Have you actually ridden a narrow Gauge train?

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NP2626

Well-Known Member
#1
In October of 2014 the wife and I took a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge. We where on a tour that visited Colorado and New Mexico. A part of the tour was getting on the D&S at Silverton and riding it down to Durango. It is about a 3 1/2 to 4 hour trip and it was wonderful. The train travels through some real wilderness and the High-line, where the train traverses a deep gorge for Los Animas river is truly worth the price of the ticket! My only regret is that we didn't travel the opposite way, from Durango to Silverton as the train is working upgrade going this way and you would here the sounds of the engine working harder. Our locomotive was #486 a K-36 Mikado. This railroad is a real working railroad! The locomotives are well cared for but used the way I want to see them!

I had only been skiing in Colorado at Snowmass, previously, so a tour through the Mountain State showed me there is so much more that I want to see there. My favorite railroad is the Rio Grande Southern and I would love to trace her tracks from Durango through Rico, Ophir, Telluride and on to Ridgeway. I would also love to take the Cumbres and Toltec from Chama New mexico to Antonito, Colorado. I also want to see and ride the Georgetown Loop Railway. It would be great to see the Model Railroad Museum in Greeley Colorado!

So, have you visited the Narrow Gauge Railroads in Colorado?
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
#2
I had only been skiing in Colorado at Snowmass, previously, so a tour through the Mountain State showed me there is so much more that I want to see there. My favorite railroad is the Rio Grande Southern and I would love to trace her tracks from Durango through Rico, Ophir, Telluride and on to Ridgeway.
I did that exact trip in 2011. There is very little left, time has really been an eraser. This is as opposed to when when I was a boy and we used to travel that road back in the 1960s. Back then one used to easily be able to follow the grade, see water towers, find spikes, tie plates and other artifacts. Too bad they didn't have digital cameras way back then. Most of the old trestles along the way are totally gone. I even had to call up the satellite images to figure out where the tracks used to be in Ridegeway. There is a railroad street but any ground level evidence beyond that rapidly vanishes. There is still a stock pen at lizard head, and so one can make out where the "Y" was.

So, have you visited the Narrow Gauge Railroads in Colorado?
If you haven't - better sooner than later. Soon all that will be left is the tourist lines. Development, mining, road reconfiguration are rapidly wiping out evidences of the ghost railroads. This doesn't just apply to the narrow gauge. The Colorado Midland grade is nearly all gone (except a hiking trail just west of Colorado Springs and the section where US 24 runs right on the old grade). All the Santa Fe branches from Florence up into the mines toward Wetmore are for the most part gone. I have a hard time even finding those via satellite. The C&S grade from Denver to Pueblo is mostly covered by development and massive farming now. Even the famous triple trestle (where C&S, Santa Fe, & Rio Grande had side by side by side trestles) just north of Pueblo is gone. Replaced with improved joint line trackage. They are trying to get a museum of some sort going at the Alpine Tunnel (from the west side), the former grade has become a jeep trail on the east.

If anyone is interested in following grades (the last time I was there) The old Denver South Park and Pacific is pretty easy to see from US 285. going south from Denver toward Fairplay. Not much of a chance for a road relocation through that area. Then the original narrow gauge D&RG from Walsenburg through to La Veta (abandon 1909) was pretty easy to see. Of course the Phantom Canyon road from Florence to Cripple Creek IS the original grade of the Florence and Cripple Creek. Very cool drive if you don't mind passing other cars on the one lane road. The Boulder Northwestern grade is also now a road. Parts felt very narrow for my Excursion driving through it, but most has been widened to two lanes. I'm certain there are others equally well preserved but I've not been to them. When I go grade hunting most of what I find is a tiny section here an there, that I would have missed just driving by.

The book "Ghost Railroads of Colorado" is an invaluable resource for visiting long abandon sites.
 
#3
When I went to the Rockies with my girlfriend, she agreed to ride one narrow-gauge train, and I did some research on which one I'd like better, and I decided that the Cumbres & Toltec would be the best bet. I'm afraid one source described the D&S as "Disneyland on rails"! But I'd do it if I'm ever back that way.

SInce then I've been to Switzerland and enjoyed some of their narrow gauge. The trains that just go up a mountain are various gauges, but there are a couple of meter-gauge systems that cover long distances.
 
