Kids today and Steam Railroading

Tiny Town,CO, 077

Feature by Chip Deyerle

(May 23, 2015)  Morrison, CO – Just off of Colorado 285, near Morrison, the road sign says “Tiny Town Railroad”, ¾ mile, Next Left.”  We make the turn at the base of a mountain grade about 30 minutes west of downtown Denver. Immediately we are among some of the tallest pines in Colorado, complete with a mountain stream surging beneath the dark green canopy.  It’s springtime in the Rockies and the winter run-off is almost even with the stream banks.

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Beneath this canopy we first hear a real steam engine whistle, loud and clear.  As we pull up to turn into the parking lot, there is a buzz of activity taking place among many child-size homes and houses, banks, churches, car dealership, hardware store, drugstores, department stores, library, school houses, playgrounds, restaurants, florists, even a Moving and Storage Warehouse.

Our visit today is to enjoy the 100th Anniversary of Tiny Town and the Tiny Town Railroad. This special occasion is marked with a special anniversary cake for the visitors to Tiny Town.  In keeping with the tradition, volunteers and staff wore period costumes set at the turn of the last century to add a sense of history to the occasion.

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“Nestled in a mountain valley is Tiny Town opened on this date 100 years ago in 1915 and despite its age, it is still popular as ever with little kids and big kids. What is so special is that Tiny Town has its own steam and diesel railroad, but in 15-gauge configuration.  The tracks from the out-sized rail depot and ticket office run the perimeter of the Tiny Town city limits, crossing two trestles over famed Turkey Creek. There is even a rail tunnel named “North Portal” after a real railroad tunnel of the same name nearby.”

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A brief History of Tiny Town…

“Tiny Town was created at the site of the Denver-Leadville stagecoach stop in a scenic mountain canyon southwest of Denver in 1915. That’s when moving company owner George Turner began erecting one-sixth sized buildings with a turn of the century flavor to delight his young daughter.”

“In 1920 the town was opened to the public.  In just five years, it became one of Colorado’s top attractions.”

“By 1939, the “World Famous” Tiny Town Railway was in operation.  By Then, Tiny Town was creating thousands of special memories for kids of all ages.”

“But the historic town was not without its setbacks as fires, floods, and changing economic times often kept this special palace on the edge of extinction.”

“So in 1988, volunteers adopted the resurrection of Tiny Town as a civic, charitable project.  Individuals from the entire state refurbished original buildings, created new structures and got the railroad up and running again.”

“The Tiny Town foundation was created in 1990 to establish Tiny Town as a not-for-profit effort and ensure the cherished village would never be threatened again.  Each year the foundation has been proud to donate a portion of the proceeds to various area charities.”

“One thing about Tiny Town hasn’t changed over the years – Kids always have a big time in Tiny Town.”

“Families spend hours admiring over 140 colorful buildings, each individually handcrafted by Colorado volunteers.  Many of the structures contain detailed interiors to spur the imaginations of young and old alike.  And some buildings let kids crawl inside and view the town through tiny windows.”

“Tiny Town’s turn-of-the-century downtown features a fire station, toy store, ice cream shop, moview theater, gas station, grade school, library and many other colorful buildings.”“

On this day, the Inter-Canyon Fire and Rescue is on hand with an EMT unit and a fire truck.  They’ve set up display of equipment all firefighters must have, along with a real fire hose for the smaller visitors to try out on a target.

There is also a restored antique fire truck from the 1920s, complete with fire bell and a hand-cranked siren.  Kids and adults take turn trying to crank the siren, putting on an old firemen’s helmet and trying to turn the steering wheel.

Of course the biggest attraction of Tiny Town is the TTRR, the Tiny Town Railroad. It features several different engines that have run for many years on the TTRR. Each steam engine is a a 15-guage replica of a real steam engine running on the Durango and Silverton RR and Cumbres and Toltec RR in southwest Colorado and New Mexico.  Add to that, the engines run on live steam from burning coal!  Built to scale, each engine features virtually the same parts as their big brothers and provides more than adequate power for the half hourly runs around d  TTRR.

