After several months of trying to work through events that were either canceled or on shaky ground, this week we finally have something happening that puts Avenue Flashes back on its normal track and coincidentally is all about putting something else back on track for the first time in nearly 70 years.
If you have read this column for a while, you probably know that I like trains. Real trains, toy trains and elaborate model railroads, I love them all. But the thing I really love are old steam locomotives, especially ones connected to our Colorado history. We had one of the most diverse and intricate railroad systems in the country due to a combination of unique business and geographical situations. Our mountains were loaded with different narrow gauge railroads servicing mining and logging interests and we had numerous railroads running through Colorado connecting the east and west coasts.
There were several smaller branch lines that were put in place to service the mining communities up in the mountains. A lot of these locations were really difficult areas to access and involved designing routes that had sharper curves which wound around all of the peaks and valleys and climbed up to high elevations. Designing them was quite a challenge and building them even more so. They needed to use narrower tracks and shorter rolling stock to be able to navigate the geography but also needed strong and powerful locomotives to handle pulling the weight of heavy ore cars.
Back in the 1880’s one of those lines was the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad that ran trains to places like Silverton and Ouray but the San Juan Mountains between those two towns, particularly the Uncopahgre Gorge were considered to be too difficult an area to conquer. But, in 1889 a guy named Otto Mears came along and decided to give it a try. He founded the Rio Grande Southern Railroad and managed to tackle a route through that area and also run trains to the mining towns of Telluride and Rico. It was never a big, hugely profitable line, but out of economic necessity they created crazy things like the Galloping Goose railcars that put them forever on the railroad map of history in this Colorado. But, unfortunately things change over time and back in 1953, the little railroad the could, ran it’s last train down the tracks.
When a railroad shuts down it sells all of it’s equipment and most of it ends up in the scrap pile. But fortunately for us, our very own Colorado Railroad Museum managed to acquire several gems and save them from destruction, including a few of the Galloping Geese (Gooses? … I dunno.) One of the biggest acquisitions from them was the Denver Rio Grande Southern steam locomotive No. 20 built in 1899. They got it back in 2006 and thus it began a 14 year restoration project in their roundhouse costing about $1.5 million.
Well, this weekend it’s finally going to be up and running again, pulling trains with the public for the first time since the 1950s and the Museum is hosting quite a welcome back event. So plan on joining them this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 1 and 2 and see what a beautiful job they have done. It all starts with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning followed by steam train rides pulled by No.20 every half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days. They will have some Model T and Model A automobiles there as well as antique steam engines and live steam model trains. There will also be Touring the Rails volunteers stationed throughout the grounds giving information about various less obvious things at the museum. Food and snacks will be available from local vendors to round out your visit.
Sunday will also be Members Appreciation Day with special reserved seating on the newly restored Denver Rio Grande Southern caboose as well as a behind the scenes tour exclusively for members.
The Colorado Railroad Museum is located at 17155 W. 44th Avenue in Golden. Admission is $10 for Adults, $5 for kids 2-17, $8 for Seniors 60+. Train rides run $4 for adults and $2 for kids. Please note that masks will be required for admission to the museum. Personally, I would add a black cowboy hat so it looks like I was there to rob the train. For more info go to www.coloradorailroadmuseum.org. or give them a call at (303) 279-4591. Welcome back No. 20. It’s good to have you running full steam!
John Akal is a well-known jazz artist/drummer and leader of the 20-piece Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra. He also is president of John Akal Imaging, professional commercial photography and multi-media production. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org