Three of us from the Springs – Nathan Zachman, Kevin Farlow, and myself – had planned to go chase the plow special on the C&TS on Friday, 4-Dec-2009. At $300 a seat and with very little snowpack, none of us could put together the cash to ride, but we wer all going to spring for chase passes to support the run. Apparently many others thought the price was pretty high considering the snowpack (or at least, like us, were taking a wait-and-see view, hoping for a blizzard to roll through), as it only sold three tickets and was summarily canceled the Wednesday before.
So, since we’d all taken the day off work, we modified our plans and headed for Durango instead. What we got was a beautifully clear but brutally cold day out chasing the regular Durango & Silverton winter train, complete with 482 decked out in Polar Express lettering. Then on Saturday, we returned to Chama to chase the two special Christmas Trains from Chama to Dalton and back. There’s not much more to say – it was just a weekend in December out chasing narrow gauge. Enjoy the pictures!
Looking back, this was the last time I ever went on a long trip with my buddy Kevin. We saw each other over the last decade and hung out occasionally, but once he started working for Amtrak we just never did the long trips again. Cancer took him last spring (2019). Miss you, dude.
Running a bit behind on the drive over from Alamosa, we meet the daily Cascade Canyon train between Home Ranch and Hermosa, next to this half-frozen pond.
K-36 482 has been temporarily relettered from the usual Durango & Silverton for the railroad’s yearly Polar Express theme trains.
Friday morning was cold, even by the standard of winters in the Rockies. When we got in the car in Alamosa, it was nine below. By the time we took this at Hermosa, I believe it was above zero, but not by much. The cold temperatures do wonders for causing the exhaust steam to instantly condense into a thick plume.
Rounding a curve just below the US Hwy 550 bridge, between Hermosa and the Shalona crossing
A wider view of the previous shot. The extreme southern light that happens this time of year makes shooting north/westbounds a tough proposition this time of year.
Pulling through Rockwood under beautifully blue skies. There will be no stop here today – the train is headed straight through the cut and on to the High Line. For us, it means it’s back to Steamworks in Durango for lunch.
Following the Cascade train will be maintenance of way in DSNG pop car 9003. They’re loading up batts of insulation for some sort of winterizing project up the line.
Also at Rockwood is the D&S’s ballast regulator, receiving some work on the rear axle.
482 brings the train back from Cascade Canyon along the famous High Line.
Just a slightly wider shot on the High Line
We’d heard the train crew ask about water availability at Hermosa on the way up (and they hadn’t stopped), so we assumed they’d be taking water on the way back and we’d get a nice long telesmash of them at the tank. Wrong assumption – they highballed right through the Hermosa, causing us to rethink our setup.
A quick recomposition gave me this image of 482 emerging from the end of the wooden pony truss just south of Hermosa
Just across the flats after leaving Hermosa for Durango
Running across the valley floor, the line and the highway make one small turn between Hermosa and the north end of Durango. While normally I don’t shoot it, it provided a nice afternoon head-on shot thanks to my 100-400.
Pacing the 482 at track speed as it approaches Home Ranch siding
At Home Ranch siding, you can see what a beautifully clear afternoon it really is in southwestern Colorado. Note that the Needle Mountains are plainly visible in the background.
Beautiful light showing off the 482 in Polar Express lettering against the red cliffs behind Home Ranch
And then departing the south end of the siding, headed towards the north end of Durango
One last shot in the fading daylight, taken on the lesser-shot side of the Animas River bridge just north of downtown Durango.
On the way into Durango that morning, Nathan Z had noticed a string of narrow gauge cars sitting in somebody’s yard north of US 160. After the chasing was done for the day, we stopped back by for some photos. This is D&RGW narrow gauge stock car 5627.
In the middle of the string is D&RGW 784. Fellow gon 899 is way back in the guy’s yard, nearly out of sight.
And bringing up the south end is boxcar D&RGW 3000. Best I can tell, all of these cars were sold at auction by the DSNG several years back when they cleaned out the north yard. No idea whose yard they now sit in, but the two that are all fixed up are nicely done.
We also detoured to see the former DRGW Florida River span, now in use as a county road bridge.
A low view in the afternoon light, showing the limestone abutments and wing walls underneath.
