Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
253Trip End Dec 31, 2014
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The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was originally constructed in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande’s San Juan Extension, which served the silver mining district of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado. Like all of the Rio Grande at the time, it was built to a gauge of 3 feet between the rails, instead of the more common 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches that became standard in the United States. The inability to interchange cars with other railroads led the Rio Grande to begin converting its tracks to standard gauge in 1890.
However, with the repeal of the Sherman Act in 1893 and its devastating effect on the silver mining industry, traffic over the San Juan Extension failed to warrant conversion to standard gauge. Over the ensuing decades it became an isolated anachronism, receiving its last major upgrades in equipment and infrastructure in the 1920s. A post-World War II natural gas boom brought a brief period of prosperity to the line, but operations dwindled to a trickle in the 1960s. Finally, in 1969 the Interstate Commerce Commission granted the Rio Grande’s request to abandon its remaining narrow gauge main line trackage, thereby ending the last use of steam locomotives in general freight service in the United States.
Most of the abandoned track was dismantled soon after the ICC’s decision, but through the combined efforts of an energetic and resourceful group of railway preservationists and local civic interests, the most scenic portion of the line was saved. In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased the track and line-side structures from Antonito to Chama, nine steam locomotives, over 130 freight and work cars, and the Chama yard and maintenance facility, for $547,120. The C&TS began hauling tourists the next year.
There are several way in which to travel this historic 68 miles of narrow gauge track. We chose to take a bus up to the Antonito, Colorado end of the line. This allowed us to than take the train back to Chama. The total time involved was 8 hours and included a stop for lunch along the way. The weather was perfect, the docents on board spent time explaining all we were traveling through and the fall colors were just starting! It was yet another perfect day on the road!!