#6
I've ridden the Roaring Camp & Big Trees (many times; we even did Civil War reenacting on the grounds, including "guarding the payroll" while rebels tried to hold up the train); twice on the Durango & Silverton, first with my parents when I was in my teens, then again later with my own kids; and the Cumbres and Toltec with my wife after a photo workshop in New Mexico. Sucks getting old, because now I can't remember the dates, only the decades.
 

autocoach

Active Member
#7
I am not a narrow gauge modeler but who could miss the Cumbres and Toltec and the Durango and Silverton. The C&T is definitely preservationist and worth it. But the second time I only went half way. My October 2013 ride on the D&S was glorious. There was one single left that day in the tail end observation coach, the Alamosa. I spent as much time as I could on the end platform watching the tracks recede among the gold turning aspens, still green aspens and dark green pines along the Animas river. I am still not a narrow gauge modeler and if I were it would be the North Pacific Coast. But that trip on the D&S was one of the great moments in my life.
 

NP2626

Well-Known Member
#8
I am not a narrow gauge modeler but who could miss the Cumbres and Toltec and the Durango and Silverton. The C&T is definitely preservationist and worth it. But the second time I only went half way. My October 2013 ride on the D&S was glorious. There was one single left that day in the tail end observation coach, the Alamosa. I spent as much time as I could on the end platform watching the tracks recede among the gold turning aspens, still green aspens and dark green pines along the Animas river. I am still not a narrow gauge modeler and if I were it would be the North Pacific Coast. But that trip on the D&S was one of the great moments in my life.

I'm not a Narrow Gauge modeler, either. That doesn't preclude me from riding on and enjoying them. Although I don't model Narrow Gauge, I have a deep interest in them and in fact my favorite railroad is the Rio Grande Southern. If this thread came across like it is only for Narrow Gauge enthusiasts, that was not my intention!
 

bnsf971

Well-Known Member
Staff member
#13
Speaking of Disneyland, I have ridden the trains at all the US parks, as well as the one at Busch Gardens in Florida. I rode a narrow gauge plantation railroad the last time we went to Oahu, as well.
 

tootnkumin

Well-Known Member
Staff member
#15
What is the gauge of Australian railroads, Toot? Is there a Standard Gauge down there? If so, what gague is it?
Sorry for the slow reply, been trying to formulate a concise reply. One of the problems in the early days was that there was no cohesion between the states or private enterprise. Did find one interesting bit of info, which could probably be challenged by someone. Queensland is claimed to be the first in the world to use a 3'6" gauge, which it still does. That was also used in other states as well. Just about all sorts of gauges have been used, including Standard 4'8.5", 5'3" broadgauge and 3'6" narrow. All 3 come together at one place in South Australia. Eventually a Standard gauge connection between all the states capitals was built. Queensland's is at the Port o' Brisbane where there is an interchange between our rail system and the New South Wales standard gauge.

Queensland still has a large sugar cane system of mainly 2' gauge trackage.
 
#16
I have ridden a 2' gauge geared steam train and a 12' gauge miniature steam train at Rough and Tumble Engineering Association. Nether one actually goes anywhere. Both are loops the two footer is maybe 1500' feet of track. We have a ton of old steam stuff here in Lancaster PA.

Sent from my XT1254 using Tapatalk
 

NP2626

Well-Known Member
#17
Sorry for the slow reply, been trying to formulate a concise reply. One of the problems in the early days was that there was no cohesion between the states or private enterprise. Did find one interesting bit of info, which could probably be challenged by someone. Queensland is claimed to be the first in the world to use a 3'6" gauge, which it still does. That was also used in other states as well. Just about all sorts of gauges have been used, including Standard 4'8.5", 5'3" broadgauge and 3'6" narrow. All 3 come together at one place in South Australia. Eventually a Standard gauge connection between all the states capitals was built. Queensland's is at the Port o' Brisbane where there is an interchange between our rail system and the New South Wales standard gauge.

Queensland still has a large sugar cane system of mainly 2' gauge trackage.
Interesting Toot! We had similar issues here in the U.S. back when the railroads were in their infancy. I believe that the Erie started out with 5 foot gauge. It's understandable how/why the narrow gauges got their start out west. They where cheaper, easier to build than standard gauge, given the terrain they had to contend with. There really is an example of any size you want for the prototype, isn't there. I understand that 4 foot 8 and 1/2 inches is the standard and that it came from wagon wheel width. I would prefer that there was some scientific explanation for why 4' 8.5" became the standard and not the width of a wagon's wheels. Maybe someone has an explanation?

