DRGW 315 is an 1895 Baldwin 2-8-0, built originally for the Florence
& Cripple Creek as their “Elkton”, otherwise known as #3. The
engine – along with her four sisters – went to the Rio Grande in 1917
after the F&CC folded, and eventually 315 wound up as the Durango
yard switcher during the twilight of the narrow gauge. As the engine
came due for major work, it was sidelined and placed on display in a
city park in 1950. Eventually it passed to the Durango Chamber of
Commerce, and then to the City of Durango itself.
In 2000, the Durango Railroad Historical Society was founded with the
idea of restoring 315. At Railfest 2007, that dream became reality,
when 315 moved under her own power for the first time since being idled
in 1950. Last year, while 315 made a number of runs, it stayed on the
home rails of the Durango and Silverton. This year, the DRHS, in
cooperation with the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, brought the engine to
Chama for a series of six photo specials.
Monday, 16-Jun-2008 marked the engine’s first revenue trip over Cumbres Pass in at least sixty years, and likely many more. The trip was a photo freight from Chama to Antonito, picking up most of the cars at the top due to 315’s limited ratings on the 4% out of Chama. I decided to chase that run rather than ride it, and the results are posted here.
Sunday, Jun 15, 2008 – Getting to Chama
The SLRG is now using one of their newly-acquired dome cars for the Alamosa-Antonito service. Here sits SLRG 8527 with RPCX 511 (Nenana) at the Antonito terminal, just across from the C&TS depot.
From there, it was over to catch the regular daily eastbound train at Cumbres Pass. Lead by 484, we didn’t realize until later the show we’d missed.
As it turned out, Sunday’s train wasn’t just any old double-header. 487 was on the front, but it was followed by a cut of freight cars for Monday’s 315 special. Behind the freight cars was 484, and then the regular passenger train. Here’s 487 on the Cumbres wye.
Having nothing better to do, we caught 484 and the regular train coming off the bottom of Tanglefoot Curve onto the long straightaway towards Apache Crossing.
Just a wider shot below Tanglefoot
Wanting to head into Chama for some lunch, Nathan Z and I headed down the hill, following the light helper engine. Here’s Coxo
And another shot passing the pond at Lobato. The water was smooth as glass until a few seconds before 487 appeared, and then the wind picked up.
We tried for the river bridge shot, but it just didn’t happen. We weren’t fast enough to walk all the way out there from the Chama yard, and instead caught 487 a few hundred feet south of the bridge. No, it’s not snowing in June – that’s just cottonwood junk that’s thick in the air.
After following 487 in and before wandering off to lunch at Fosters, we decided to have a look in the shop to see what was going on. 489 is still very much a work in progress at this point, though getting much closer to being ready to go out on the road again.
Meanwhile, this is what we’re really interested in… D&RGW 315 made its first trip to Cumbres the day before on a test run, and would be making her first revenue run over the pass in over 50 years the next morning. We wanted to see if any more test runs were in order, but they weren’t.
The only movement we got out of 315 was a quick move out of the enginehouse to be parked behind the 489. This made room to service 488, which would be coming in on the afternoon train. Now it’s off to lunch.
Watering 488 and giving everything a quick inspection before the crew starts the daily westbound down the 4% to Chama.
The daily westbound coming past the small lake near the Coxo crossing. Again, too much wind for a good reflection shot.
488 and the westbound at the Cresco tank
And through the famous reverse curves between Cresco and Dalton
488 and train coming down the long straight section above the Dalton crossing
One of the few shots along Highway 17 in the Narrows between Lobato and Chama where you can actually get a shot down the bank
The daily westbound enters the Chama yard under the famous water tank.
With the passengers unloading, the crew cut off 488 and headed down to the wye to turn the power.
Engine turned, they head back up into the yard. There’s just a little low spot under the tender, if you look closely.
I assumed they’d put the engine to rest for the night, but turns out they needed to collect the cars for Monday’s 315 special. Here’s Alan and 315 moving through the yard, looking to grab a rider gon, rider box, and caboose.
The crew will shove them back in front of the regular train, as the special will leave around 0800h in the morning and be well clear by the time the regular passengers show up.
It’s not that often that the engine boneyard is uncovered, but with many of the freight cars moved, we get a good look at 492 and 483. Despite their appearance, neither is beyond repair. 492, while having never run during the C&TS era, actually has a decent shot at being restored someday.
A better look at C&TS 483. The engine was the C&TS’s original power, and was retired from service the same year I was born (1977). It’s mostly sat around the Chama yard since then, serving as a parts source and reference for the design. In 2002, the asbestos lagging was removed from around the boiler, and 483 may yet run again.
Meanwhile, 315 sits and simmers over behind the enginehouse. As opposed to the big K-36 and K-37 engines that are a cacophony of hissing, spitting and crackling while idle, C-18 #315 is just silent as can be. You’d never even know she was hot.
After dinner with a bunch of other fans (and crew) at Fosters, we headed back over to the yard to get a few night shots of 315. It’s a challenge shooting out behind the enginehouse at night, due to all of the flood lights around the facility. Yes, that’s the moon just off the smokestack.