If you are wondering who still builds and produces 15-gauge steam engines, look to Uhrich Locomotive Works in nearby Strasburg, Colorado.  In fact, ULCO has not only built the locomotives, but the rail cars as well.   ULCO also makes parts for steam engines across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  While not mass-produced, each part is made from iron castings that are poured from a Coke Furnace and Foundry at ULCO.  Production runs for parts are usually small to meet the requirements of their customers, one of which is Tiny Town.

For more information about Tiny Town, see their website at or call 303-697-6828.

End of Part 2

611 Returns Soon To Roanoke From North Carolina!

A great day for a runN&W Class J 611™ completes a 110-mile roundtrip

from Spencer, NC to Greensboro, NC

Courtesy of Norfolk Southern



The Fire Up 611 mechanical crew completed a test run of the iconic locomotive round trip from the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina to Greensboro, North Carolina. The train consisted of No. 611, the auxiliary water car, tool car No. 1407, and eight Norfolk Southern passenger cars. This marks the first time No. 611 has operated under steam on the mainline in more than twenty years.cropped-images5AK59GE7.jpg


You’ve waited 20 years. Don’t miss the train.Excursion Spotlight: The Powhatan Arrow

Roanoke to Lynchburg

July 3, July 4 and July 5


Riding from Roanoke to Lynchburg on the old Norfolk and Western takes you through some of Virginia’s most beautiful

views.  Leaving Roanoke, on the left you will pass the famous East End Shops, where 611, her sisters, and the 1200s and 2100s were designed, built, and maintained.  Further east in the shops complex in the former N&W Car Shops is the current site of Freight Car America’s Roanoke Plant.

You will continue eastward through Vinton and down a long straightaway to Boaz siding in Bonsack, made famous in photographs by O. Winston Link.

Moving further up the Blue Ridge grade, our train will pass the original plant of the Webster Brick Company, and a bit farther up on the left, the site of the Blue Ridge station and the quarry operations of Boxley Materials, the company that provided all the ballast to the N&W.

On the other side of the Blue Ridge Gap, prepare to take in spectacular views of the Peaks of Otter, on of the most scenic areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Leaving the Gap, we will pass through Bedford, home to the national D Day Memorial honoring those who served on the beaches of France on June 6, 1944.  After passing Bedford, the train passes through the village of Forest, home to Thomas Jefferson’s summer home Poplar Forest. This is also where the newer “low-grade” line broke away from the old N&W main line to avoid congestion in downtown Lynchburg and a climb out of the James River valley. Pulling into Lynchburg, the train will turn on the wye at Norfolk Southern’s Montview Yard for the return trip to Roanoke.

It will be a trip you’ll remember forever.

Other excursions include: 

The American– Manassas, Virginia to Front Royal, Virginia. June 6 & 7

·     Take a 102-mile roundtrip through northern Virginia over former Southern Railway tracks

·     Turn on the wye alongside the river at Riverton Junction at Front Royal

·     Enjoy the 21st annual Manassas Heritage Railway Festival and explore the walkable, historic downtown

The Cavalier-

Lynchburg, Virginia to Petersburg, Virginia. June 13 & 14

·         Ride from the mountains of Lynchburg to the heart of Petersburg and back on this 260-mile roundtrip journey

·         Explore downtown Petersburg

·         Dine, shop, and relax during the two-hour layover

The Pelican– Roanoke, Virginia to Radford, Virginia. June 3, 4, & 5 (afternoon trip)

·         Enjoy the ride from Roanoke to Radford on this 84-mile roundtrip

·         Climb the fame Christiansburg grade- the exact type of mountainous terrain 611 for which 611 was designed

·         Return to downtown Roanoke for an evening of Independence Day weekend festivities


About the 611 Excursion Train 

There’s no bad seat on this train! Climb aboard for an experience that features modern amenities and a level of service reflective of the golden age of passenger rail travel.  Our passenger cars – many from the 1940

s and 1950s – have been thoughtfully rebuilt and restored and each car is unique.  However, every car offers air-condition

ing, comfortable seating, large windows, and ample leg room. Restrooms are also available throughout the train.

Whether you choose to ride in standard or deluxe coach, or to treat yourself to first class, dome, or observation seating – or even a private suite – you’ll be able to walk through the train and get to know your fellow passengers along the way.  It’s not unusual to make a few new friends on board! Car hosts will share information about the route and the history of the train, and see to your needs and comfort.


