The narrow gauges of Colorado

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- North America' started by nkp174, Nov 17, 2007.

  1. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    Since they are the most popular of all narrow gauges, I figured that I'd make a post for people curious as to what they were. Typically topics such as "Maine 2 footers" and "Colorado narrow gauge" isn't really covered in depth unless you purchase specific books.

    Colorado narrow gauges consisted primarily of 3' gauge railroads...although there were a few small 2' operations.

    The biggest (and first) narrow gauge was the Denver & Rio Grande Western Family. This consisted primarily of the Denver & Rio Grande (in Colorado...started in 1870) and the Rio Grande Western (in Utah). It was the first narrow gauge, and it was built by General Palmer (and inspired by the Ffestiniog railway in Wales). The two halves were merged into the D&RGW in 1920. It was originally intended to connect Denver to Mexico City...although it became a Denver-Salt Lake City road. The main line was converted to standard gauge around 1890. The notable chunk of the railroad later on was the narrow gauge circle...which included what is now the Durango & Silverton, the Cumbras & Toltec, and the new Rio Grande Scenic (which operates a standard gauge SP 2-6-0). There are a few other operations on the old Rio Grande. The narrow gauge Rio Grande operated seven different classes of 2-8-0s, as well as 2-4-0s, 2-6-0s, 4-4-0s, 4-6-0s, 0-6-0ts, and 45 2-8-2s....24 of which survive. Three former Crystal River Railroad outside frame 2-8-0s were the largest of the D&RGW's 2-8-0s and were known as "little mudhens" as they looked like the roads smallest 2-8-2s (known as "mudhens"). The narrow gauge circle was operated (with steam) until 1967...with the Silverton branch never being shut down...but eventually sold.

    The second most important family would probably be the Colorado & Southern family (which consisted as both std and narrow gauge systems). The C&Sng family had two primary members...the Denver, South Park, and Pacific...and the Colorado Central. The CC was Colorado's second narrow gauge. It followed the Clear Creek canyon west of Denver beyond Silver Plume...with the famed Georgetown Loop being at the west end of the line. The CC used 0-6-0s and 2-6-0s as its motive power...and had many odd cars. It became a UP property in the late 1870s and was rolled up into the Union Pacific, Denver, and Gulf. Its 1880s equipment was common in design to the other UP narrow gauge lines such as the DSP&P, the Kansas Central, and the Utah & Northern. The second railroad in the family was the South Park. It was intended to be a trans-continental railroad (hence the "Pacific") but was effectively Denver to Gunnison with a branch to Baldwin. A secondary line, "The High Line" was built to access the Leadville district by crossing the continental divide twice. A section of this line survives today as standard gauge (converted in 1943). The original mainline was a money pit...with the unbelievable Alpine Tunnel district...the forestry service of Colorado give this area a perfect "10" in scenery...I'll fight the urge to go on and on about my favorite chunk of railroad. The South Park's moguls were the prototype for the LGB mogul which launched their north american popularity. Their Tiffany reefers have been offered by several manufacturers in Nn3, HOn3, Sn3, On3, and large scale. Their mason bogies were also famous 2-6-6ts whose drivers pivoted like freight car trucks. The C&S was formed in 1898-99 as their receiver, Frank Trumbull, merged the two railroads. They were then purchased by the Burlington a few years later. The Burlington promptly abandoned the money pit known as Alpine Tunnel but get the gold mine known as the High Line. The road lingered on until the late 30's and early 40's as the last sections of narrow gauge were abandoned/eliminated (the narrow gauge wore C&S lettering to the end to shield the CB&Q from the public relations negatives of abandoning the line...something they'd worked at for years). 2 original DSP&P engines engines survive...mogul #9 operates on the Georgetown Loop and Baldwin 2-8-0 191 sits at the Colorado RR Museum. Additional narrow gauge 2-8-0s: #60 at Idaho Springs...#71 at Black Hawk (was previously used on a tourist railroad), and #74 is being restored for the Georgetown Loop (she was also ex-DB&W and ex-RGS). Two standard gauge 2-8-0s survive as well. The Argentine Central was a tourist connector at the west end of the Clear Creek line and used shays. The Gilpin Gold Tram was a 2' operation in the Central City/Black Hawk connected with the C&S and is another story in itself.

