Friday, April 14, 2006


America's railroads, over the years, have built some astounding bridges and trestles in the process of getting from point A to point B. Some were built to last a thousand years, but others were spindly, rickity, temporary things that often collapsed, killing many folks on the process.

Just look at this one... it amazes me that people had the internal fortitude to even walk out on something like this, much less ride in a train consist weighing many tons. It's at least built of steel, so the chances of getting across alive was probably pretty good.
. This post card was unused, so I have no date to give you as to when it was purchased.

Look at this one. I'll bet a lot of railroad buffs will think this is a view of the famous AT&SF bridge across Canyon Diablo, but it isn't. It's a bridge of similar construction called "The Great Trestle" near Clinton, Mass., a short distance downriver from the Metropolitian Dam. It was built by the Central Massachusetts RR.

I like the below card for several reasons. I've been there, it's been postmarked, it actually has a covered wagon traveling under it, and most of all, it has a message to "Dear Data". And here I thought that Data never left the USS Enterprise.

See? It actually says "Dear Data".

You'd think that out in the middle of nowhere there would be more than room enough so stacking bridges would not be necessary, but nooooo.... here's proof positive the exact opposite is the case.

It's a fairly recent card, dated 1944.

Somebody certainly overlooked something when they built this one: "It just don' rain that much round heah..."

Bet you some of the locals at the time were daring each other to walk across the remains.

Bridge? What bridge? Must of been a day to remember...

I have stacks of postcards of bridges. It is difficult just to pick a few out. I also (re)discovered that I have postcards of stations, many long gone, cards showing the devastation caused by bombing in WW1, quite a few cards of the San Francisco fire, and other disasters around the world.

I'll pick out a few and post them... Eventually.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Tucked away in California's redwoods is a fascinating little narrow gauge railway once operated by a logging company. The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad allows you to tour a virgin forest of gigantic Sequoia Sempervirens (Coastal Redwoods), the first privately purchased in 1867 to be preserved for posterity. Interestingly enough, if memory serves correctly, this is the very place that Mark Twain wrote about the famous "Calavaras County Jumping Frogs".

You can also take a self-guided tour almost a mile long (.8 miles), a nature walk through the adjoining Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad operates every day, rain or shine, except Christmas.

When I was there, they had three unique locomotives that were once used in logging. Number One, a 1912, 42-ton Shay, number Seven, a 1910, 60-ton Shay, and Number Two, a Heisler called "Toulumne". Toulumne was the locomotive power for our trip that day.

Below is a snapshot the "Town" center, showing the merchandise store and a bit of the depot.

To this day, I'm still wondering what the grey-haired lady in the center of the street was running to... or from.

Unfortunately, when I was there, one of the trestles had been recently hit by lightning, caught on fire, and was mostly destroyed, so the consist had no option but to run up the grade and then back it's way down.

When I asked about the rebuilding of the burnt trestle, they were not very encouraging about it. Seems that modern building construction requirements did not have 19th century wooden trestles in mind.

I wonder if they ever got past those legal hurdles and rebuilt the wooden structure as near as possible to it's original design, or if they replaced it with some sort of acceptable steel structure, or if it has not yet been replaced.

None the less, you can see from the photos that it was a beautiful day for a ride through the gigantic Sequoia Sempervirens.

Go visit this little jewel hidden away in the woods, before one of those California earthquake puts it put of business.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Over the years I have taken many trips to the C&TS RR at both Chama and Antonito, to take measurements and photographs of the k36, with the intention of producing the most accurate drawings available of the locomotive. That's a tall order. I even visited the K36 displayed at the Royal Gorge in Colorado several times, engine number 486, until it was sold and moved to Silverton.

There is a host of details that are never usually seen and to get the needed information I've had to go when an engine was torn down for repair and refit.

Below are some K36 elevations... so far, and far from finished.

Supposedly easy to get details of the firebox (below) have sometimes taken long trips and days of effort.

Details of the superheater manifold and piping (below) can only be collected when a K36 is in the shop, opened up, and cold.

