Crews are preserving much of the original material. “The 256 will probably have about 40%-50% original material in it,” Stathi Pappas, director of special projects for C&TS, says. “The RPO car will have a little bit less. Much of the poplar siding on 256 is being replaced, but many of the original studs have been preserved. Car 292, which is complete, is about 75% original materials. This is museum quality rehabilitation.”
Denver & Rio Grande built RPO car No. 65 in 1887. Coach car No. 256, the oldest of the four C&TS is renovating, was originally the La Vita and was built for the D&RG in 1876. The next oldest is Business Car F built in 1878.
Coach No. 292 ran from 1881 to 1928 on D&RG’s San Juan Extension. Although it has gone through modifications and upgrades, it maintains its original character-defining features. It resembles a more typical 1880s car than other cars from that era that have been heavily modified.
The historic car project is granted by Colorado’s State Historical Fund. C&TS has also received other appropriations. The railroad is not using net operating income to fund these historical projects.
“What’s really valuable about this is that when it’s done, this will be on the railroad that it was built for,” Pappas says, “and it will operate in weekly service on the railroad it was built for in the 1870s and 1880s and being pulled behind the right engine [D&RG Baldwin 4-6-0 No. 168, built in 1883]. We just happen to be really fortunate that we have the opportunity to do this work and then have an operating plan that allows us to see the rare bird in its native habitat.”
C&TS operates narrow gauge steam excursions between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo. The 64-mile route climbs Cumbres Pass and traverses the Toltec Gorge as it winds through New Mexico and Colorado.