Report from Colorado: narrow gauge, the Zephyr, a new museum, and a visit to two favorites

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I was in Colorado late last week and early this week. Here are notes and observations I made from a short visit to the Centennial State, which, for once, was green and flush with snowpack and rushing streams.  

  • Colorado Railroad Museum. I was honored to be a part of a day-long symposium on the transcontinental railroad last Saturday. The videographer of our made for PBS video, Journey to Promontory, Rich Luckin, put the program together with museum education curator Elizabeth Nosek. It was an all-star cast, including most of the featured storytellers on Journey to Promontory, and I learned yet more about the construction of the railroad 1862-1869. Especially noteworthy was Phil Sexton’s narrative on the Chinese workers, a story that has yet to fully be told. While we were at the museum, we wandered down to the roundhouse, where shop foreman Jeff Taylor is busy on Rio Grande Southern No. 20, which just returned from a multi-year overhaul at Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road. There’s a lot of interest in seeing No. 20, an 1899 4-6-0 run next year. There’s a finished cab for the engine, but there’s also a lot of details that need to be finished. If “20 for 20” is to be a reality, it will take a tremendous effort, and I salute Jeff and his crew for taking on the challenge.
  • Moffat Road Railroad Museum. We stopped here in Granby, Colo., to see this fledgling museum in the heart of the Rockies. The featured rolling stock is a Denver & Salt Lake steam derrick and boom car that were rescued when Denver’s Burnham Shops closed. There’s a building, a wooden passenger car that is cocooned, and a caboose. The museum was not open on a Tuesday, but we got at least a drive by view of coming attractions.
  • Amtrak. The California Zephyr always looks great on the former Rio Grande main line upon departing Frazier, Colo., with snow covered Rollins Pass as a backdrop.
  • Georgetown Loop. A quick visit to the Georgetown Loop revealed four steam locomotives on site, something that hasn’t been so for 15 years since a management change in the operator. Running was 2-8-0 No. 111; in the shop and nearing completion of an overhaul was 2-8-0 No. 40; just returned from its sabbatical in Iowa was 2-6-2 No. 12 (good for five cars, says the Loop’s Jeff Badger); and about to return to Iowa after 8 years in Colorado was three-truck Shay No. 9. With Nos. 12, 40, and 111, steam is assured at the legendary loop, a must-see-it-to-believe-it railroad if there ever was one.
  • Rocky Mountain Railroad Club. I gave a short program on the status of U.S steam restorations and what the big mainline engines are doing in 2019 for the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club on Tuesday night. The Rocky Club is always a lively bunch, and it was great to spend time with friends who are as crazy about railroads as you and I are. I recommend them.

Unless something changes, I won’t be back in Colorado this year, but there’s a big year ahead in 2020. I ran into John Bush from the Cumbres & Toltec briefly, and he reminds me that the railroad’s 50th anniversary is next year. There will be plenty to see and do – the rotary snowplow, a gathering of a pre-1900 narrow gauge steam locomotives, chief among them. One of my favorite sayings is “You can never have enough Colorado,” and those words ring as true as ever as I reflect on this visit and anticipate what’s ahead.  

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