Alamosa to Chama

Alamosa, Colorado, in the fertile upper Rio Grande Valley, was the headquarters for the DRGW narrow gauge in the 1960's. In addition to being the commercial center for a large agricultural area, it was the terminus of a DRGW secondary mainline from Pueblo, standard gauge branches to Creed and Antonito, and the narrow gauge " mainline" to Durango.

Alamosa had a large roundhouse, outdoor car shop that worked primarily on old wood narrow gauge equipment, an ancient backshop building where the narrow gauge steam locomotives were overhauled, and a substantial brick and stone station that at one time housed division offices.

In the late 1800's it had been the hub of a narrow gauge network in five directions, but over time the mainline from Pueblo and the east was standard gauged, the branch west to Creede standard gauged, and narrow gauge lines south to Santa Fe and north to Salida abandoned. The narrow gauge line to Durango was reached by three rail dual gauge trackage to Antonito, and much of the Alamosa yard was dual gauge.

Alamosa was where freight was transloaded between narrow gauge and standard gauge cars. Typically at least two narrow gauge cars were needed to handle the load in one standard gauge car, sometimes three. The transloading was a time consuming and costly operation for the railroad.

By the 60's switching at Alamosa was dieselized, with the switchers equipped with a special draft gear that could reposition the coupler for both narrow gauge and standard gauge cars.

In the earlier days of the line to Durango, much of the traffic was eastbound minerals, lumber, and stock, with a modest amount of inbound merchandise. However, the oil and gas boom in the Farmington basin starting in the early 1950's created a major increase in westbound oil field pipe and drilling mud. At the peak of the boom trains would leave Alamosa at all times of the day and night as quickly as enough cars were loaded. This temporary boom probably extended the life of the line by a decade, and because it was short lived, the DRGW chose not to invest in standard gauging the line, or buying narrow guage diesels. So steam soldiered on.

By the early 60's, when these pictures were taken, the boom had subsided and narrow gauge trains typically would leave Alamosa twice a week, frequently Monday and Thursday mornings. Trains would leave Alamosa and Durango in the morning, and meet that evening in Chama where the crews would spend the night. Virtually all trains between Alamosa and Chama had two engines, running doubleheaded from Alamosa to Antonito where the helper would be cut into the middle of the train for the climb to Cumbres. The return to Alamosa from Chama was typically a two day affair. The first day would involve two Cumbres "turns" shuttling cuts of cars up the four percent grade to Cumbres and returning caboose hop to Chama. Each turn had two engines, with the helper cut in at the rear ahead of the caboose. The second day a through train would operate up the hill with a third cut of cars, and then put everything at Cumbres together into a single train for the downhill run to Alamosa. Sundays were usually a day of rest.

Except for the Cumbres turns, trains on the narrow gauge, except for the Silverton branch, were typically long, usually 60-70 cars. The 70 car maximum specified in the Special Instructions for descending from Cumbres to Antonito was frequently met. Trains of this size were tough on the old wooden equipment, and draft gear and center sil failures were common, with the right of way littered with the remains of cars that had given their all.

However by the mid-1960's as abandonment drew near trains were run only as needed, and were often much shorter.

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