A commissary car mid-train will offer soft drinks and snacks for sale, as well as tee shirts, videos,and other merchandise.  For those who choose first class, a private suite, or dome or observation seating – which both offer unique and spectacular views – first class car attendants will bring complimentary beverages and snacks to you.


The fastest and easiest way to purchase tickets is online through You may also call the VMT Ticket Line at 540-797-2666 or purchase tickets in person at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in downtown Roanoke.



The NCTM says goodbye to the Class J 611. Roanoke welcomes her home. Two full weekends of activities are planned as the North Carolina Transportation Museum (NCTM) says goodbye to the Class J 611 and the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the City of Roanoke welcomes The Spirit of Roanoke home.

See all that the NCTM has planned on Saturday, May 23! Get your camera ready for the 611 Photo Charter on May 28!

Roanoke is throwing a welcome home celebration fit for a Queen on Saturday, May 30.

On Sunday, May 31, visit the VMT to see the Big Three  – the Class J (611), the Class A (1218) and the Class Y6a (2156)- in the same rail yard in over 60 years!


About the Norfolk & Western Class J 611™  Steam Passenger Locomotive


Norfolk & Western Class J 611™ is considered by many to be the finest American locomotive ever made. She is a marriage of beauty and power. Simple lines, a bullet nose, a midnight black façade, a Tuscan stripe and a baritone whistle makes her the most distinguished steam locomotive left in the world. She’s an engineering powerhouse of steam, technology and near mechanical perfection. The Class J Locomotives were built using American ingenuity, design and engineering. Even today, she is the pinnacle of steam locomotive technology known to man.


The Norfolk & Western Class J Locomotives were designed, constructed and maintained in Roanoke, Virginia. These streamlined locomotives have captivated the hearts of rail fans worldwide since they first rolled out of the N&W Roanoke Shops, beginning in 1941.


611 was built in May of 1950.  The 611 Locomotive pulled the Powhatan Arrow, the famed passenger train, from Norfolk to Cincinnati.  611 retired from passenger rail service in 1959. In 1962, she was moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia.


In 1981, Norfolk Southern pulled her out of retirement and restored her to her original glory. Once again, she blew her whistle to sleepy towns and thundered across the landscape. She was retired from excursions in 1994 and moved back into the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Since her retirement, rail fans have clamored, hoped and dreamed that she return to the rails, to blow her whistle and steam over the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains once again.


In 2015, barring the unforeseen, the dream of 611 returning to steam will become a reality.  Thanks Norfolk Southern, friends of 611 and the Virginia Museum of Transportation, and Rail Fans all across the USA and from around the world for your support!  The “Queen of Steam” RETURNS SOON!


Strasburg, Colorado: Home of Uhrich Locomotive Works


Feature Article By Chip Deyerle

It’s late on a spring Saturday morning in May when I chanced to visit one of very few steam locomotive works in the United States.  This turned out to be a total surprise, judging from the small farm of Strasburg, Colorado, town  east of Denver on I-70.  Surrounded by very large farms and ranches, Strasburg is at once a farming/ranching community and a railroad town. Served by Union Pacific, the town was merely a water stop for the Kansas and Pacific   steam locomotives, later becoming the Union Pacific Rail Road

This Saturday morning, I am attracted to an old rail coach sitting on a siding behind a grain storage tower near the town’s only rail crossing.  It is a forelorn-looking coach and is deteriorating rapidly. This location is immediately behind the KOA Campground where our Family Motor Coach Association (Rocky Mountain Chapter) is holding a weekend rally.  While walking our two little dogs, Lexie ( a dachund mini) and Lilly ( a Papillion mix), I am looking across a field about 200 yards to the coach, now a fading burgundy color in the setting sun coach amid waving stands of rye grass in the breeze. It appears  to be something similar to a club car, or maybe a short dining car.IMG_0373

Or perhaps it’s an old coach that had been modified with an  exhaust vent in the roof perhaps for housing work crews while repairing right of way.

I make a note of the coach and determine to investigate further. Later that Friday evening, Lexie accompanied me out of the KOA and around to grain storage tower and into some deep field grass to take pictures and look for any identifying marks. I did note that on the bottom of the coach, near the center, where five small compartments that apparently held propane bottles typically used for barbeque grills at home.

