Narrow gauge–where the action is

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

When you put American narrow gauge in perspective, it was mostly a late 19th century technological dead end, often built as a cheap alternative for short-lived mining and lumber roads. The little mileage that survived into the railway preservation era was a footnote at best.

You wouldn’t know that from watching railway preservation. Narrow gauge is huge. Everyone loves it, and narrow gauge organizations are some of the most dynamic in the industry.

First, consider this list of 72 organizations that preserve narrow gauge heritage. I’ve probably overlooked some.

Alder Gulch Railroad
Auglaize Village
Black Hills Mining Museum
Boothbay Railway Village
Breckenridge, CO exhibit
California State Railroad Museum
Carson & Colorado Railroad Museum
Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit
Colorado Railroad Museum
Como Roundhouse
Connecticut Antique Machinery Association
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
DeWitt Museum (Prairie City, OR)
Dollywood Express
Durango & Silverton
Durango Railroad Historical Society
East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad
Fennimore Railroad Historical Society
Forney Museum of Transportation
Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec
Friends of the East Broad Top
Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
Georgetown Loop Railroad
Greene County Historical Society
Gunnison Pioneer Museum
Hawaiian Railroad Museum
Hesston Steam Museum
Historic Brownsville Museum
Historic Jefferson Railway
Houghton County Historical Society
Huckleberry Railroad
Idaho Springs Exhibit
Illinois Railway Museum
Jackson County Historical Society
Laws Railroad Museum
Maine Narrow Gauge Museum
Midwest Central Railroad
Montana Museum of Railroad History
Mountain Village 1890 (Bull Shoals, AR)
Nevada County Narrow Gauge
Nevada State Railroad Museum
New Jersey Museum of Transportation
North Carolina Transportation Museum
Orange Empire Railway Museum
Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine
Platteville Mining Museum
Poway Midland Railroad
Quincy & Torch Lake Mine Shaft
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
Rhinelander Railroad Museum
Ridgeway Railroad Museum
Rio Grande Southern Railroad Museum
Roaring Camp & Big Trees
San Francisco cable cars and Cable Car Museum
Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum
Silverwood Theme Park
Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources
Southeastern Narrow Gauge Museum
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
Sumpter Valley
Tanana Valley Railroad Museum
Toonerville Trolley
Travel Town
Tweetsie Railroad
Walt Disney World
White Pass & Yukon
Wiscasset Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Besides being widespread, narrow gauge is prospering. Over 7 million passengers each year ride narrow gauge trains and streetcars. The White Pass & Yukon hauls more passengers than any other tourist railroad in North America. Up there as well is the Durango & Silverton, not to mention the various theme park railroads (Disney World, Disneyland, Cedar Point, Knott’s Berry Farm).

What draws my attention is the restoration activity. There’s a lot going on. Because they are located far from population centers, the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec and the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington have adopted a different and highly effective volunteer participation model. Several times each year volunteers gather for whole week (C&TS) or weekend (WW&F) mass work sessions. Instead of the usual six guys showing up each Saturday, we’re talking multiple hundreds at C&TS and over a hundred at WW&F. When you put that many people to work, things get done. WW&F laid 2800 feet of new railroad this year, including the installation of a former Boston & Maine wooden bridge. They also expanded their carhouse and took on multiple car restorations, reboilered one locomotive and began the replication of another.┬áThe C&TS Friends have numerous projects, large and small, going at once. At C&TS they even have kitchen crews that feed the rest so downtime for meals is minimized.

Here are some of the recently completed narrow gauge projects.

Steam locomotives:
Rio Grande 4-6-0 #168 (Baldwin 1883) at Cumbres & Toltec
Southern Pacific 4-6-0 #18 at Carson & Colorado
Bridgton & Saco River 0-4-4-T #7 at Maine Narrow Gauge Museum
S. D. Warren Paper 0-4-0T #2 at Boothbay Railway Village
Alaska 4-6-0 #153 at the Huckleberry Railroad
United Fruit Company 2-6-0 at the Hesston Steam Museum
Jones & Laughlin 0-4-0T #58 at the Youngstown Steel Heritage Museum

Elsewhere, the Ridgway Railway Museum built a demonstration railroad loop. Nevada State Railroad Museum 3-railed its demo railroad so they can run narrow gauge trains. Colorado Railroad Museum finished restoring Uintah combine #50. Several organizations have combined to relay track at the Denver, South Park & Pacific Como, Colorado roundhouse, acquire and restore multiple Colorado & Southern freight cars and inaugurate steam powered operations. San Francisco Municipal Railway restored and returned to service the largest cable car ever, #19, for the first time in over 70 years. Year after year the Friends of the East Broad Top stabilize and restore more buildings at Rockhill Furnace.

There’s more on the way. Cumbres & Toltec is restoring an entire 1880s 4-car passenger train to be pulled by #168. This includes building brand new replica passenger car trucks. Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 #20 will soon return to service at Colorado Railroad Museum. The Durango Railroad Historical Society is laying track and rebuilding the Silverton Northern engine house. The Maine Narrow Gauge Museum is relocating its operating base to the other end of its Portland waterfront tracks, which means a new carbarn, shop and depot. The North Carolina Transportation Museum is restoring Tweetsie triple combine #15. Boothbay Railway Village is installing to preserved narrow gauge railroad bridges.

There’s plenty more happening. To see all the active restoration projects, go to the Progress Reports page of this magazine.





Leave a Reply