Aug 17, 2023
That is a great photo and story behind it.
Rare Alco power on an even rarer train during a detour!
"Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway Company (D&RGW) 4-8-2 1521 east at Arena CO”, 1947.
Ralph Hallock photo.
That’s what the image data gives us, so we’ll look a little closer. We’re at Arena, CO; this location will become known as Rocky in 1951, and if I had to guess the name change would be in conjunction with the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant built up the branch, for which ground was broken in July of that year. For more, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Flats_Plant. The plant produced plutonium components for nuclear weapons, a dangerous machining operation with pyrophoric metal (under the right conditions, it is spontaneously combustible in air), plus is a criticality risk. In short, criticality refers to the radioactive properties of plutonium (and other radioactive metals, like uranium), in which nuclear radiation is emitted in increasing amounts harmful to humans as masses of the metal are brought into close proximity to another. For more, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticality_accident. The pole line ascending the background hill behind the train marks the branch’s terminus at the mainline near the Arena siding house track. For decades, D&RGW served the Rocky Flats plant and other nearby industries up the branch. Today, UP serves the branch for an aggregate and cement plant as well as others.
Back on topic, our train probably has nothing to do with the Rocky Flats branch; rather more possible the train originated on the Craig branch. There’s no data to support this other than the block of general-service gons in the train, loaded with what looks like coal. In the early days of the D&RGW, coal was shipped in G-S gons, as well as boxcars, stock cars, etc. The “Great Steel Fleet” of Bethlehem-built 100T open hoppers was more than a decade in the future. Coal was shipped in available cars—if it had a serviceable floor and sides, it was used. Either in sacks or bulk. The D&RGW through its middle years was frequently in receiverships and strapped for cash, so a fleet of dedicated-commodity cars was out of the question. In the off season of livestock shipping, stock cars would frequently pinch hit in coal service. While it is not possible to determine the commodity in the box and stock cars in the image, we can reasonably presume coal was at least in a few of them. Tank cars could be empties coming from fuel dealers up the line. Empty flats would have been loaded with equipment, perhaps mining or agricultural, and unloaded at team tracks along the line. With no defined date, it is difficult to tell the time of year; there is no snow visible, but at this location, snow doesn’t linger long. The weather here in particular changes as often as folks change their clothes, so the snow melts off here faster than it does in the higher elevations.
The engine is one of the 1923-built mighty 1500-class M-67 4-8-2s. As tall as a UP 4-12-2, and using the same enormous 96” diameter boiler as the F-81 class 2-10-2s (but with a slightly reduced firebox grate area), they would swallow whole a PRR 4-8-2 boiler and have 12” of space all around. Notice the lack of a cloud of brake shoe smoke—on a heavy 2% downgrade, a cloud of brake shoe smoke would be expected, but the perfect operation of the Le Chatelier water brake (a steam-era version of a diesel’s dynamic brake) enabled the prevention of additional brake wear. A good explanation of the water brake (https://ngdiscussion.net/phorum/read.php?1,7295,7312) is here:
“The principle of operation is to admit a small amount of superheated water from the boiler into the cylinder (I will use one cylinder for the example) just as the piston begins its return stroke (let's say the steam is in front of the piston as it begins to go forward). Since the pressure in the cylinder is nearly atmospheric (exhaust pressure) the water released from the boiler at about 200 psi is at approximately 450 degrees f. A small amount of water will instantly flash to wet steam in the low-pressure cylinder, thus filling the whole cylinder with steam at about 15 psi. As the piston moves forward it compresses the steam to a higher pressure. This is negative work that retards the motion of the piston, thus creating a braking effect on the drive wheels. When the piston reaches front dead center the highly compressed steam must be released up the stack through the valves so all the compressed energy isn't given back to the drive wheels when the piston begins to move back. All water brakes have a metering valve arrangement to admit a small amount of hot boiler water into the cylinder, usually through the valve chest and the engineer moves his reverse lever into back gear to make the valves time the port openings so all the compressed steam is bottle up in the cylinder until it reaches front dead center, then escapes through the valves up the stack.
The principle of operation is called "adiabatic compression" of steam which is exactly the opposite of "adiabatic expansion" of steam. Adiabatic expansion describes what happens when you hook an engine up, only admit steam for a small portion of the piston stroke then let it expand to a lower pressure and temperature for the rest of the stroke.”
So there’s the water brake. One note is the operation of water brake was hard on the lubricants of the day—basically too much water brake operation would cause the cylinder to run very hot and deplete vital lubricants, and cause damage. It wasn’t unheard-of to have a cylinder damaged due to heavy water brake operation. The tall protrusion above the high numberboards doesn’t seem to be part of the engine—no image I could locate seemed to show it. It might be part of the signal electrical supply or something.
Back to Arena, we see the GRS SA-type searchlight signals. The westbound mainline signal 175 is right of the smokebox, while 176 with its tall mast and small sunshade (later to be replaced with a larger one) and 176A situated on the ground with a larger sunshade are about 8 cars back. The first tank car is an auxiliary tender—added to trains to allow bypassing certain water stops on heavy grades, such as at Cliff siding about 20 miles west of here on the westward 2% climb. Obediently following the train is an unidentified caboose, likely from the 01400-series, built from steel in the D&RGW’s Burnham shops after 1940.
Hemi , I think that may be a line poll in the pic . Mike
P.S. I had never heard of that type of breaks on a steam loco .
Aww, that's just the exhaust from the turbo-pulverizer-blaster sander mounted to the sand dome. Cleans the squashed grass hoppers off the rails while adding traction to the drivers.
