C-19 Individual Locomotive History

D&RGW No. 345


D&RGW 345 Durango, Colorado. Photo by Robert Collins

Arriving from Baldwin as D&RG No. 401 and originally named "Grand River", this diminutive teakettle certainly led one of the more interesting lives of the Class 70/C-19 locomotives. Famed early Colorado photographer William Henry Jackson first recorded the 401 working near Marshall Pass in 1882. Seven short years later, the Grand River would be converted to standard gauge and re-classified as Class 74 No. 803. When the year 1900 arrived, the 803 was needed back on narrow gauge rails and was once again re-built, this time as D&RG class 74 road number 405. After years of continued service, the 405 was re-numbered 345 in 1924 and designated as class C-19. Along with sister locomotives 343 and 346, it was leased to the struggling South Park Division of the Colorado & Southern Railway from 1936-1937. While working out of Denver to the fabled South Park region, the 345 chugged its way through the Platte Canyon and over Kenosha Pass in-route to Como and Leadville. In April of 1937, the C&S terminated its lease of the D&RGW 2-8-0s and the 345 headed back home to Alamosa with the two other C-19s. After returning to the D&RGW, the 345 often worked out of Montrose and over Cerro Summit throughout the war years and was eventually sent down to Durango, Colorado.

Engine 315 had been assisting the 453 in the daily switching duties for Durango. On October 13, 1949, the 315 did a “double shift” of Durango switching, and that evening the old F&CC consolidation unceremoniously ended its many decades of service. That same day, the old 345 was being hauled dead-in-consist from Mears Jct. to Alamosa after a trip over Marshall Pass from Gunnison. Arriving in Durango a few days later, she was readied for switcher service and on Saturday November 12th, the 345 went to work on the 7:30 AM shift at Durango with engineer House at the throttle. Over the next year and a half the 345 and 453 would share the daily duties of turning the Silverton Mixed and San Juan consists as well as switching out the various Durango industries and customers about town.

As the 345’s role as a Durango switcher declined in the spring of 1951, a final twist of fate for her checkered career loomed ahead. In 1951, Hollywood producer Nat Holt brought a tinsel town entourage to Durango to film a somewhat fictitious account of the D&RG’s Royal Gorge "war" with the AT&SF backed Canyon City and San Juan Railway. In the cinema's grand finale, two consolidations destined for the scrap heap were used to stage a head-on collision on the Silverton Branch. The 345 was chosen to be a stand in for C-16 268 in this much anticipated "spectacular" crash staged 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 finally opened wide for the last time as she raced head on toward D&RGW #319 near MP 475. The fiery result was captured on celluloid and the movie Denver & Rio Grande remains a western cult classic to this day.