Rotary OM Denver & Rio Grande Western
snow-fighting equipment
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Pilot-mounted snowplow on the front of K-36 Mikado #487, today in use on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

    The Rio Grande was a mountain railroad and one of the concerns of the company in winter, was to keep the lines opened despite snow falls. Especially on its narrow gauge system where several line crossed passes reaching 10,000ft elevation or higher, some of which were notorious for heavy snow falls (500ft of snow could accumulate in Cumbres Pass throughout a bad winter). Snow was not a serious problem every winter, but regularly, trains got stuck in snow during bad winter storms, sometimes for several days.

    In the early days and until the 1880's, the only snow-fighting equipment available to the Denver & Rio Grande to clear its tracks (beside shovels and muscle power), were wedge plows mounted on the pilot at the front of steam locomotives. But the efficiency of these pilot snowplows was limited by the lack of weight and power of the small engines of that time, and it was often necessary to use a large number of pushing locomotives (sometimes as many as six) when working in deep snow.

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K-36 Mikado #489 on a train departing Chama, equipped with a pilot snowplow. In the D&RGW days, these pilot plows were put on the lead locomotives running scheduled trains during winter.

    Later in the twenties, with the new, heavier and more powerful K-28 and K-36 Mikado, pilot snowplows used on regular trains were usually enough to clear the snow accumulated between two trains and to keep the lines opened. But with the abandonment of the last narrow gauge passenger trains at the beginning of the fifties, the fading freight traffic became too infrequent to keep the tracks clear and in its last years of operation, the D&RGW narrow gauge system had to remain partially closed during winter.

    When the pilot snowplows could not keep the tracks clear, special snow-fighting trains were brought in. Either flanger cars and sometimes the Jordan spreader OU, or the powerful D&RGW steam rotary snowplows when snow falls were heavy enough. Usually, special maintenance-of-way cars were used with the rotary snowplows to carry the large crew needed for long snow-fighting operations.




  • D&RGW flangers

    Flangers are special MOW cars equipped with snow-clearing blades. They were pulled by one or several locomotives and were used particularly to clear snow between the rails which could cause derailments. Most of these cars, over one century old and several times rebuilt, have survived until now.

Flangers
Flangers


Steam rotary snowplows
Steam rotary snowplows
  • D&RGW steam rotary snowplows

    The Denver & Rio Grande Western had four Leslie type steam rotary snowplows. They were stationed at several crucial locations along D&RGW mountainous narrow gauge lines and constituted the most powerful snow removal equipment of the railroad. Two have survived today (rotaries OM and OY) and are now part of the large D&RGW equipment collection preserved by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.



  • D&RGW rotary trains

    Often when the rotary snowplows were out on the line, the snow clearing operations lasted several days and many unforeseen problems could arise (mechanical breakdowns, being blocked by snowdrifts). Thus rotary trains were formed to provide support to the snowplows and their crews, and able to carry out repairs if needed. These trains consisted of special outfit cars of diverse origins (retired passenger cars, modified freight cars).

Rotary trains
Rotary trains



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