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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR 

 

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My wife and I visited the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad when the fall triple header moved out of Chama and up to Cumbres, just prior to September 11, 2001.  We arrived late in the evening at Chama, and the smoky coal smell mixed with a moist and cold atmosphere.  As we drove into town, past the old stockyards and over the turning Y, we came upon the engine facilities and depot.  There stood not one, but three, old narrow gauge steam locomotives at idle, with their fires banked, but never the less alive and well.  What a site it was!  My wife laughed as I could hardly contain myself and wanted to rush right down the hill and be among the real, not model, locomotives. 

Let me tell you a little about this section of the old Denver and Rio Grande that runs from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado.  First the original railroad was granted a charter to operate in October 1870.  It was planned to run from Denver to El Paso, Texas and also to extend it rails into Mexico.  The planned route was to go south to Pueblo, through the Arkansas River Canyon (now the Royal Gorge).  There were to be six branches into the mining fields of Colorado and even one to Salt Lake City, Utah. 

By 1871 the first rails were laid from Denver to Colorado Springs and reached Pueblo in 1872.  As with most things, money problems delayed plans and the rails did not reach as far south as La Venta, Colorado, until 1876.  By this time, the mining operations in Colorado were in full swing and it was decided to abandon the idea of heading for El Paso and head for the mining fields instead.  In 1877, the railroad reached almost to Trinidad, Colorado, and across the Veta Pass to Garland City (now Fort Garland).  In only 8 years, the narrow gauge tracks were laid along the Rio Grande River near Alamosa and the railroad could finally own up to its name. 

A complete history is available of this section of the line from Antonito, Colorado, to Chama, New Mexico, in a book titled Ticket to Toltec, which is a mile-by-mile study and guide to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  This is a must for anyone that rides this highly recommended railroad line.  Besides, you can have the engineer, fireman, conductor, and other locals sign your book to personalize it.  It the book gets a little coal smudge here or there, it makes it all the more valuable to you.

Now back to our trip.  We boarded the train and had seats in a coach, but we wandered the train endlessly and visited the open gondolas regularly.  Our train labored up the climb through Labato and finally making the Cumbres pass in Colorado at a little over 10,000 feet.  To give you an idea of what it is like up there, pilots are required to put on oxygen above 10,000 feet above sea level!  Once we crested the pass, photographers at nearly every accessible point met us.  We stopped and uncoupled two engines, which were on a special excursion and heading back to Chama.  Our train progressed ahead to Los Pinos and arrived at Osier.  At that location, our train disembarked all passengers and there was a “eating house” and rest area for the passengers as the trains watered from the tank and rearranged themselves.  We changed trains to continue on to Antonito.

Our new train progressed through Toltec, Sublette, Big Horn, Lava, and finally into Antonito.  The scenery was some of the most spectacular that we have ever seen, and the folks on the train were friendly and very informative.  Once we arrived in Antonito, we walked to a nearby motel and checked in.  (You have the option of returning on a bus or taking the train back the next day.)  The next morning we explored the local railroad yard, looked in the engine house, checked out the souvenir store, and got on the train for the ride back.  We returned to Chama and brought back several exposed rolls of film, memories, and tiny cinders in our hair and clothing. 

My recommendation of this Scenic Railroad is the highest I can give for scenery, equipment, attitude, friendliness, and it has to be regarded as a National Treasure.  If you only had time to do one narrow gauge trip in Colorado, this is the one to be on.  Give them a call or hit our link to get the latest running schedules.  Think hard about buying a season pass and becoming a member of the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Locomotives at Cumbres & Toltec Engine # 489
Engine # 497
Coach 500
Triple header Lagoto trestle

Cascade Creek trestle
Water tank at Osier

Engine # 187 Railfans
Water tank Climbing toward Antonito
Line structure Interchange car
Jordan Spreader and Snow Crab car_2.jpg (21001 bytes) Rotary Snow Thrower

 Sierra Scale Models is owned and operated by Dave Barron, an NMRA Master Model Railroader. If you have questions about the products, send a message to David Barron or call 813-907-3343.