They say the "devil is in the details"... no kidding! There are things on these locomotives you couldn't possibly imagine. But, when you find a K36 in the shape seen below, it becomes a lot easier to get the measurements to the decimal point I need, .0312, or 1/32".

When your bumping your forehead up against the superheater manifold while deep inside the smokebox as shown below, it allows for some pretty accurate measurements.

See those horizontal and vertical lines on the boiler and firebox? I suspect some modeling company had sent one of their people to take measurements for a possible K36 model. I recall that when engine 463, the "Gene Autry" engine was acquired, I spent a bit of time talking with a guy from one of the modeling companies who spent a total of thirty days in Chama getting measurements. The guy was so secretive about his work you'd of thought the CIA had sent him. Yes, it does take a lot of time and money to do this, so the results can be valuable to somebody.

The below drawing of a typical K36 smokebox is about as far as I'm going to go with accuracy and detail, particularly if I ever hope to finish. Keep in mind all this has also been drawn and rendered as a 3d model, so everything had to fit. The hinges were a nightmare to do in 3d.

Even the headlight (below) required measuring and re-measuring, checking and re-checking.

I've learned one thing with all this photographing and measuring, there's no two K36's that measure the same just about anywhere you chose to look, so I've been drawing a "typical" K36, because I just won't live long enough to do each one separately, and lordy... who would want to?

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I did a charcoal sketch of the Cumbres & Toltec's K36 locomotive number 484 some time ago, and in due course it was selected by the National Rocky Mountain Narrow Gauge Museum for a promotion during the release of five stamps issued by the US Post Office, featuring old-time steam locomotives. The drawing ended up as a cachet on an envelope created for the "first-day of release" event in Chama.

Chama is the New Mexico home base of operations for the C&TS RR, so the local post office became the center of action on that day, July 28, 1994.
Left click on the drawing for a larger view.

Here's what an envelope -- with all five stamps -- looked like:

My wife had convinced to have some prints made of the sketch, so I had 250 prints done by a local print shop, and I took them to Chama with me on the big day. In order to legally sell the prints, I had to join the Chama Chamber of commerce and get a one-day peddlers license. Here's my certificate:

Armed with this enabling piece of paper, I set up a folding table out in the weeds and trees -- along with a bunch of other peddlers -- and ended up selling signed and numbered prints all day long. Didn't sell them all though, the remainders are stored away in a closet someplace. The below shot shows Mr. bigshot artist/businessman during his one day of glory.

The prints came with a Certificate of Authenticity, a letter from the Narrow Gauge Museum and a copy -- clearly labeled "copy" -- of an envelope with the cachet and stamp.

If you want to read what they say, you're going to have to buy a print.

I also peddled a few of my 1/4" scale drawings of the Rio Grande Southern's 10 wheeler. These were 11 x 15 and totally encased in plastic, so a modeler, using it as a bench reference, wouldn't ruin the drawing (accidentally) with spills of glue, or paint, or coffee, or beer.

Turned out to be a fun day. Weather was fabulous, met lots of new friends and ran into a few old ones. Well worth posting about.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a narrow gauge steam line that was once a part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, this particular part serving the rich mining camps in the San Juan Mountains. It runs from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado, over 64 miles of it's original roadbed. It was jointly purchased by the States of New Mexico and Colorado when the Rio Grande RR decided to scrap it, and now operates as a tourist attraction.

And what an attraction it is! Sixty four miles of true American history, climbing up to an elevation of 10,030 feet, skirting along the edge of thousand-foot deep gorges, chasing mountain lion and bear off the tracks on an almost daily basis. It is a time machine that takes you back over a hundred years to the days of the old west, when the only way to go anywhere was by horseback, stagecoach, or the train.

My family and I made a recent visit (not the first one) to enjoy a day out in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The below photo is of the double-header (two locomotives) that was scheduled for the days run, the first leg being up the four percent grade from Chama to Cumbres Pass at 10,030 feet.

