Colorado Railroad Museum on the restoration of Rio Grande Southern 20

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Colorado Railroad Museum is restoring a legendary Centennial State narrow gauge locomotive to operation. Rio Grande Southern No. 20, a 3-foot gauge 4-6-0 built in 1899 for the Florence & Cripple Creek and last run in 1951 when the RGS shut down, is nearing completion. Schenectady Locomotive Works built the engine, and the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club saved the engine. In 2006, the club transferred ownership to the museum, and a significant donation began a restoration the following year. For 12 years, the engine was under restoration at Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road, and it returned last June for final assembly. The $1.5 million restoration is one of the most remarkable in the annals of American railway preservation. We checked in with Colorado Railroad Museum Curator of Rolling Stock & Equipment Jeff Taylor earlier this week. Here’s our Q&A with Trains. Thanks to Dave Schaaf of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club for photos of Roundhouse Foreman Dusty Thomson with the stack and No. 20 in the roundhouse, the photo of three people showing Jeff Taylor, Norm Acker, and Dusty Thomson, and the close up of the stack base. 


What percentage of completion is the locomotive at?



What tasks have been done in the year since it’s returned?

The answer is quite long. Short answer is as follows. Since her return from Strasburg we have: installed the new cab, smoke stack(several times), rebuilt and fitted the boiler tube pilot, completely replaced the entire air brake system with new copying the original piping, she retains the authentic brake valves, finished assembling the locomotive driver brakes, finished installing and plumbing all the appliances, finished our portion of restoration work on the tender, applied a 22 gauge sheet metal roof to the cab, installed the electrical conduit and started wiring the locomotive, and we passed our State and FRA hydrostatic test.


What’s left to do?

We still need to finish the electrical wiring, re-install the throttle, re-install the master mechanics front end in the smoke box (removed for FRA inspection), paint and lettering, and the big one — a steam test. I’m sure we will run into the typical leaks and minor issues that we will have to tinker with.


What’s the operating boiler pressure going to be?

180 psi.


What sort of expectations do you have for the completion of the restoration?

If you are asking for a date, we are planning for August if this year.


Are there any mechanical upgrades that have been made to make the engine more modern?

Not much really, we are going to use 34v LED bulbs in the cab; Strasburg added oil cups connected to lube lines to the oil cellars on the driving and pony truck boxes. This will allow us to “top off” the cellars without having to go underneath and disassemble anything. We added a modern water trap/particulate filter inline to the brake stands to help eliminate dirt build up. Other than that, she is very traditional.

How original is the engine at this point?

I would say if you include the tender she is about 90% original from the end of service on the RGS.


What’s the new smokestack story?

Well it’s not a new smokestack but a new saddle. The saddle is bolted to the smoke box and the stack then bolts to it. After the second time we installed the stack while tightening the hardware one of the 4 ears that hold the bolts broke off the saddle. Where it broke you could see half of it had been cracked for a very long time. We didn’t overtighten it we were just snugging the bolts up. After looking it over talking to some of my peers and exploring our options we decided a new casting would be best. New would be the strongest and give us the peace of mind that the other 3 would not break as well.


About what time period are you going to present the locomotive as?

I get asked this a lot. She will be finished in the time period between 1944, just after she returned to service after her 1943 wreck and early 1947. She will be black with the sunrise herald on the tender. This time frame also allows for 2 whistle options.


When you’re around the engine, what is the feeling you get?

Pride, excitement, honor, and a little fear. A large part of why I took this job in 2016 was that I was told 20 would be my project to finish. Having watched the restoration from afar for many years and then given the opportunity to finish it was something I couldn’t pass up. The whole shop crew is excited to be a part of bringing this narrow gauge legend back to life.


Given that it cannot go back to the RGS again, are you excited to take it on the road?

Very excited, this will be our first foray into traveling with one of our steam locomotives. We have taken all 3 of our famed Galloping geese out on the road. Taking a steam locomotive is something that has been talked about at the for years. Most folks thinking it would never happen. 20 can’t return to the RGS but she did run on the D&RGW Silverton branch for the filming of “A Ticket to Tomahawk,” and go over Cumbres pass on her way to delivery to the RGS.


When the C&TS Iron Horse Festival was postponed to 2021, did that inspire you to work toward that?

Yes, but this is a recent development. We were thinking about it in 2019, but we didn’t want to rush the job. We want to finish the restoration and do it right first time out. We want to show her off to the public and railfans, but that needs to happen at the museum first, and it will. Because our projected completion date was so close to the 2020 Iron Horse Festival we had planned not to attend. Now that the Festival is postponed we can continue with our plans to debut 20 at the museum in 2020 and work towards attending the Festival in 2021.


 what's one word to sum up the restoration of No. 20?

I would rather use 2 words. Challenging and rewarding.




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