 "Tunnel Motors" from Electro-Motive.
Rio Grande trains followed two magnificent routes through Colorado. Departing Denver, the Royal Gorge Route went south to Colorado Springs and Pueblo, then skirted majestic Pikes Peak and headed west into the mountains. The line followed the water-level grade carved through solid rock by the rushing, tumbling waters of the Arkansas River, and passed through the towering, sheer-sided canyons of the Royal Gorge. At the narrowest spot with the sides of the canyon wall only 30 feet apart, is the famous Hanging Railroad Bridge near water level and anchored to rock walls. Rio Grande passenger trains always took a short 10-minute stop here for passengers to view the awesome canyon. Westbound trains continued through the mountains, crossing the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass (10,240 feet). The route paralleled the rushing Eagle River to Dotsero, where it joined the mighty Colorado River, linking with the Moffat Tunnel Scenic Shortcut.
Equally spectacular, the Moffat Tunnel Route headed west from Denver, ascending the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies for 50 miles, cresting the Continental Divide at the apex (9,239 feet) of the 6.21-mile Moffat Tunnel, exiting at Winter Park, Colorado. From Winter Park, the tracks continued west along the sparkling Fraser and Colorado Rivers, parallel to rocky Byers Canyon, rugged Gore Canyon, and Red Canyon for 166 miles to Dotsero, then merging with the Royal Gorge Route. The history of the Moffat Tunnel is an epic in mountain railroading, an example of how the dream of one man, David H. Moffat, was realized in spite of incredible physical and financial hardships. In 1902, Moffat, a pioneer Denver banker, mining man, and railroad builder who made his fortune in the gold fields of Colorado, incorporated the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway (dubbed The Moffat Road) to build a standard-gauge railroad west from Denver that would ultimately cross the Continental Divide. By 1905, the rail line from Denver to Hot Sulphur Springs was complete, including the torturous four percent grade over Rollins Pass (11,666 feet). Moffat had proposed a railroad tunnel under the Continental Divide to bypass Rollins Pass and keep trains below the horrendous winter blizzards with 20- to 30-foot snowdrifts on top of the Continental Divide. However, his fortune had been exhausted building the railroad over difficult mountain terrain, and he died on March 20, 1911, without seeing the tunnel built. Two years later, Moffat's railroad was reorganized as the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which eventually became part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western in 1947. Ultimately, the Moffat Tunnel District bill was passed by the state legislature in late 1922 as part of the trans-mountain diversion project, to supply water from the Fraser River to Colorado's Front Range population centers. Crews cut the smaller water tunnel (8-feet by 8-feet) under a shoulder of James Peak, 50 miles west of Denver, as a pilot bore for the railroad tunnel. From 1923 to 1927, the 6.21-mile rail tunnel (second longest in the United States) was built adjacent to the water tunnel. Construction workers blasted 750,000 cubic yards of rock from the mountain and used two million pounds of dynamite, at a cost of $18 million with 28 lives lost during construction. Named in honor of visionary David Moffat, the Moffat Tunnel opened February 26, 1928. Completion of the tunnel through the Continental Divide made the 23 miles of steep track over Rollins Pass unnecessary, and cut the average run time for passenger trains from 2 hours to 12 minutes via the tunnel.
Rio Grande was a Western railroad from the minerals and coal it hauled to the character of the employees who worked for it. The intermountain railroad began as a narrow gauge in 1870 and by 1928 had established two scenic routes (Royal Gorge and Moffat Tunnel) through the Colorado Rockies. In 1984, Rio Grande Industries was sold to Denver businessman Philip Anschutz. Under his leadership the railroad remained a regional carrier until October 1988, when Anschutz purchased Southern Pacific Transportation, merging it with Denver & Rio Grande Western. The new company took the Southern Pacific name, which was more recognized by shippers. In September 1996, Southern Pacific was sold to the Union Pacific Railroad.
Today, the Moffat Tunnel is part of Union Pacific's Moffat Tunnel Subdivision, as heavy coal trains from the North Fork Valley near Paonia and Craig, Colorado, descend former Rio Grande tracks through the Moffat Tunnel to Denver. Amtrak's California Zephyr still traverses the tunnels and snowy peaks of Colorado's Front Range, so the Rio Grande legacy remains along with the slogan, "Thru the Rockies, Not Around Them."
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