Tour of Colorado, Day 1: Shay? Nay.

Posted by David Lassen
on Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Former West Side Lumber Shay No. 9 backs across the Devil's Gate High Bridge at the Georgetown Loop.
Shay No. 9 prepares to run around its train at Devil's Gate -- just before mechanical problems sidelined the locomotive.
Pinch-hitting for the Shay, center cab diesel No. 1934 leads our train across the High Bridge.
GEORGETOWN, Colo. — Steam locomotives are complex machines. As such, they can be a bit temperamental.

We were all reminded of that during today’s Trains Tour of Colorado.

This is the first full day of this year’s Colorado tour, which has been a regular part of the Trains tour schedule since 2015. This year’s itinerary is much the same as it has been since we began offering the trips with our partners at Special Interest Tours. The first day features a visit to the Colorado Railroad Museum and the Georgetown Loop railroad; we’ll also be visiting the Leadville, Colorado & Southern, Royal Gorge Route, Durango & Silverton, Cumbres & Toltec, and the Rio Grande Scenic. (New this year is a visit to South Park Rail, for a tour of the shops and speeder rides; that’s been added in lieu of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, shut down pending a rebuild,)

As we lunched in Georgetown this afternoon, we could occasionally hear the whistle of the Georgetown Loop steam locomotive, former West Side Lumber Shay No. 9. Having ridden behind one of the railroad’s diesels on my previous visit, I was — like many of our guests on the tour — looking forward to riding behind steam.

We were at the Devil’s Gate station, at the east end of the 3.1-mile railroad, in plenty of time to watch No. 9, running backward, pull the train across the Devil’s Gate High Bridge and into the station. Unfortunately, aftter we boarded, it was determined that No. 9 had a little mechanical problem that would not make its use prudent for hauling a train full of people. (Our conductor said this was the fifth time in his five months on the railroad that the Shay had come up lame.)

So one of the Loop’s diesels, a center-cab built as a standard-gauge 44-tonner and subsequently converted to narrow gauge, was dispatched from shops at Silver Plume. After about a 40-minute delay, we were on our way. No. 9 began a careful trip back to Silver Plume for repairs; we would meet it at the midway siding on our return trip.

So, no steam today. But, while it was a bit cloudy and cool, the forecast rain did not materialize, and it’s still an enjoyable trip, which featured a few splashes of great fall color from the scattering of aspens along the  evergreens that line the route.

I know some members of our party were disappointed, but everyone seemed to keep the turn of events in perspective. We have a lot of experienced travelers here — including at least one couple on this tour for the second time — and they understand that part of travel is learning to enjoy the experience that you do have, rather than dwelling on the one you didn’t.

And in a year where other Colorado tourist railroads have been shut down or unable to operate normally because of fires and landslides, a locomotive switch is truly a small issue.

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