We also have two footers, the "Sandy River and Rangely Lakes RR" in Maine. I guess this still operates, too.
 
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Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
#18
I understand that 4 foot 8 and 1/2 inches is the standard and that it came from wagon wheel width. I would prefer that there was some scientific explanation for why 4' 8.5" became the standard and not the width of a wagon's wheels. Maybe someone has an explanation?
I know you won't see this but I'm going to reply for everyone else. My opinion I've developed through the years is that it comes down to physics and economics on several points.
1. For fixed axle wheels as the gauge gets broader the axle get heavier. They have to be heavier and heavier just to support themselves. Too broad and the train is spending much energy just moving axles. Not to mention the cost of the extra materials to make therm
2. For fixed axle wheels as the gauge gets broader the greater the difference on curves of inside and outside rail. That means the wheels must "slip" more to make a solid axle go around the curve.
3. So as the gauge gets wider, to be efficient, eventually one would have to make independent wheels on each side of the car. Independent suspension creates a whole new set of technological challenges and means the railcar itself has to be designed to withstand horizontal stresses of curves, turnouts, crossings etc.
4. As the gauge gets broader the loads can be bigger and heavier as they will fit on the larger cars, but this demands heavier rails, wider tunnels, wider bridges, more grading, etc. This demands heavier sleepers as they must be longer for the broader gauge. Once again more cost to carry the larger loads.

The physical and economic trade off of all these things dictates a most efficient and economic gauge to be somewhere between six and three feet.

Exactly why 4' 8 1/2 inches instead of something nice and even like 5' I cannot answer. I do not feel like doing all the calculations to find where the theoretical ideal would be. I'm guessing it is close. Plus with today's materials (steel vs iron etc.) it would be a different answer than it was back when the standard was set.
 
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#19
Economics was how the US and Europe settled on standard gauge. The earliest American railroads had to be built to the gauge of the English imported steam locomotive.

The only major competitor to standard gauge here in New England was 6' Erie gauge. During the civil war the standard gauge networks of the Pennsylvania railroad and Baltimore and Ohio railroad were heavily relied upon to transport troops and supplies to the Union Army.

Standard gauge facilitates interchange between railroads which quickly allowed resources to be shipped to the location in need. The southern railroads were more often built to a unique gauge to prevent interchange.

During the civil war the Pacific railroad act was pushed through Congress authorizing construction of standard gauge railroads to the west coast. This created a system of standard gauge from coast to coast. The Erie railroad and affiliates soon converted to standard gauge.

Many southern railroads rebuilt or constructed after the civil war were standard gauge. Some chose to rebuild in 5' gauge because they still didn't worry about interchange. Transloading between breaks of gauge was a major source of jobs for many small towns.

Eventually some one realized this extra overhead was a economic burden to the shippers because the railroad passed the cost on to customers. It costs businesses both time and money. The southern railroads eventually reached an agreement to change all their rail lines to standard gauge during a specific week. Otherwise it would have disrupted the economy.

Eastern Narrow gauge shortlines also went through a similar process between 1900 and 1920. As profit margins tightened the lines either found the money to standard gauge or they were abandoned. The only exception was the EBT who found a way to swap trucks under standard gauge hoppers to load them on system and roll them to the interchange without transloading.

The local narrow gauge railroad was abandoned in 1920. The Lancaster, Oxford and Southern had little traffic except produce and milk. The online communities have shrunk since the days when it was built and the economy reverted to farming rather than industries.

Sent from my XT1254 using Tapatalk
 
#20
Exactly why 4' 8 1/2 inches instead of something nice and even like 5' I cannot answer. I do not feel like doing all the calculations to find where the theoretical ideal would be. I'm guessing it is close. Plus with today's materials (steel vs iron etc.) it would be a different answer than it was back when the standard was set.
Nobody knows the answer for certain. It is very likely that there was no design to it at all. The early railways were experimental, and the equipment was hand built on a "one off" basis.

The designed most likely never considered "I'm going to design the standard width for railway carriages around the world, what should it be?" He simply worked with what he had available. The old "Based on the width of two horses' asses" joke is accurate to a degree, as the early railways were built to the same designs as carriages, which were designed to be hauled by horses.

I have a pet theory, which has absolutely no scientific backing. I've always wondered if he simply cut the axle to be 5 feet, slid the wheels on, and gauge ended up being what it was by chance. But again, I have no proof.

In any case, the precise measurement was likely more by chance than design, and then when new vehicles were built to match the existing ones, it became ingrained.
 



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