Another night view – this one I left in color, as the sodium and mercury lights hadn’t completely trashed it.
Just another night shot from the opposite side, with main street Chama barely visible in the background
Why kid ourselves with black and white, though? It’s something to celebrate in itself that 315 is around and steaming under 21st century lighting. This engine has now been around longer than almost any living person, and seen three different centuries.
One more black and white, for fun.
Monday, Jun 16, 2008 – 315 from Chama to Antonito
The next morning, the crew tends to 315’s lubrication needs just prior to backing her out into the yard to pick up the cars set out by 488 the night before.
About ten minutes later, 315 and a boxcar (which I believe contained tools and parts) left the enginehouse track for the main yard.
Full steam ahead (or at least as much as yard speeds will allow)
Coupled up to the passenger equipment on the main, ready to head over to Antonito today.
Passing the famous Jukes Tree, just north of the Rio Chama bridge. The tree and the engine have undoubtedly met before, during the first half of the last century, but it’s been a long time.
A broader shot at the tree.
Coming across the flats north of Chama, near where the old Broad Spur used to be.
315 and riders approaching the Narrows. Thanks, Daren, the roof of the Suburban makes a great photo platform. What amazes me is that it can hold up both Nathans and you at the same time.
Climbing past an almost still pond on approach to Lobato, NM.
Lobato itself, or Weed City, if you prefer. Lobato – including the stock pens and siding – is historic. The crappy water plug, tank, and long-gone depot were movie props, labeled as “Weed City”. I wish they’d finish demolishing the non-historic parts.
Of course what’s Lobato without at least one trestle shot.
315 continues climbing towards the Dalton crossing. Yes, the camera is level, and yes, the grade is really that steep.
315 has a fairly small tank, and given the run-bys already done this morning, it needs a quick stop at Cresco to top off with water.
Drinking from the Cresco tank
Further up the hill, 315 and train pass the telegraphone booth at Coxo.
After a long, hard climb, the train crests the summit at Cumbres
A low angle shot as they’re about to cross Hwy 17 at the summit. They’ll break the train and splice in the cut of cars that the daily eastbound brought up yesterday.
315 grabs the cut of freight cars out of one of the Cumbres Pass tracks as a zillion fans wander around photographing the event.
Since it’s all (mostly) downhill to Antonito from here, 315 can handle a much larger train. Consequently, they’ve cut a large number of freight cars in. The cars are, in order, DRGW 3669, 04426, 5691, 5600, 5841, 5633, 5706, 5549, 9378, 6205, rider boxes 211 and 205, DRGW 3244 (Friends concession car), unknown rider box, and caboose 0579.
As usual, can’t make up my mind between this shot and the last one, so here’s another shot from the lower approach to Tanglefoot.
The long train makes its way along the valley floor between Tanglefoot and Apache Crossing.
With the Apache Crossing road blocked by snow, we went on to the Los Pinos curve. I’ve got a bit of heat distortion in this shot from shooting across the valley, but it’s really not that bad.
Coming around the big curve at Los Pinos
Given the time it took for the passengers to eat lunch and the train to do a few more run-bys, we decided to head out to Sublette. The road wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember, but many thanks to Daren and his Suburban for chauffeuring us back there. That’s Daren and Dave Gross in front of me, all walking out to the east switch at Sublette.
One of the interesting things at Sublette was this Butte, Anaconda & Pacific bottom dump car on the siding. It almost certainly started out as a standard gauge ore car, and had narrow gauge trucks thrown under it to work in MoW service here.
We had nearly a three hour wait at Sublette, but we could hear the maintenance crews working over across the valley.
When maintenance-of-way stopped being maintenance-in-the-way and cleared up in the Sublette siding, we knew it was almost show time.
Right about 1500h, the regular eastbound train comes through the east end of Sublette, NM.
Fifteen minutes on his tail is the special.
There was a run-by at the deep cut just east of Sublette, so we had some time to set this one up. This is approaching the grade crossing just down from the road that turns off to Big Horn.
A departing shot from the same spot.
Approaching Big Horn on the S-curve to the west
A little tighter view of the previous shot.
0579 brings up the rear as the train heads towards the Big Horn yard and wye
…and coming out the other end of Big Horn.
We tried for Whiplash and took the wrong road (none of us had been out here in a long time), so when we heard a planned run-by for Lava, we figured we could recover and beat them to the trestle. However, they apparently skipped Lava and went for the trestle instead. Sorry for being the invaders…
Pacing (unfortunately from the dark side) just outside Antonito
The day’s just about over as 315 and train approach the Antonito yard by the famous “End of Standard Gauge” sign.
Pulling under the Antonito water tank
315 and the Antonito depot
With the cars put away in a siding, 315 is put away outside the enginehouse
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.
This work is copyright 2022 by Nathan D. Holmes, but all text and images are licensed and reusable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically you’re welcome to use any of this as long as it’s not for commercial purposes, you credit me as the source, and you share any derivative works under the same license. I’d encourage others to consider similar licenses for their works.