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Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 20 Trains Magazine Photo Charter 9/5/2021

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I woke up at extremely early hour of 4:45 AM on our fourteen month anniversary and we ate our breakfast in the room. At 5:10 AM, we met Greg and Marty at the car and after loading the boot, we drove basically next door to the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad parking lot in black darkness, then boarded the train in a darkened coach.

Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 20 Information

This steam engine was built in 1899 by the Schenectady Locomotive Works and first operated on the Florence & Cripple Creek (F&CC) line. At that time, it was nicknamed "Portland" after a famous mine in the Cripple Creek District. It was made to haul freight, passengers and gold from Cripple Creek and Victor, Colorado to the Front Range. It was sold to the Rio Grande Southern in 1916 after flash floods destroyed much of the F&CC, putting that line out of business. In 1949, No. 20 became a star when it was cast in the movie "A Ticket to Tomahawk", produced by 20th Century Fox. This fictional film was a Western comedy about the Tomahawk & Western Railroad and co-starred Dan Daily and Anne Baxter. The steam engine operated on the RGS until 1951. The Rocky Mountain Railroad Club preserved No. 20 and moved it to Robert Richardson's Narrow Gauge Motel in Alamosa. Once the Colorado Railroad Museum opened in Golden, No. 20 was moved to the new location and donated to the Museum in 2006. It was fully restored at the Strasburg Railrod Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania and returned in 2019.

Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 No. 20, visiting the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from the Colorado Railroad Museum, will pull freight cars and historic passenger cars on a Trains Magazine photographer's jaunt between Antonito and Big Horn on September 5.

This will be the first solo trip for the 1899 steam locomotive, which was rebuilt at Pennsylvania's Strasburg Rail Road over a 12-year period that ended in 2019. The Colorado Railroad Museum completed the work in 2020, and the engine made its debut at the Golden, Coloradio, campus last August. This is its first road trip.

The train will depart before dawn for sunrise silhouette images at Ferguson's trestle. The short-mileage trip will allow for a maximum number of photo runbys. A boxed lunch will be served at Big Horn, where the train will pose for images with the day's regular C&TS train.

"Number 20 solo on the Cumbres & Toltec is a dream come true for many steam and Colorado narrow gauge fans," says Trains Editor Jim Wrinn. "This is a rare opportunity that may not be repeated. The locomotive was our cover subject in 1942, and it is an honor to have a role in its continued operation in 2021."

Our photo charter

About 5:30 AM, power was restored to our coach as the last passengers boarded. This train had a consist of Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 20, Denver and Rio Grande box cars 3592 and 3339, Denver and Rio Grande gondola 1357 open air car, Denver and Rio Grande box car 3244 concession and Denver and Rio Grande coaches 256 and 295. The train left at 5:50 AM and we headed out of Antonito.

The moon at our early departure outside of Antonito.

Our fire speeder following us out of town. The train ran over the Ferguson's Trestle and came to a stop. We unloaded and walked across the cool desert floor to line up with Ferguson's Trestle.

The train where it dropped us off.

Our train started backing down the tracks.

Our coach 295 that myself, Elizabeth, Greg and Marty are riding in.

Rio Grande Southern 20 on the Ferguson's Trestle in the pre-dawn light.

Our train is about to move off the trestle.

Our train did a pre-dawn photo runby one.

Back up move two.

Photo runby two at Ferguson's Trestle.

Back up move three.

Photo runby three.

Back up move four at Ferguson's Trestle.

Photo Runby four at Ferguson's Trestle. We switched to the east side of the tracks by walking under the trestle.

Back up move five.

Photo runby five.

Back up move six.

Photo runby six at Ferguson's Trestle. We all reboarded and went up the grade to Heart Attack Hill (Gravity Hill). The climb up the hill was quite easy annd not what we had expected. The results were very good.

Back up move seven at Gravity Hill.

Photo runby seven here. We descended back to the train and did the climb to Lava Tank where we detrained for the series of pictures.

Lava Tank finally from the ground.

Back up move eight east of the Lava Tank.

Photo runby eight east of the Lava Tank. We reboarded and went to the straight track west of Lava Tank. We unloaded for photographs while Rio Grande Southern 20 reversed back to a tank car on the snow plow turning track to take on water.

Back up move nine on the straight track west of Lava Tank.

Photo runby nine on the straight track west of Lava Tank. We reboarded and went to a grade crossing on Whiplash Curve.

Back up move ten at Whiplash Curve.

Photo runby ten.

Back up move eleven.

Photo runby eleven at Whiplash Curve. We reboarded and proceeded next to Big Horn Wye.

Back up move twelve at Big Horn Wye.

Photo runby twelve.

Our fire speeder showed up next. He would wye himself.

Back up move thirteen at Big Horn Wye.

Photo Runby thirteen.

Back up move fourteen here.

Photo runby fourteen at Big Horn Wye.

Our train entered the southwest leg of the Big Horn Wye.

The regular Cumbres and Toltec Scenic train came through Big Horn and stopped to drop off our lunches.

Rio Grande Southern 20 at rest at Big Horn Wye.

The engine backed down the southwest leg of the wye.

The engine pulled up the southeast leg of the wye.

The fire speeder was next on the wye.

The train backed to where the lunches were. It was announced that you could either on the train, which most people did, or have a picnic outside. After a couple of blasts of the whistle, all the picnickers returned to the train and we went half a mile west to Big Horn Mountain and unloaded for our next event.

Back up move fifteen at Big Horn Mountain.

Photo runby fifteen at Big Horn Mountain.

Back up move sixteen.

Photo runby sixteen at Big Horn Mountain. We would now head back east towards Antonito but with a few more stops along the way.

The interior of coach 295. We went to the east end of Whiplash Curve and detrained.

Back up move seventeen.

The photo line set up at the base of Whiplash Curve.

Photo runby seventeen at the base of Whiplish Curve. The train next took us to the big fill west of Lava Tank.

Back up move eighteen at the big fill west of Lava Tank.

Photo runby eighteen.

Photo runby nineteen.

Back up move nineteen here.

Photo runby twenty at the big fill west of Lava Tank. We reboarded and Kevin then selected the next spot.

Back up move twenty at the high curve west of Lava Tank.

Photo runby twenty-one at the high curve west of Lava Tank. The engine took on water from that tank car again and then we highballed back to Antonito, returning about 3:30 PM, ending this charter event. A special thank you to the crew of Rio Grande Southern 20 from the Colorado Railroad Museum, Trains Magazine's Jim Wrinn and Cate-Kratville-Wrinn, as well as the hard-working Kevin Gilliam for everything he did to make this a sucesss, as well as our most wonderful Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroadtrain crew. All their work and preparations made for an excellent and outstanding photo charter that was worth every penny that we paid.