Locomotive restoration gathering steam

ALAMOSA — Engine 169 is “the little engine that could.”

Although much of its history is long past, the 1883 steam engine may be “on track” to operate again in the future.

Volunteers like Jim Poston, a member of the Locomotive 169/Business Car B-1 Restoration Team, are hoping to see the engine hit the tracks again.

“The fact we’ve got a historic artifact here in Alamosa is important,” Poston said.

Engine 169 was part of a 12-locomotive order built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1883. It is a narrow gauge engine, meaning if it becomes operational, it would have to run on a three-foot track like the Cumbers & Toltec or Durango & Silverton.

For 55 years Engine 169 pulled its weight — and then some — on Denver & Rio Grande Railroad lines throughout Colorado. Retired from service for many years, Engine 169 has greeted visitors to Cole Park in Alamosa and has enjoyed an elevated status in its own pavilion, shared with the B-1 Business car, since 2002.

Poston said with Alamosa’s railroading history, it is fitting that the locomotive should be housed here. The Valley’s history and geography are tied to the tracks. Poston said it is no coincidence that Monte Vista is about 15 miles from Alamosa and Del Norte about 15 miles from South Fork.

“How far can you go with a tender full of coal?” Poston asked.

He thanked those who helped provide Engine 169 a home, including the City of Alamosa (which owns the pavilion and provides electrical and other utilities) and Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce/Alamosa County Economic Development, which owns the locomotive.

Poston and other volunteers would like to see the engine come to life again on the tracks and believe it is possible, just like 168 (which once pulled a train carrying President William Howard Taft) found a new home with Cumbres & Toltec.

“The locomotive will obviously need more work,” Poston said. The tender has been refurbished, and in about 1999 the locomotive passed a pressure test. The boiler has also been tested.

“We just need to make sure the locomotive is mechanically reliable,” Poston said.

He estimated the remaining work to get Engine 169 operational again would run from $500,000 to $1 million. The engine would have to meet federal regulations for operation. For example, repairs would need to be completed on the running gear.

Poston explained there are specialists who can work on steam engines in Colorado as well as other states.

Fund-raising is ongoing for the Engine 169 project.

Poston has met with the Alamosa city council, Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks and Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce/ Alamosa County Economic Development Executive Director Randy Wright to discuss the future of Engine 169 and possible financial support for its upkeep and restoration.
Volunteers are also needed.

“We are always looking for volunteers. You can know everything about steam engines or absolutely nothing,” Poston said. “We are willing to teach people.”

Volunteers are welcome to help greet visitors every first Saturday at the pavilion, when it is open to the public, and help with the upkeep of the locomotive.

Poston said many of those who worked on the steam engines are no longer around, so it is essential that the next generation become involved to preserve this historic heritage.

Poston, who was part of the space shuttle team during his professional career, has been interested in trains since his dad got a Lionel train set for Christmas. His license plate “challenger” encompasses both his favorite space shuttle and favorite steam locomotive. He has been involved with 169 efforts since 2011.

Poston will be promoting Engine 169 at the national narrow gauge convention in Denver Aug. 30-Sept. 2 with brochures, calendars, T-shirts and denim shirts.

Colorado is the perfect host for the convention, Poston explained, since the state is the home of steam railroading and one of the states known for the exploration of the American West.

Railroading is a tourist draw for Alamosa and the San Luis Valley, Poston added.

“If you live anywhere in Colorado, you are less than a day trip down here, and there’s a lot of other things to do in Alamosa and a lot of things to do in the Valley.”

To become involved with the Engine 169 restoration efforts, either as a volunteer or through donations, contact 303-453-9290 or [email protected]

In addition to the larger expenses of restoring the engine, there are insurance and other maintenance type expenses for which donations are appreciated.

“We have a core of enthusiasts that want to see the train operating,” Poston said. “We need to augment that core.”