Original article published in the Valley Courier
May 24, 2021
To train buffs around the world, it’s an unprecedented historic moment. For the first time ever, a steam locomotive from the 1880s has been completely restored and will run on the exact same tracks it originally did from 1883-1938. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad , owned jointly by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, has completed this historic project and will unveil the remarkably restored engine No. 168 at the Antonito Opening Day Celebration on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
“For the first time, people will be able to see a completely authentic railroad scene from the 19th century,” said Eric Mason, interim president/CEO of the Cumbres & Toltec. “The same locomotive will steam down the same tracks with its whistle echoing off the same mountains, exactly as it did 138 years ago. As the train passes by, you won’t be able to tell if you’re in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries!”
A Staggered Start To The Season
This year, the Cumbres & Toltec will kick off its season with a staggered start. Opening Day celebrations will take place on May 29th in Antonito, Colo. and June 5th in Chama, N.M. With bells clanging, whistles blowing, and surrounded by clouds of steam, the 2021 season will launch in each town with free refreshments, traditional blessings of the train, music, and remarks by state and local dignitaries. Festivities in both locations kick off at 9 a.m. The #168 will only debut in Antonito with a 10:30 a.m. departure of a private group of supporters, followed by the regular departure at 11 a.m. In Chama, departure time is at 10 a.m. Limited tickets for Opening Day departures from both stations are available. Festivities are open free and open to the public.
The Antonito Depot is located at 5234 Highway 285, Antonito, Colo. and the Chama Depot is at 500 Terrace Ave., Chama, New Mexico.
Locomotive 168: From Sitting Static In A Park To Steaming Over The Rockies!
Originally built in 1883, Old 168 is one of only two remaining engines of her class left in the world. Like most locomotives, little is known specifically about this engine, except that it once pulled President William Howard Taft to the Black Canyon and spent most of its 50-year working life chugging over the Cumbres and La Veta Passes as part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW).
When the engine was retired, it was placed in Antlers Park as a reminder of the important role that Colorado Springs played in railroading. Civil War General William Jackson Palmer founded both the D&RGW and also Colorado Springs. The engine was a proud reminder of the town’s railroading history.
But sadly, over 75 years, the elements were hard on the locomotive, and after decades in snow and rain it was paint chipped and rusted and had become an eyesore.
Locomotive #168’s long journey home began in 2015 when the City Council of Colorado Springs approved a lease agreement with the C&TSRR to begin the restoration. The engine was moved to the railroad shop in Antonito, Colorado and the incredible job of restoring it began. Work included disassembling the frame and tank, rebuilding the trucks, reconditioning the brake system, and building a new deck with Southern yellow pine, as Baldwin originally specified. It took 2,500 rivets to reassemble the tank. Carpenters rebuilt the cab from careful measurements of the original. To ensure safety, the boiler had to undergo numerous federal tests. The finished and restored locomotive will look like it did when it rolled out of the Baldwin shop in Philadelphia in 1883.
For the 2021 season, the #168 will lead the San Juan & New Mexico Express, a train of all authentic 19th century Denver & Rio Grande cars, that will depart Antonito once a month for the ultimate railfan bucket list trip. Departures are scheduled for June 27, July 25, August 15, Sept. 19 and Oct. 24. The train will depart Antonito at 10 a.m., traveling to Osier Station for a delicious lunch and return to Antonito at 4:40 p.m.This trip will sell out quickly.
New In 2021: Six New Options Available For Full And Half-Day Rides
In addition to the San Juan & New Mexico Express, the C&TSRR offers the following routes:
Two Full-Day Trips: The Chama All-Aboard! departs from Chama and climbs to the summit of Cumbres Pass at 10,015 feet, steam over Cascade Trestle and includes a full lunch stop at beautiful Osier Station before returning back to Chama. The Antonito All-Aboard! departs from Antonito steams through two tunnels, passes through Phantom Canyon and along the lip of Toltec Gorge and includes a full lunch stop at beautiful Osier Station before returning to Antonito.
Three Half-Day/Shorter Options: Cumbres Express is a shorter new route that departs from the top of Cumbres Pass at 11:10 a.m., steams to Osier Station for a full lunch and return to Cumbres Depot at 2:45 p.m. Located at an elevation of 10,015 feet, the Cumbres Depot is the highest point reached by any steam train in North America. The Chama High Noon will operate on Fridays from departing Chama Station at noon, steaming across meadows, through forests and over rivers to Cumbres Pass and back by 2:30 p.m. The Antonito Express departs Antonito at 11 a.m. and chugs along the high mountain desert and offers views of a shield volcano just miles away and travels to Big Horn, before returning back to Antonito at 2:30 p.m.
To book your trip and for complete information, visit: www.cumbrestoltec.com or call 1-888-286-2737.