Expo Flyer one of my favorite trains. Modelled it in n,but since switched to z. So far only found a few appropriate cars
The D&RGW fielded nine Baldwin VO660s, built in 1941 and numbered 66-74.
Here's a masterpiece that is now unobtanium. Otto Perry bagged this incredible view of the east portal of Tunnel 28 on April Fools Day, 1934 of Denver & Salt Lake train #2. (https://digital.denverlibrary.org/digital/collection/p15330coll22/id/43466/rec/116)
Train 2 is eastbound from Craig, CO. Train 2 was timetabled eastbound at Cliff Siding a mile east at MP 37.04 at 1:22PM. Tunnel 28 was located at MP 36.02 westward from Denver and was 124 feet long. Difficult rock conditions during construction required timbering the entire interior, and the tunnel was plagued by unstable rock its entire service life. The instability and frequent operational headaches incurred by the railroad led to daylighting the tunnel in 1951, leaving a clean, sheared face on the wall of South Boulder Canyon, and a curious table of level ground marking where the spur from the canyon stood. The east portal of T28 faces N/NE, so the sun's angle in mid-spring would have the train mostly backlit. Also notable is the pole line for code wires. On most Moffat Route tunnels, the pole line ascended the spur of the mountain requiring a tunnel, largely aligned with the right of way. In the case of T28, the pole line skirted the base of the spur, likely minimizing construction costs.
D&SL 122 was built for Denver, Northwestern & Pacific as Alco/Schenectady builder number 48249 in August 1910. It sported 55" drivers, 22x28" cylinders, 195,000 lbs weight on drivers, and provided 43,980 lbs of tractive effort from 210 PSI superheated steam. It would have been assigned D&RGW 1038, but was scrapped in May 1948 before renumbering. The 122 was one of a class of 21 engines and features a Moffat staple--smoke lifters. The smoke lifter was a metal deflector installed behind the main exhaust stack and could be mechanically deployed before entering long tunnels or snowsheds. The device would deflect the exhaust down and along the train rather than being forced up into a voluminous plume and choking the crew with dangerous exhaust gases. How well they worked is probably debatable, but Moffat enginemen were commonly afflicted by lung problems, likely from inhaling too much exhaust gas in tunnels and snowsheds. Regardless of their efficacy, all Moffat (DNW&P/D&SL) engines were so-equipped.
I feel like this one is a test... And I have way less knowledge of the NG routes to be sure. The sheer cliff makes me think the current Silverton line, but the river is pretty far below the tracks where the cliff is sheerest. Any ideas where this is?
Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Train 426, engine 475 (Schenectady type 2-8-2) on Barranca Hill, near Embudo, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Four percent grade.
I did not know they had a line in that area. I know there was a line down to Farmington, NM from Durango. Farther up the Rio Grande River is Antonito on the narrow gauge network.
The Santa Fe wasn't the only road to reach Santa Fe. Just the only one to do it with standard gauge track. And the only one to do it with any sense of alacrity. Here's the same train coming into the capital.
Search for DRGW Chili Line. Long gone but not forgotten. Also— did you know that the Farmington branch was originally standard gauge? Three rail track in Durango until it was narrow gauged.
Cool, I did not know that.
Yeah, I did know about the gauge change from standard to narrow. That was quite unusual.
Not very often SG goes to NG--when gauge changes happen, it tended to be the other way around!
Moving back north to the Moffat, Otto Perry captured this nice view of D&SL train 1 exiting Tunnel 2 on Christmas Eve, 1933: https://digital.denverlibrary.org/digital/collection/p15330coll22/id/43717/rec/103 "Train #1, passenger; 4 cars, 10 MPH. Photographed: West of Plainview, Colo., December 24, 1933"
The first thing I notice is this is Bull Gulch, just west of Tunnel 2 and east of Tunnel 3. Most photos of this site depict a fill--this clearly proves there was once a spindly trestle built here when the railroad was constructed in 1904. The rails and roadbed were lightly built, unable to support anything bigger the the D&SL 200-class engines, or perhaps the D&RGW 3400-class engines. Bearing in mind the date, the Dotsero Cutoff wasn't yet completed until nearly 6 months later on June 16, 1934. With this in mind, the Moffat was nothing more than a dead-ended, fantastically expensive coal branch until the Cutoff opened.
Back to Bull Gulch, in 1938 a project was undertaken to fill in maintenance-intensive trestles, widen curves at troublesome slow orders at old tunnels 9 and 17, and generally improve the right of way such that heavier steam power could be used on Moffat trains. Richard Kindig captured afreight westbound over the trestle here on 24 April 1938, and again on the day of the Pear Harbor attack (yet it's unlikely Richard knew that at the time), this time with a fancy, new fill donated from the remains of old tunnel 9 in its place. Thus, this trestle was removed sometime after 24 April 1938 and 7 December 1941 as the closest I can determine. These images can be seen on Richard Farewell's "Rio Grande Secret Places: The Tunnel District"
https://www.amazon.com/Rio-Grande-Secret-Places-District/dp/0918654556 on page 56. Big power begin operating on the Moffat shortly thereafter, evidenced by D&RGW 3603, a huge 2-8-8-2 L-131 class engine, climbing the Moffat not far from this spot on 10 September 1939 (Kindig photo in Bollinger & Bauer, pg 240 https://www.amazon.com/Moffat-Road-Edward-T-Bollinger/dp/080400207X).
Another interesting note about this spot is 80 years later, it washed out! Terrific flooding along the Front Range destroyed roads, bridges and much property, but this very gulch washed out as well, leaving the tracks hanging helplessly in midair after the 16 September 2013 storms. A poignant image is here:
Wow, what an action shot right there!
10mph at this point, or was there a long and slow crawl involved?