The Cumbres Turn. When the Denver & Rio Grande Western operated the line from Chama, NM to Antonito, CO, freight paid the bills. For the eastbound freights, the primary obstacle was a grueling 4% grade over the 13-mile stretch of track between Chama and Cumbres Pass...one of the highest railroad passes in the US, at just over 10,000 ft. MSL. Although the railroad preferred very long trains, getting all of those cars over the hill sometimes required more motive power than was available, so trains were often broken into sections, and cuts of cars were shuttled to Cumbres Pass by Chama-based locomotives. Later, they would be re-assembled into long trains, for the downhill run to Antonito. These shuttling operations were called "Cumbres Turns". On this fine morning, our Lerro Productions photo freight re-created the once ubiquitous Cumbres Turn, using two locomotives to run 14 cars up the hill for the cameras. In this scene, our train makes the charge toward the Highway 17 Crossing, a little less than 2 miles from the Colorado border. Instead of double-heading in a conventional manner, the D&RGW typically used mid-train, or end-of-train helper locomotives, because some of the bridges on this line, such as Lobato Trestle, were not designed to support the weight of the heavier Mikado locomotives that were used from the 1920s on. With the locomotives sufficiently separated in the consist, the trains did not have to stop when crossing these bridges.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad are all that remains of the legendary Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge system. Here you'll find some of my favorites from these two beautiful railways.