Narrow Gauge Locomotives
When the Denver and Rio Grande began operation, all of its tracks consisted of rails spaced 3 feet apart. This is narrower than the American Standard Gauge of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches and therefore defined as narrow gauge. Using narrow gauge track allowed savings in initial construction costs. Cuts and fills would be smaller and the engines could run on smaller radius curves. This worked well in the mountains where most of the Rio Grande operated.
At first the rails were lightweight, 30 pounds per foot, and were mounted on untreated hand hewn wooden ties. In most cases the track was not ballasted between the ties or just had lightweight earthen ballast.
Over the years the low construction cost of the narrow gauge lines began to take its toll on the operating cost of the railroad. Lightweight rails and construction techniques did not hold up over time and more and more maintenance was required. Eventually much of the track was upgraded with heavier rails. Tie plates were added to better connect the rail to the ties. Heavier rock ballast was also used and the ties were treated with decay resistant material.
The first engines were very small 4-4-0 and 2-6-0 wheel types. These were just a little taller than a man and could only pull a few railroad cars at a time. Next came the 2-8-0 consolidations and these became standard power on the railroad for the next 20 years.
C-16, 19, 21, 25 Classes
When the larger 2-8-0 consolidations became available in 1877, the D&RG began to buy them by the hundreds. They were several times more powerful than the engines they replaced, but still worked well on the narrow gauge track. The first consolidations were class C-16 and assigned road numbers in the 200's (post 1924 class/numbering). Soon larger C-18, 19, 21 and 25 models were arriving and given numbers in the 300 range.
The mountain mining industries grew at a rapid pace at the end of the 19th century. Hauling coal and iron ore was the largest source of revenue for the railroad and these trains needed larger and larger locomotive power.
In 1903 Baldwin delivered 15 new K-27, 2-8-2 Mikado locomotives that began service on the narrow gauge lines. The engines were number 450 through 464. These were a new style "outside frame" that allowed a larger firebox and lowered the center of gravity producing a more stable engine.
The K27s were the first "big" engines operated on the D&RG with twice the pulling power of the 2-8-0 consolidateds that they replaced. Due to the additional power, they were used on the steep 4 percent grades at Marshall and Cumbres passes.
Originally the K-27s were Vaulcain compounds with 40 inch drivers and had slope back tenders as normally used on yard switchers. It was not long before the railroad converted them to simple two cylinder engines with conventional tenders. These engines were affectionately named the "Mud Hens" because they would often derail on lightweight rails and then scoot across the ties like a waddling hen.
Only two of the original fifteen K-27 locomotives have survived to modern times. Engine 464 is at the Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan and has been converted to oil operation. Engine 463 was completely restored by the C&TS and was returned to regular service in 1994.
Twenty years went by before additional narrow gauge engines were purchased. Ten K-28 engines were acquired from the American Locomotive Co. (ALCO) in 1923 and assigned road numbers 470 through 479. These engines had the same basic pulling power as the K-27, but, they had 44 inch drivers and therefore replaced the 4-6-0 passenger engines doing service between Salida-Gunnison and Alamosa-Durango. Due to the higher operating speed of these engines they were given the nickname "sports model."
You might notice that the nose of these engines has a strange bunch of gadgets sticking out. This is the air compressor that is found beneath the running boards on the K36 and K37s. The air compressor pumps are driven by steam from the boiler. Compressed air operates the brakes and the bell on the train.
The Durango & Silverton has the last remaining fleet of operational K-28s including 473, 476 and 478. The other seven K-28 engines were taken by the U.S. Army in 1942 for operation on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad during World War II. All of the army engines were scrapped after the war.
At Durango, the K28s had spark arrestors added on the smoke stacks to help prevent fires.
In 1925 Baldwin delivered 10 K-36 class Mikados to the railroad and they were given numbers 480 through 489. They had one third more pulling power than the K-28s and were used on the steepest grades. Most of the people who ran the narrow gauge engines consider the K36s to be the best narrow gauge engines on the D&RGW.
Several of the K-36 engines have survived and are still in use on the C&TS hauling happy tourists over Cumbres Pass. However, the life of this line is shaky, and every year now we all have to wonder if this will be the last. Go there, ride the train, support the last true narrow gauge railroad in the world!
The K37 is the youngest of the steam engine classes from the old days. These were rebuilt by the D&RGW in the Denver Burnham shops in 1928 from standard gauge 2-8-0 locomotive boilers. Baldwin provided new 2-8-2 frames and wheels for the conversions.
Numbers 490 through 499 were assigned to the ten engines of this class. The D&SNG owns No. 493, 498 and 499. However, these engines are not in service. They are on display in the roundhouse at Durango. 495, 496, 498 and 499 are on display in Antonito, CO. Engine 497 is the only surviving K37 in operation and is found on the C&TS.
Many of the coal tenders had small shacks on the back of the coal tender that the brakeman could ride in on cold winter nights.
© Copyright 2005 Sandia Software All Rights Reserved