The Royal Gorge Route logo is still visible on the west end of the bridge. That’s it, folks – on to Chama!
Originally, the C&TS had planned to run a snow plowing extra on Friday, 4-Dec-2009. However, at $300 a head and a very unimpressive snowpack, very few tickets sold and the train was cancelled. Michael Ripley was going to conduct a night photo session for those attending, and went ahead anyway despite the cancellation.
Alan and Michelle pose for us, handing up orders to the cab.
The next morning in Chama wasn’t nearly as cold (17 by the time the three of us got up and on the road), but it was dark for a few hours while the electric company did some work. Down at the depot, the train was assembled for the 1100h run with 487 and seven cars. In the background, you can see a bonfire built to help folks stay warm while they wait.
Cloudy to the south, sunny to the north, and a northbound backlit train… This is the first of the two Christmas Trains that the C&TS will be running out of Chama this Saturday.
With some time to kill before departure, I went wandering about the yard. Here’s flanger OL, no doubt having been prepped in case they did actually need to move some snow for the trip.
Also, progress is being made on 463. The frame and running gear has been further stripped down since the boiler was taken off several months back.
A shot from the cab end of the running gear. No worries, the boiler is expected back and complete in April, with an operational 463 happening possibly as soon as September, depending on circumstances.
If it weren’t for the motorcar, the insulated/twisted power conductors, and the faint bit of blue road sign in the background, this really would be a timeless image – 1939 or 2009? Making it feel even more like the early 1900s was the fact that Chama was completely without electricity this morning.
Unlike the previous day, the skies clouded over fairly quickly in the morning, making for some very rough light. Here we are with the first Christmas Train passing Jukes Tree.
Making good smoke out in the open as the line starts into the 3% grade.
Into the Narrows, just above Chama
Alongside the highway on the climb towards Lobato
It wasn’t much of a year for snow on the Christmas train – about the only real snow accumulation between Chama and Dalton was near Lobato and then up at Dalton itself.
Coming through a bit of snow at Lobato
And then around the upper curve between Lobato and Dalton
Just before train time at Dalton, Santa arrives to board the train. Funny, the ol’ sleigh doesn’t quite look like I remember it from childhood stories…
Finally, arriving at Dalton in some downright miserable lighting.
Note the “new” sign on the right – yes, it does indeed say North Pole on it. It’s temporary for the Christmas trains, don’t worry…
Santa waves to the passengers and crew as the train pulls to a stop. As in past years, Dalton was the end of the line. Had the plow train run the day before, there were plans to go further up the line. However, given the timing of the two runs up the hill (only about 2.5 hours apart on departure times) and the slow reverse moves down the hill, I’m not sure how that would have worked.
Just a shot of the wreath on 487’s headlight
Backing down across the Rio Chama bridge, just short of town
Between the first train and the second, I grabbed a few more shots around the yard. Here’s the coaling tower with its brand new roofing.
And the depot as well, showing off its new roof. Both structures had severe roof problems – leaks, damage, and decay – and thankfully money was allocated for repairing both this fall.
The second train of the day leaves the Chama yards right on time at 1330h.
Passing through the Narrows
One last look at the second train working uphill, just past the Narrows. The light had gotten so bad, though, that we called it and didn’t bother with more than a few shots up the hill.
On the other side of the railroad, in Antonito, CO, the sun was again shining. Here’s another carload of ties delivered for use in rebuilding the C&TS track next season.
On the way back home, we stopped in Alamosa to check out anything going on in the SLRG yard. The SLRG also runs a Christmas theme train this time of year – the “Dickens of a Christmas Train”, themed after Charles Dickens’ famous novel. Here’s 8527 decked out in lights and coupled to the passenger cars in the Alamosa yard.
Also in Alamosa is the new mother-slug set, recently delivered from American Motive Power. The mother – SLRG 459 – is a 3000hp F40M-2F.
Semi-permanently attached is SLRG 227, an F40PH carbody with traction motors and dynamic brake gear that draws power off the mother. The idea is that a single high horsepower unit cannot put all of its power to use effectively at low speeds. By adding more traction motors, more horsepower can be converted into tractive effort when traveling slowly (such as, say, pulling loads over La Veta).
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 40D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM, Sigma 18-50mm, or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM.