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  • Locomotive 346. The First Hundred Years (Ramsey)

On July 9, 1881, the fledgling Denver & Rio Grande Railway placed brand-new narrow gauge locomotive 406 in service. There was nothing unusual about yet another new locomotive, since in 1881 the D&RG added 63 narrow gauge engines to its rapidly expanding roster. Named "Cumbres," No. 406 was just another diamond stack in the crowd. It was the sixth of a group of 12 identical Class 70 Consolidations (2-8-0 wheel arrangement) which the railroad desperately needed for service on its new mainline over the Continental Divide by way of steep, crooked Marshall Pass. Built by Baldwin at a cost of $9,538.00, No. 406 was an impressive piece of machinery when it was delivered to the D&RG Burnham Shops in Denver on a hot July day in 1881. The diminutive teakettle and the other members of Class 70 were at that time the heaviest power on the narrow gauge. The 406 weighed 68,000 pounds, of which 60,000 pounds were directly over the 37" drivers. With 16" x 20" cylinders, No. 406 was rated to pull 1,630 tons on the level and 130 tons up a 3% grade. Later advertising of the Baldwin Locomotive Works boasted that such an engine could easily handle 65 to 70 tons up a grade of 7%, which must have been a reference to the Rio Grande's steep Calumet Branch extending from Hecla Junction to the first iron mine of what is now the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation. However, in actual practice, the 55 tons seemed to be the limit for a Class 70 engine on the Calumet Branch. In 1881 William Jackson Palmer was busily expanding his little narrow gauge railroad. At the same time the competing Denver, South Park & Pacific was trying to build its lines into the mountain mining camps, but the Rio Grande beat the competition by getting there first. When No. 406 was delivered, the D&RG was frantically pushing construction on six fronts: the mainline, which was known as the Gunnison Extension; the San Juan Extension to Durango and Silverton; the Santa Fe Extension; the Blue River Extension from Leadville to Dillon; the Grape Creek Extension to Westcliffe; and the South Park Extension, which only saw partial construction in the South Platte Canyon. During the same year the railroad hastily converted its mainline between Denver and Pueblo to dual gauge. As a result of this activity, all Rio Grande locomotives were busy throughout the system. The 406 was to spend the next 20 years blasting up the tortuous 4%grades on Marshall Pass. Records for that period are virtually non existent; however, the heaviest and most powerful engines were assigned to Marshall Pass. A few Class 70 engines were also kept in helper service at the west end of the Black Canyon at Cimarron. In all probability, No. 406 spent some time in Leadville and was used there to switch the maze of steep trackage in the mining district. While the Denver & Rio Grande continued to purchase new locomotives, the 34-ton 406 and other members of its class remained the heaviest narrow gauge power until the arrival of Vauclain-compound 2-8-2's in 1903. These new engines - numbered 450 to 464 and popularly known as "Mudhens" - took over on Marshall Pass as soon as the track could be strengthened to accommodate them. Sometime in 1903, No. 406 headed down the Valley Line to a new assignment on its namesake Cumbres Pass out of Chama, New Mexico. This transfer marked the beginning of a procedure which might be described as "locomotive dominoes." Whenever the Rio Grande acquired a new, more powerful class of locomotives, the smaller series would be relegated to less important, easier jobs, and the oldest and smallest engines went to the scrap heap. No. 406 arrived in Durango during September, 1903, for service as a switch engine. The spur to the Durango smelter included steep grades, and the more powerful engine was badly needed. It remained the regular yard engine there for at least a year. In that same year, automatic couplers were installed, and the brake system was changed from straight air to automatic. By 1905 the locomotive was back in helper service on Cumbres Pass. Road freights were handled by the 200-series Class 60 engines between Alamosa and Durango, while the heavier Class 70 engines worked as helpers on both sides of the pass, but mostly on the 4%grade eastbound out of Chama, New Mexico. No. 406 suffered a scorched crown sheet near La Jara one day when the water level in the boiler dropped too low, and engineer E.J. Freeman was given a 30-day suspension as a result of his inattention. Periodically, the 406 was dispatched to Alamosa for minor repairs and servicing, but no major problems seem to have arisen. Mid-1908 saw the engine in freight service on the Third Division, which was the Salida-Montrose mainline. Routinely, No. 406 would leave Salida on a freight with a Mudhen or two assisting as far as the summit of Marshall Pass, where the helpers would be cut off, and then continue alone with the train to Gunnison. Starting in late 1908, No. 406 was occasionally leased to the Rio Grande Southern. For example, in January, 1909, the engine was used by the RGS for six days at a rental fee of only $6.50 per day.1981 CRHF. Card covers, shelf wear and creasing. Reading copy only. 40pp. D0-HNP0-E4F9

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Locomotive 346. The First Hundred Years (Ramsey)

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