    The Mears Roads were the third family. Otto Mears was possibly the most interesting figure in Colorado Narrow Gauge history. He founded 3 railroads...the Silverton RR, the Silverton Northern, and the Rio Grande Southern. The first two ran north out of Silverton (where they connected with the D&RG). The SNRR survived well into the 20th century and the engine house is visible from the D&S trains. Using his profits from his Silverton Railroads...Mears financed the construction of the Rio Grande Southern. The RGS only ever owned 1 new piece of rolling stock...caboose 0404...and never owned a new engine. It connected up the narrow gauge circle by running from Durango through the San Juans with such places as Trout Creek, Lizard Head Pass, Ophir, and Telluride. The railroad never built a tunnel due to costs...but had spectacular wooden trestles. Most of their equipment was 2nd hand D&RGW equipment. There motive power can be divided into a few phases: small D&RG/RGW 2-8-0s, 4-4-0, 4-6-0s, a shay, and an 0-6-0t. Then those were replaced in the 1910's with 3 bigger consolidations and 3 beautiful (and large) 4-6-0s from the recently washed out Florence & Cripple Creek (the Phantom Canyon trackage was washed out and never rebuilt). In the 1930s...the Galloping Geese were added to keep the line afloat during the Depression...and then a pair of 2-8-2s...455 & 461...replaced 4-6-0s #22 & #25 around the start of WW2. The road was abandoned in 1951...with 6 of the 7 Geese surviving...the 4-6-0 #20 is currently being restored in Strassburg, PA, and all 3 (or maybe 2?) of the final 2-8-0s survive. One of the Geese and 2-8-0s operates at Knotts Berry Farm...along with the business car Edna. Bachmann's On30 railtruck is based on RGS Goose #1. The RGS was impoverished because of the government reducing its controls on Silver prices which kept the price artificially high...and justified the building of the RGS.

    Smaller roads would include the Uintah which had insane curves, insane grades, 2-6-6-2ts, 0-6-2ts, shays, etc... and hauled Gilsonite. Also the Florence & Cripple Creek, the Denver, Boulder, & Western, and a few other small lines.

    Most narrow gauge modelers work in HOn3 or garden scales...but Sn3 and On3 also have loyal followings. The modern Rio Grande is very easy to model in HOn3 and Sn3 as almost everything is commercially available...Sn3 has become more of high end brass collecting and operating scale...but some wonderful items are's essentially the size of std gauge HO. On3 is fine for C&S or D&RGW since Bachmann's On30 2-6-0 is a nice stand in for C&S #22...and a couple manufacturers make the necessary cars. On30 offers a nice, easy and cheap approach to entering colorado narrow gauge modeling...while HOn30 is primarily for 2' gaugers. Many new On3 colorado prototypes are now being released in RTR due to the combined On3/On30 market.

    Hope you've enjoyed this read!
  2. Bones

    Bones Member

    Thanks for taking the time to help a few people understand a bit more.

    This reply is actually a shameless plug, though. Uintah Railway - "Crookedest Railroad in the World!"
    It is amazing that the great 2-6-6-2Ts made famous by Sumpter Valley were created to haul grimey, black sludge... on grades that would cause catostrophic failure to most engines.
  3. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    I ran out of I badly skimped on the Uintah, the F&CC, and such. I had to take a French friend to get some French cheeses from a specialty store (and my beloved Viennese coffee).

    Their 2-6-6-2ts were the most powerful 36" gauge engines every built. Sadly, they ended their lives south of the Rio Grande rather than being saved for their historical significance.
  4. Bones

    Bones Member

    This is officially the greatest thread ever. Narrow gauge, Uintah, Cheese.... All a man needs...

    In all seriousness, I'll be moving soon. I'll be staying with a friend temporarilly, in a situation that will provide excess free time. If I have the motivation, and manage to keep my reference material nearby, I'll try to get a nice write-up posted for the Uintah.

    No promises, but I'll try to get the inter-cranial hamster moving again. I even have a few pictures of the 2-6-6-2Ts, that have expired copyrights, which could be incorporated.
  5. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    there is a nice site on the uintah:

    Uintah Home Page

    One of these days, i am going to scratchbuild on of those 0-6-2's in HOn3. I scratchbuilt a model of a uintah water car. it's not a faithful scale reproduction, just generalization I made from photographs.


    Attached Files:

  6. MilesWestern

    MilesWestern Active Member

    Very Nice work NKP, It cleared up ALOT of things I was wondering about colorado's Narrow Gauge, I second the suggestion that this is one of the best threads on the gauge! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

    Nachoman, That water car is AWESOME!!!!
    Could you post more photos of your layout including an overall shot, please? :)
  7. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    I agree! There are some cars which we only have 1 or 2 poor photographs to base our cars off we can't get them perfect...and doing what you've done creates exactly what we want...a faithful representation of the railroad. You could probably find a mechanism to serve as a donor for your 0-6-2t...and you might be able to just widen the wheels without new axles.
  8. Uintah Dave

    Uintah Dave Member

    There are 3 good books on the Uintah. Uintah Railway Pictorial vol 1 & 2 by Rodger Polley, Sundance Books. These 2 have lots of photos and maps. The other one is The Uintah Railway The Gillsonite Route by Henry Bender, Heimburger House. They are a must have for Uintah fans. Another good colorado book is Tracking Ghost Railroads In Colorado by. Robert Ormes, Century One Press. The last 2 are both out of print I think.

  9. b28_82

    b28_82 Member

    My dad has a brass On30 (i believe) 2-6-6-2 so I think he has some interest in the railroad. He probably drove on the old railroad grade himself in his bachelor days.

    Uintah Dave - Take a look at my birthday on my profile, you may find it as interesting as I did.

  10. Bones

    Bones Member

    Another good Colorado Narrow Gauge book is "Narrow Gauge in the Rockies, by Beebe and Clegg." The original is long out of print, but has been re-released in the last 10 years; along with "The Uintah Railway: The Gilsonite Route."

