Narrow Gauge in Chama Today
Today, Chama forms the western terminus of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, extending eastward over 64 miles of the former San Juan Extension to Antonito, CO. It also serves as the railroad's main storage yard and engine maintenance facility.
As a division point?, engine servicing was an important part of Chama's roll on the railroad. Originally, the town had a wooden roundhouse, but this burned to the ground in 1899. It was subsequently replaced with a seven-stall brick structure that survived (intact) until 1946. At that point, with diminishing traffic on the narrow gauge, the turntable and the five easternmost stalls were removed. The two western stalls survive today, and are connected to the main engine shop in use today. The new shop, constructed in 1977, sits just to the east of the two remaining stalls from the 1946 roundhouse.
From 1935-1964, Chama was an important source of traffic over Cumbres Pass to Alamosa, CO. Oil from the Gramps Oil Field, located west of Chromo and about 13 miles NNW of Chama, came over the Continental Divide via pipeline. The oil then accumulated in storage tanks, and was loaded into tank cars at the Chama loading dock, located near the north end of the yard. From there, the oil would make its way via the narrow gauge to the refinery in Alamosa, CO.
In the 1940s, the field was producing about 1200-1400 barrels/day, which would have equated with 11-12 carloads each and every day over the route. This traffic is a large part of what kept the narrow gauge from Chama to Alamosa running year round, and helped the line survive into the 1960s, as the Rio Grande could not shift the traffic to trucks as it could with many of the other shippers on the route.
These runs continued until early 1964, when the refinery burned. Being small and technologically obsolete, the decision was made not to rebuild the facility. After the Alamosa refinery fire, oil from the field was trucked to Farmington until most production ceased in the 1980s.
Today, the loading racks at Chama survive and have been partially restored by the Friends?. A number of the UTLX tank cars survive as well. The pipeline, along with the large storage tanks near Chama, were scrapped.
Maps and Photos
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