This shot shows my son checking out the snow plow on engine 487. Our consist on this day were engines 484 and 487, seventeen passenger cars and one gondola. Engine 484 was a "helper" and was to be disconnected from the consist when we reached Cumbres pass. It would then return to Chama for other duties.

Immediately after the crest of Cumbres Pass is "Whiplash Curve", the tightest existing curve in railroading today, a curve where a rider in the rear car can see the locomotive coming at him, going in the opposite direction! At that point, just about everyone is wondering how the train is staying on the track.

We continued along, passing such notable landmarks as the Los Pinos water tank. Yes, a tank becomes a landmark in your mind when you realize that without water from that tank, your engine wouldn't make it, and it's a long walk back to civilization.

This photo is of my son, wife and sister just before departure. We had left our jackets in the car, thinking it would warm up quickly, but it was a bit colder than the photo would indicate, believe me. We decided to go get our coats before we left, and a wise decision it turned out to be, since even during summer, conditions at 10,000 feet can be quite brisk.

The passenger cars you see in this photo are not original rolling stock from Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, but are cars actually built by the employees of the C&TS RR. They did do a great job in recreating period coaches, if you aren't a tickler for details.

Our destination for the day was a small collection of buildings and sheds called Osier. Here we would have what turned out to be a very tasty and filling lunch before heading back for Chama. As you can see from the photo, just about everybody was hungry and totally filled the lunch room.

There is another run the C&TS RR makes from Antonito, Colorado, to Osier. This run lets you see both mud and rock tunnels, but you miss the Toltec Gorge. If you can make only one trip, do the one with the double-headed locomotives. Those two engines hammering their way up that 4 percent grade is a sight to remember, and hard to beat.

One of the last things you see when leaving Osier is this water tank. I know it's just a wooden structure, but I can't help but think that it has had a long and lonely existance for the last hundred years, with nothing but those mostly empty rails for company.

I've been digging through my stack of albums and I ran across my collection of stuff from the 1991 Rail Fair in Sacramento, California. The Rail Fair was a monumental event that occurs only once every ten years, an event attended by many of steam railroading's most avid fans.

It was a place where you could gawk and talk to your heart's content with like-minded folks from just about everywhere.

An operating replica of the "Strobridge Lion" was there.

An operating replica of the "Tom Thumb" was there.

Even the American Freedom train, Southern Pacific's 4449 in her "Daylight" colors, was there.

That long line you see in the picture was of folks waiting for their chance to tour the cab of this massive locomotive. There is a fabulous true story as to how this locomotive survived the years of rusting away on a city park to become a symbol of America during our national 1976 fourth of July celebration. I just might tell it one of these days.

There were even genuine honest-to-goodness locomotive engineers there, representing the Brotherhood of Locomotives.

I spent two weekends there and never got around to seeing everything.
I now recall that I was planning to attend the 2001 Rail Fair, but the dismal fact that I had to work for a living got in the way. I'm pretty certain I missed a good time.

I have a few thousand penny post cards I picked up at auction in Seattle some years ago, all of them representing American or Canadian railroads in one fashion or another.

The views show everything from train wrecks to crack streamliners, from the Colorado narrow gauge lines to the New York Central's 20th Century Limited.

Many of these post cards were actually used, have short messages on them, and still have their one-cent stamps on them with legible post marks.

So, one of the things I am going to do on this blog is share a few of them with you all, since they do contain slices of our history, bits and pieces of places and things long since gone, often forgotten with the passage of time.

As an example, did you know that Mount Washington, New Hampshire, once had a "scenic" railway?
The below post card, Dated Aug. 12, 1904, shows a typical consist chugging up what was called "Jacob's Ladder".

I chose this card because it is an area where my wife, as a child, used to go rock climbing.

How about my unfinished drawing of a Denver & Rio Grande K36 locomotive boiler?

Or a rendered view of the K36 smokebox?

Here's my drawing of the D&RGW K36 Number 486 builder plate.These are just for starters, and a method for me to gain experience in using all the equipment necessary to get this blog online.

I'll be a bit more focused in the future with posts and try to stick to one theme or subject per post.