C-19 Locomotive History

The Colorado Classic

by Jeff Johnson

In 1881, the biggest narrow gauge locomotives on the Denver & Rio Grande Railway were twelve little 2-8-0s that became a classic on the 3-foot rails of Colorado.
A relatively ‘newer’ design to the D&RG, these little engines proved that they were more than up to the task of helping to expand the young railroad.

The 2-8-0 Comes of Age

In 1877, the first steam locomotives with a 2-8-0 wheel arrangement arrived for service on the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. From the late 1860’s forward, this new consolidation design had been utilized on small quantities of standard gauge locomotives built by Baldwin Locomotive Works. The early Baldwin designers were constantly seeking ways to enhance the power of their locomotives for the country’s burgeoning railroads, and the 2-8-0 would mark another milestone towards this goal. The eight drive wheels and additional weight incorporated into the new design enhanced rail adhesion and pulling capacity for uses such as helper service, while meeting the challenges faced by steep territories requiring the utmost in road power. By 1876, more of the broad gauge roads (initially the Pennsylvania Railroad) began to widely accept the now proven
2-8-0 due to its ability to handle more tonnage within each train. Railroad accountants readily appreciated the savings on crew and locomotive requirements in moving a given amount of loaded railway cars, and Baldwin started advertising this design for its obvious benefits.

The old Cumbres, #346 steams at the Colorado Railroad Museum on April 12th, 2009.
Photo by Michael R. Ripley

Since 1871, William Jackson Palmer’s new narrow gauge line in Colorado had been utilizing relatively light locomotives with 2-4-0, 2-6-0, and 4-4-0 wheel arrangements in order to traverse the steep grades of the Rockies, thus limiting the tonnage per train to relatively light manifests. The young D&RG would benefit greatly from the consolidation design, and it was not long before the diminutive 36” gauge versions of this newer style would show up in Denver, Colorado, for assignments across the budding narrow gauge. The first 2-8-0s to arrive were a group of over 50 Baldwin locomotives weighing approximately 56,000 pounds (Class 56) delivered between 1877 and 1881. A group of 82 slightly heaver consolidations were acquired between 1881 and 1882 from Baldwin and Grant Locomotive Works and were designated as Class 60. A number of these revered diamond stack kettles survived into the 20th century. During the D&RGW motive power reclassifying effort of 1924, the Class 60 engines that survived into this era were designated as “C-16” (“C” for consolidation and “16”for approx. 16,000 lbs of tractive effort). Locomotives of the Class 56 group did not survive very far into the heart of the industrial age.

Class 70 Arrives

By the early 1880s, the D&RG was officially turning into a consolidation road where freight power was concerned. With the initial success of the Class 56 and 60 engines, it was time for Baldwin to push the limit a little more within the same general design in an effort to maximize the railroad’s stable of power.

The D&RG mainline of 1881 was resplendent of territories consisting of grades in excess of 3 percent, and crews were pushing toward new ground every day. The 4 percent grades over Marshall Pass, Cerro Summit, and the newly completed Cumbres Pass segment on the San Juan Extension presented a tonnage challenge for the railroad’s available pool of locomotives. The D&RG placed an order with Baldwin Locomotive Works for twelve new locomotives that would arrive in the summer of 1881 for immediate use over the Gunnison Extension. These new 2-8-0s were essentially “beefed up” versions of the Class 60 design and weighed in at approximately 70,000 lbs. These new class 70 engines sported a slightly larger boiler and cylinder casting when compared to their smaller cousins.

Class 70 No. 404, pauses at Ceder Creek,
Colorado in 1902. The diamond stack and
wooden pilot are soon to be vestiges of a
bygone era. Photo by Fred Jukes.
Courtesy of Mallory Hope Ferrell Collection.

The delivery period for these heavier diamond stacks dovetailed with the ongoing arrival of the Class 60s. Numbered from 400 to 411, the stout 2-8-0s immediately found work filling the power needs of the narrow gauge mainline from Salida to Gunnison via Marshall Pass. While it has often been said that the Class 70 locomotives were specified for helper engine service (and this is basically true), actual written accounts and anecdotal evidence show that they were often called out for road engine duty. However, they didn’t stray far from the heavier grades of Marshall Pass and Cerro Summit in the first years.

Typical of many locomotives in this time period, the twelve new Baldwins were fitted with short smoke boxes and diamond stacks. Large kerosene headlights, ornate dome rings, wooden paneled cabs, and a sparse smattering of appurtenances rounded out the class 70 features. To the casual observer, the distinguishing attribute that set the Class 70 locomotive apart from the class 60 2-8-0 was its slightly longer boiler. Further inspection would reveal the slight increase in the boiler shell and driving piston diameters as well as five additional inches on the driver wheelbase. These upgrades netted the locomotive a few thousand more pounds of weight over the drivers. The design differences were just enough to allow the Class 70 engines to haul an extra 10 or 12 tons over the steepest of the mountain passes.