    A good bargain hunter can find either of those books for about $15-20 each. Buying online, you'll pay $40-90 each.
  11. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    Some of the standard references:
    for the South Park...Mac Poor's Denver, South Park, & Pacific (plus the pictorial supplement). My favorite resource for pictures is the Mineral Belt by Sundance (I prefer Vol2). There are a number of other books.

    The standard reference for the Rio Grande Southern is Silver San Juan by Mallory Hope Ferrell (whom also issued a DSP&P book a few years ago).

    Sundance has a new Colorado Central book coming out...the first on the CC (its usually covered in DSP&P books). Nearly a DSP&P books also cover the C&Sng.

    The Colorado Rail Annuals are classics...which includes the only book I can think of off the top of my head covering the Florence & Cripple Creek.

    The Crystal River Pictorial covers the Crystal River RR...but is mostly a Standard gauge book.

    The Rainbow Route & the Switzerland Trail of American cover some of the smaller roads.

    My father has all of the narrow gauge books...except for the newer Ferrell book...and all of the Lucious Beebe books...and I think Mac Poor's, the Mineral Belt, and Silver San Juan are distinctly the best.
  12. Uintah Dave

    Uintah Dave Member

    That is interesting Jake!!! sign1
  13. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    The Florence & Cripple Creek

    I had a chance to scour my father's library over the holiday...and was able to get more of the F&CC details nailed well as bring along a book with beautiful drawings of nearly all of their equipment.

    The Florence and Cripple Creek was built in 1894. It would probably have not been possible, had it not been for Moffat's the silver panic of 1893 had pretty much destroyed the profitability of so many railroads...such as the Rio Grande Southern. The F&CC started off at the town of Florence and worked north through Phantom canyon and on to Victor and Cripple Creek. At Florence, it had connections with the D&RG mainline (which was dual gauge) and a Santa Fe branchline. The construction was hurried due to the need to beat the standard gauge Midland Terminal to Cripple Creek. In winning this race, best engineering practices were put aside and the railroad had many sections built within the flood plain of a mountain stream (not a good idea).
    After the F&CC was built, the Golden Circle line was completed as a sort of commuter line for the mining district...which became a part of the F&CC. Additionally there was an electric line in the district. It was a spaghetti bowl.
    David Moffat, with his wonderful business sense, sold off his interests in the F&CC shortly before a flash flood destroyed much of the mainline in the canyon in 1912. The line was sold to the Midland Terminal (which was a competitor), and therefore they chose not to rebuild it. The last of the narrow gauge operations ended in 1916.
    The F&CC is unbelievable for a model railroad. The 40 mile long mainline snakes through the canyon with many trestles, tunnels, and sharp curves. My father tells me that from his experience driving through the canyon, the shadows are extremely odd and very, very eerie. I've only been to the northern end of the line between Victor and Cripple Creek...and I was around 6yrs old at the time (I remember surprisingly well). This area, which is at an elevation of 10,000ft, had narrow gauge, standard gauge, and electrified railroad all within a few square miles.

    The legacy of the F&CC is far greater than its short history. The road's (12) 2-8-0s, (6) 4-6-0s, and (1) 2-4-4t were were its rolling stock. Three of the big 4-6-0s (as powerful as the most powerful 2-8-0s in the state...except for the Crystal River engines) were sold to the Rio Grande Southern. Of these, one survives: #20...which is probably the single most famous narrow gauge engine in the US (edging out the D&RGW 268...the bumble bee). #20 is currently being restored in Strasbourg, PA and is a permanent resident of the Colorado RR Museum.

    Additionally, the other three 4-6-0s ended up on the N-C-O...with the last one surviving as Southern Pacific #22.
    The 2-4-4t went to the Pajaro Valley Cons. RR until 1935.
    Of the 2-8-0s, two's fates are unknown...three went to the Montana Southern Ry, One is in Durango, CO...and was recently restored (D&RGW 315), [​IMG]
    one is at the CRRM in Golden (across the street from Coors) and has run in the past, [​IMG]
    another four went to the D&RGW and didn't survive, and the last one went to the Uintah as #12...and then to the Eureka-Nevada & survives.

    Their freight cars were dispersed to the N-C-O, the Pearl Harbor RR, the Magma Arizona, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge, the Pacific Coast RY, the SP's Keeler branch, and the Montana Southern. At least one boxcar survives at the Colorado RR Museum. At least one of their cabooses went to the Magma Arizona and on to the N-C-O.

    Considering the wide availability of F&CC equipment...both types of cabooses, their famous Victor Gold Mining yellow gondolas, their gold belt line boxcars, and their passenger cars...not to mention the new MMI models which are perfect for their 2-8-0s...and the existence of their 4-6-0s in many scales...and the new Bachman forney is a decent stand in for the F&CC/Golden Circle 2-4-4t #51...the F&CC is a tremendous railroad to model. They build a picturesque railroad through beautiful territory with some of the handsomest motive power and rolling stock to ever grace the high iron.

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