By Anthony Guerrero
Of all the historic places in Alamosa, perhaps none represents the city’s roots as well as the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) locomotive 169. Visitors to Alamosa’s Cole Park are familiar with the train on the pavilion. During the Christmas season it is lit up with lights as are other structures. It is not just any other ordinary Christmas decoration though.
Locomotive 169 was built in 1883 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Downtown Alamosa residents are aware of the term “narrow gauge.” They may not know that the train in the park is an example of why this term and Alamosa are connected.
The No. 169 is a narrow gauge, coal fired, 10-wheeler steam locomotive. It is part of the T-12 series that was retired by D&RG in 1933 with most of the series destroyed. Nos. 169 and 168 in Colorado Springs are the only survivors.
The steam locomotive was a part of an order for 12 10-wheeler locomotives. According to the Friends of the 169, a volunteer group aiming to restore the train and see it running again, it was the largest and most modern motive power on the railroad.
No. 169 was in active service for 55 years. During its time it worked out of Denver, Pueblo, Alamosa, Salida and Grand Junction. It had the ability to haul up to 11 cars at 71 miles per hour. It was also assigned the Chili Line that ran between Alamosa and Sante Fe, New Mexico.
The locomotive also had a part in and survived three separate crashes. As a result some view the steam engine as “jinxed.” For this reason many people will not participate in working on the 10-wheeler.
In 1938, No. 169 was removed from service and stored at the deadline in Alamosa. She was worked on in 1939 and represented D&RG at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York. She was refurbished in Denver and was displayed as part of the transportation exhibit at the fair.
Attached to the engine is the B-1 Business Car. It was used in the D&RG’s President’s train. This car is famous for carrying President Taft to the 1909 opening of the Bureau of Reclamation Project in Gunnison.
In 1941, No. 169 came to its final resting place in Alamosa at Cole Park. In 1965 it was moved to its current location. No. 169 was given to the Alamosa Chamber of Commerce who continues to own her.
That is not likely the end of her story. The Friends of the 169 have been working to see the engine start again. The friends have received a grant from the Colorado State Historical Society and generous private donations towards the goal of seeing the locomotive become fully operational. Due to the narrow gauge engine it would have to run on a three-foot track like the one found on the Cumbres and Toltec.
The volunteers work on the train and it is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month. They have completely restored the tender and hydro-tested the boiler, which has shown it has the ability to be operational at full capacity. Original watercolor and numbered 169 prints are also part of the restoration.
The friends are optimistic No. 169 can be fully operational again. To become involved or volunteer please visit www.friendsof169.com.
Anthony Guerrero is an award winning journalist from the San Luis Valley.