When the Class 70s arrived, the D&RG engines were assigned to specific engineers. Occasionally, certain types of road power could be reassigned to a given district based on company needs, and it was not unheard of for an engine crew to find a terminal transfer in order for their families as they followed their engines to new territory. Anecdotes from various storytellers of the narrow gauge indicate that the twelve Class 70 engines were considered relative giants among the diamond stacks in their early days and that enginemen were all too aware of their good fortune to have been assigned such a fine piece of machinery. This Baldwin design became the general basis for another order of Class 70 engines in 1887 (originally numbered D&RG 417 to 422) in addition to subsequent 2-8-0s made for the Florence & Cripple Creek, Silverton Northern Railroad, and the Eastern Tennessee & Western North Carolina, among others.

C-19 Folio: The D&RGW C-19 folio
as reissued in 1936.

This rare view shows standard gauge switch
engine #801 circa 1890’s, probably in Denver, Colorado. The 801 was built from narrow gauge
class 70 #410 in 1888, then restored back to narrow gauge as #411 just 12 years later.
Five Class 70 engines recieved this re-design treatment for use in the 1890s.
Photo from James L. Ehernberger Collection.

Class 70 Evolves

By 1886, the Denver and Rio Grande had been through some significant changes. Corporate schemes and competitive decisions had resulted in the formation of two separate entities encompassing the narrow gauge track from Denver to Salt Lake City. Since 1881, the Utah lines had operated under distinct management as the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway while the Colorado lines remained as the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. In the wake of receivership of both lines due to lease disagreements, the railroads were eventually reorganized as the Rio Grande Western (the Utah lines) and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (Colorado lines). By 1890, these changes had resulted in the standard gauging of the Utah lines and the D&RG had completed standard gauge track over the Tennessee Pass route to Grand Junction via Pueblo and Salida. A major priority in getting the wide gauge established was obviously to obtain sufficient power. While the railroad’s money was being spent on new ten wheelers and consolidations to fill this need, it was decided to utilize some of the existing narrow gauge power by converting a handful of locomotives into standard gauge switch engines.

To this end, five of the 1881 Class 70 engines went through a unique transformation. Between 1888 and 1889, the 401, 402, 405, 410, and 411 became standard gauge class 74 2-8-0 engines numbered between 800 and 804. As the 19th century drew to a close, the broad gauge districts were flush with power and the narrow gauge line again required use of the now 20-year-old engines. By the end of 1900, these five Class 74 engines were converted back to narrow gauge (still as class 74) to augment the power pool. The locomotives were re-assigned numbers in the appropriate 400 block, but they did not receive their original numbers.

The early 20th Century years saw significant changes taking place for most of the D&RG locomotive fleet. By the early 1900s they had received Westinghouse automatic airbrakes as well as automatic couplers. Around 1914, the Class 70 locomotives were re-fitted with steel boilers in keeping with new regulations from the Interstate Commerce Commission concerning boiler safety. Along with these rebuilds came the appearance of longer, extended smoke boxes, early electric headlights, and straight shotgun style smokestacks. This significantly new look became the basic appearance that the aging consolidations maintained for the rest of their service days. In 1916, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad acquired the 409 and the “second” 402 (original 411) re-numbering them RGS 40 and 41.

The C-19

The D&RG re-organized as the Denver and Rio Grande Western in 1921. In 1924, the ten remaining Class 70 (and 74) engines from the 1881 group became numbers 340-349. They were also given a new power designation as C-19. The names originally assigned to the locomotives had fallen out of general use in earlier years.

Three C-19s Head North

Between 1936 and 1937, three C-19s were leased to Colorado & Southern’s South Park Line to assist the fabled road’s tired locomotives in the autumn of its once storied existence. Numbers 343, 345, and 346 remained in their D&RGW livery and road numbers throughout their sojourns between Denver and Leadville, Colorado. The leasing road applied the unique C&S style Ridgway Spark Arrestors to the engines in keeping with the standard practice for its own locomotive fleet. Unfortunately the borrowed C-19s were not particularly popular with C&S crews due to their propensity to derail. This problem was generally attributed to the non-flanged No. 2 and 3 drivers traversing the relatively worn rail profiles over the aging C&S track work.

No. 346 captured in Montrose, June 12, 1934. Her appearance would be altered following
a wreck on the C&S two years later.
Photo by Gerald Best - Courtesy California State Railroad Museum.

On July 25, 1936, the 346 was working as a helper out of Como on an eastbound freight. After cutting off from the rest of the train at the top of Kenosha Pass, the 346 began to run light toward Denver. The engineer quickly lost control of the consolidation and the 346 overturned on a curve barely a mile below the summit. While the engine suffered significant cosmetic damage, the heaviest casualty was the loss of life for engineer Eugene McGowan. After repairs in the Burlington/C&S Denver shops, the 346 returned to C&S rails sporting a new steel cab and a relatively odd-looking steam dome cover and sand dome, as well as various other parts to replace those destroyed on Kenosha Pass.

