During the winter months, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs a daily train from Durango to Cascade Canyon. Departing at 9:45 and returning at 2:45, this train provides rides with some of the most beautiful scenery along the Animas River, often in a snowy setting. Being of shorter duration than the regular summer excursions to Silverton, it can be the perfect narrow gauge railroad experience. This video is a tribute to 476 which was put back in service in February of 2018 after being removed for almost twenty years.
The Rio Grande's Class K-28 Mikados were its newest fleet of narrow-gauge 2-8-2s since the fabled Class K-27 "Mudhens" purchased at the beginning of the 20th century. These new steam locomotives were built following the end of World War I, corrected flaws in the earlier K-27's, and were slightly more powerful. They were well-built machines and proved so reliable from an operational standpoint that other railroads purchased the design.
The fabled narrow-gauge operations in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico of the Denver & Rio Grande Western were so unique that they continue to garner attention in books, magazines, and model railroad layouts even today. After the mining industry's decline in the late 19th century this network of trackage relied on a mix of freight traffic (from drilling equipment for the oil industry to various agriculture and less-than-carload movements) and continued to haul passengers through the first half of the 20th century.
During 1923 Denver & Rio Grande Western received a new batch of ten K-28’s from the American Locomotive Company (otherwise known as Alco) numbered 470-479. These new 2-8-2s offered a slightly better axle loading and additional tractive effort, and their taller drivers (earning them the nickname as "Sport Models") meant that they could operate at higher speeds. Officially, the new K-28's were meant to replace the 4-6-0s in passenger service between Alamosa and Durango as well as from Salida to Gunnison. The Mikes also carried the last named train to operate on the narrow-gauge network, the San Juan, but also found themselves in normal freight assignments as well.
Following the United States' entrance into World War II, seven were requisitioned by the U.S. Army during the fall of 1942 for use on Alaska's White Pass & Yukon Railroad due to the threat from Japan to attack the state (notably the Aleutian Island chain). These locomotives included numbers 470-472, 474-475, 477, and 479 where they were renumbered on the WP&Y as 250-256. Following the war the Mikados were not sent back to the Rio Grande and eventually scrapped in Seattle in 1945. However, the remaining three Class K-28's (473, 476, and 478) remained in service on the D&RGW until they were used sparingly after the 1950s.
After being taken out of service in 1999, 476 has been rebuilt. “In addition to the FRA-mandated repairs and inspections, the crew has rebuilt the locomotive’s wheels and drivers; replaced the smoke box; repaired some cylinder and frame problems; switched out its front and rear flue sheets; and revamped the boiler, ” said mechanical foreman Randy Babcock. 473 and 478 are still operational.