First impressions of scrappy Rio Grande Southern 20 at the Colorado Railroad Museum

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

GOLDEN, Colo. — Since my first visit to the Colorado Railroad Museum in 1987, I have walked by the stuffed and mounted Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 No. 20 and admired the displayed locomotive many times. When it left for restoration in 2004, I was as surprised as anyone that the engine would return to steam. Last weekend, I met No. 20 on its inaugural weekend, and I am glad to say that the engine met all my expectations.


No. 20 was loud with a commanding bark and an exhaust befitting a much larger locomotive. It spit out prodigious cinders, some thee size of marbles. And for an 1899 Schenectady product that had not run in 69 years, it put on a show with four freight cars and original RGS caboose 0403 for an audience of 30 on a pop-up photo charter that the museum generously allowed Trains Magazine to sponsor.


My friend, museum Executive Director Paul Hammond, asked me to say a few words at the christening ceremony for No. 20, and the word that came to mind is “scrappy.” It fought its way through life. No. 20 lived a hard life on the RGS, a poor short line connecting to the outside world (the Rio Grande) at Durango on one end and 170-something miles later at Ridgeway. The bent pilot, left as it was, testifies to more than one encounter with rocks. The famous William Moedinger image of the brakeman riding the pilot to spot landslides, is another indication. The iconic photo, which graced the cover of the February 1942 edition of Trains and was part of a Moedinger essay on the narrow gauge, was too good not to replicate during our photo charter.


We also couldn’t help but to pose No. 20 with its equally famous internal combustion stablemates, Galloping Goose No. 7 and work truck No. 6, both from the RGS.


No. 20, whose restoration cost $2 million, makes a fine addition to the museum, which also rosters Rio Grande K-37 2-8-2 No. 491 and Rio Grande 2-8-0 No. 346. If all goes well, No. will become a roving ambassador for the museum. The RGS is long gone. It was abandoned in 1951. But its spirit lives in scrappy No. 20.





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