The three C-19s served on the Colorado & Southern until April of 1937, at which time they were loaded up on a flatcar and shipped back home to Alamosa.

C-19 Twilight Years

During the late 1930s, the D&RGW was reeling in the wake of slack business due to the Great Depression years. As a result, a considerable amount of D&RGW locomotives succumbed to the scrapper’s torch. By the summer of 1941, only five C-19s remained in service between both the RGS and the D&RGW railroads. RGS 40 lasted until 1943 when it was significantly damaged in a wreck near Durango while double heading with ten-wheeler RGS 20.

C-19 No. 340 rests beside the Montrose enginehouse circa 1950. The shotgun stack, extended smoke box, and boiler tube pilot are
typical of the D&RGW Consolidations after the original boilers were renewed around 1914.
Photo Michael R. Ripley collection

On October 13, 1949 the old 345 was being hauled dead-in-consist toward Durango from Mears Jct. after periodic use around Gunnison over the last decade. Ordered to replace the 315 (Class C-18) in the honors of performing the Durango switch engine duties, 345 arrived a few days later and was readied for switcher service. On Saturday November 12th, the 345 went to work on the 7:30 AM shift at Durango with engineer Owen House at the throttle. Over the next year and a half the 345 and 453 (Class K-27) would share the daily duties of turning the Silverton Mixed and San Juan consists and switching out the various Durango industries.

By 1951, the 345 had outlived its need for switching assignments, and no one could have guessed what would become its final duty for the D&RGW. That same year Hollywood arrived during the San Juan summer to film an embellished account of the D&RG’s Royal Gorge “war” with the AT&SF backed Canyon City and San Juan Railway. After exposing a fair amount of celluloid with starring engines 268 and 319 along the Silverton branch, the script’s highlight was the staged head-on collision with two of the aged consolidations. The 345 was chosen to be a stand in for C-16 268 in this much anticipated spectacular crash filmed on July 17th. With a splash of bright yellow paint, black pin striping, and the number 268 added to her cab sides, the old Grand River’s throttle was opened wide for the last time as she raced toward a cornfield meet with D&RGW 319 near milepost 475.

This contemporary view of RGS No. 41
exemplifies the care that Knott’s Berry Farm
gives to their old C-19s.
Photo by Michael R. Ripley

C-19s Today

In the early 1950s, Walter Knott purchased, repaired and painted the RGS 41 and the D&RGW 340 for use at his budding Knott’s Berry Farm Ghost Town in Buena Park, California. Both Superintendent Boucher and Mechanical Officer Randow from the now-defunct Rio Grande Southern found themselves available for work and helped launch the Calico and Ghost Town Railroad. Over the years, both engines have sported a variety of paint schemes before returning to their current appearance reflecting the glory days of railroading in Colorado.

By 1941, the 346 found its way to Durango, Colorado to handle switch engine duties in addition to occasional forays as road power on the Silverton Branch and the Rio Grande Southern. After being purchased by the Montezuma Lumber Company in the spring of 1947, the worn engine eked out another year of faithful service hauling lumber on the five mile segment of track between McPhee and Dolores, Colorado. A fire leveled the McPhee sawmill in early 1948, and this event marked the end of the 346’s years of regular service on the narrow gauge. For two years thereafter, forlorn and almost forgotten, the 346 was stored on a spur track in Dolores while its fate was undetermined. In the nick of time, the old Cumbres was rescued from the inevitable scrappers torch by Robert W. Richardson and placed on display at the Narrow Gauge Motel in Alamosa, Colorado. In 1958, Mr. Richardson and Cornelius Hauck formed the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. The growing collection of narrow gauge relics that had been on display in Alamosa were transferred to the new museum and the 346 became the crown jewel and mascot of what would become Colorado’s grandest collection of railroadiana. She was subsequently restored and steamed up in 1962 for the first time since her Dolores days. After spending many years sitting idle and disassembled, happy days are here again for the 346. Thanks to the original vision of Bob Richardson and the ongoing efforts of many volunteers and employees at the Colorado railroad Museum, the handsome old C-19 proudly steams once again. On special weekends throughout each year, throngs of visiting railroad buffs now have the opportunity to ride behind Colorado’s oldest operating steam engine.

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Certain historical information used in this article was gleaned from the following sources:
A History of the American locomotive by John H. White
346 – The First Hundred Years by Ramsey & Lawrence
Rio Grande to the Pacific! by Robert A. LeMassena
“Narrow Gauge News” by Robert W. Richardson

C-19 Individual Locomotive History

For the history of a particular C-19 click on the links below.