Steam on La Veta Pass

Many of us never believed we would see regular passenger service over La Veta Pass again, but the San Luis & Rio Grande proved us wrong when they introduced a daily tourist train last spring. So, what could they possibly do to top that? One word – steam. While Colorado is rich with narrow gauge steam, we have no regular standard gauge steamers in operation. Earlier this spring, the SLRG (aka Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, for their passenger operations) purchased SP 1744, a 1901 Baldwin 2-6-0, with the intent of putting it into service on head end of the La Veta Pass run.

The great benefit of 1744 was that had been completely rebuilt for the New Orleans & Gulf Coast, but only operated for about six months afterwards. It arrived in Alamosa on 1-May-2007, having been trucked in from New Orleans. A small crew went to work putting all the pieces together, and only about three weeks later on 20-May-2007, 1744 made its first short trips around the Alamosa yard. Those were followed by a test run to Antonito, and then a full-blown test over the La Veta grades. On Saturday, 26-May-2007 – opening day for the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad’s 2007 season – steam returned to La Veta Pass for the first time in over fifty years.

For those interested in riding behind 1744, you can visit the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad’s website to check availability and purchase tickets. Remember that 1744 only runs on the weekends and on holidays, with diesels doing the rest of the work. (Note: This was true when published. However, 1744 only lasted a year in service, and as of when this is being moved to my new website – Mar 2020 – the RGSR / SLRG is in receivership and no further passenger service is expected.)

All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 20D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM.

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