After taking several pictures, Lexie and I start back by the grainery to the UP crossing and notice yet another odd-looking rail car sitting in a field just across the road near a large quonset building.IMG_0386

IMG_0392This appears to be an old mail car in a state of rapid decay. Yet marked on the other side of the car is printed in large letters, “Tool Car”.  Apparently this was a converted mail car retrofitted with machine tools, a tool crib and materials issue point for right of way work trains.

The following morning, Saturday, is a really beautiful morning following a period of heavy rains during the previous two weeks along the Colorado Rockies Front Range with two or more feet of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains.  There is a threat of more rain in the afternoon, with hail and possibly a tornado or two. I head out to see the old mail car and to find other  treasures  to be seen in old Strasburg on Railroad Avenue.

After taking another picture of the mail car, I walk past two industrial–looking buildings.  The one in the middle looks very interesting:



None other than the Uhrich Locomotive Works! Now I really need to find out what goes on here, in Strasburg, Colorado. The building on the left is the main machine and tool building of ULCO.  The building on the right is a Coke Foundry where molten iron is poured into molds for all kinds of locomotive parts, including locomotive wheels and rail car wheels.  For those railroads running steam engines today in the US and Canada, Uhrich Locomotive Works is on speed dial for most of the railroads.  Here, they can cast the parts and then they can machine the parts, assemble the parts and produce a real, live steam engine, complete with steam whistle and brass bell.

I am fortunate that while it is Saturday, Mike Kumnick, a machinest at ULCO, is working on a project in the Quonset building. He advises that the building is actually on Union Pacific Property and all visitors must sign in, which I do.  Mike shows me a project that he is working on.  It is a 15 –Gauge scale model of a Kansas Pacific Caboose.  The model he is building will soon be hauling young passengers in true scale model steam engines on the Tiny Town Railroad in Morrison, Colorado, a suburb of Denver metro area.

IMG_0412All the metal parts for this caboose are to scale and the wheels and carriages were all cast here at the Uhrich Locomotive Works, bearing the “Baldwin-Like” bronze plate of the manufacturer.  A special type of spruce is used for the sides and matches in scale the wood pattern of Kansas Pacific Railroad.  Mike loves his work and has been a machinist for many years with ULCO.

After a tour of the machine shop with Mike, we take a walk outside the Quonset building to look at two passenger rail cars that were built in late 1947.  The two cars are called “Slumber Cars.” Mike relates that the cars were for businessmen traveling from Chicago overnight to the industrial rust belt of the upper Midwest.   There are 12 slumber bunks, each with a small window, at one end of each coach where a business person could sleep and wake up relatively refreshed at his destination.  AMTRAK should take note of this idea.unnamed[5]After the tour of the property along Railroad Avenue, I thanked Mike for his time and let him get back to work.


By the way, the first coach that I saw behind our RV Park was waiting to be picked up by a rail museum, but it has been there a while and vandals have actively broken out the windows and tried to strip it of anything they could carry off. It looks like the rail museum could not afford to keep their commitment. There it sits, falling apart.

ULCO –Uhrich Locomotive Company

PO Box 125

Strasburg, CO 80136

Phone: 303-622-4431

Call for an appointment for a tour.


AMTRAK’s Congressional Limited and North Philadelphia Redux

One of America’s Worst Train Crashes Happened on the Same Curve as AMTRAK 188-72 years ago!

By Dan Kois

As rescue teams responded to Tuesday night’s frightening AMTRAK crash outside of Philaelphia, they’re walking the same ground where, 72 years ago, servicemen headed to New York City on Labor Day instead spent the night searching through derailed train cars in one od the worst accidents in American history, the 1943 Frankfort Junction crash.  The coincidence was noted by Philadelphia Daily News assistant managing editor Gar Soseph on Twitter.

In tht crash, 79 were killed and 117 injured when a journal box failed and an axle snapped at high speed, sending the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Congressional Limited,packed with service men and vacationers, catapulting off the track.  According to an Associated Press story published at the time, the accident happened at Frankfort and Glenwood Avenues in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood–on the same great bend of the tracks where AMTRAK train 188 derailed on Tuesday evening last.  Infact, the intersection of Frankford and Glenwood Avenues is only a few tenths of a mile away from the 2000 block of Wheatsheaf Lane, where a local NBC affiliate is reporting Tuesday’s crash occurred.

Dan Kois is Slates Culture editor, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.