‘Living history’ locomotive returns home after 12 years

And just in time for Colorado Railroad Museum’s 60th anniversary

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Rail fans from across the country are excited that an iconic Rio Grande Southern locomotive will soon be in operation again.

“It’s an important piece of railroad history, and to actually be able to operate it is really cool,” said Donald Tallman, executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum. “It’s truly living history.”

Tallman is referring to the Rio Grande Southern Locomotive No. 20, which arrived home June 4 to the museum in Golden after undergoing restoration in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, for the past 12 years.

“It’s been a long time,” said Jeff Taylor, the museum’s curator of rolling stock and equipment. “There’s been a lot of hype about it coming home.”

Having Locomotive No. 20 is exciting enough on its own, Tallman said, but even more so because it arrived just in time for the Colorado Railroad Museum’s 60th anniversary celebration that runs July 12-14.

In the past six decades, the museum has “grown and flourished,” Tallman said. It attracts about 100,000 visitors annually and has more than 100 railcars in the collection — including now the unique Locomotive No. 20.

A narrow-gauge engine built in 1899 for the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad, it was originally used by the mining industry and built to climb and navigate the winding and steep Phantom Canyon to and from Cripple Creek.

There were only five of its kind, Taylor said, and Locomotive No. 20 is the only one left — all the others have been scrapped for parts.

“The railroad was good at recycling,” Taylor said, adding that Locomotive No. 20 has parts that were original to the other four locomotives.

By the late 1930s, Locomotive No. 20 was serving tourists. But in 1949, it became a movie star and played the role of Emma Sweeny, a locomotive in the film “A Ticket to Tomahawk.”

The last time Locomotive No. 20 ran was in November 1951, and it was sold at auction to the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club in 1952. The Rocky Mountain Railroad Club transferred ownership of the train to the Colorado Railroad Museum in 2006, and that year, an anonymous donor gave a donation to get it back to operational condition. The stipulation for the donation was that Locomotive No. 20 be rebuilt by the Strasburg Rail Road.

Strasburg Rail Road specializes in the steam engine, Tallman said.

Locomotive No. 20 returned to Golden with about 80 percent of the work done, Taylor said. The Strasburg Rail Road did the major work needed to certify it for federal standards. That means if the Colorado Railroad Museum chooses, it can take Locomotive No. 20 on tours to places outside of the museum once it’s operational, Taylor said.

Taylor and a team of about 15 will complete the rest of the work at the Colorado Railroad Museum. What is left is mostly cosmetic and “fine detail work,” Taylor said.

He expects Locomotive No. 20 to be operational sometime in 2020, but museum visitors are able to view it now as it’s being worked on in the museum’s shop, Taylor said.

Tallman noted that unlike many other railroad museums’ exihibits, which include artifacts from all over the country, the Colorado Railroad Museum is especially “unique because everything is focused on Colorado.

“The entire collection either ran within or through Colorado,” Tallman said. “That’s really special.”

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