Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit

PLEASE NOTE: Engine 278 and the other rail cars have been temporarily removed from the trestle for restoration purposes.

At the mouth of Cimarron Creek, just upstream from where it spills into the Gunnison River, stands a reminder of bygone days in railroading. Locomotive #278, its coal tender, a boxcar, and caboose stand atop the last remaining railroad trestle along the Black Canyon of the Gunnison route. What can now be seen in this exhibit is an excellent example of rolling stock railroad cars used on this branch of the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) Narrow Gauge Railroad in its heyday.


The trestle is called a "steel deck span" bridge. It was constructed in 1895, replacing the original wooden Howe truss design trestle (circa 1882). The "new" trestle's four spans incorporated a metal Pratt truss and three girder sections brought from other locations on the Denver & Rio Grande line. The original stone abutments (no longer visible) and piers date back to the era of the wooden trestle. The west abutment was cut into solid rock, while the east one and the three piers were constructed of stone masonry. As originally designed and constructed, the trestle itself was 288 feet in length. Telegraph lines (reconstructed) can be seen extending from the ties on the south side of the trestle. For many years it was fairly common to see trestles used in this manner for stringing telegraph lines along railroad routes.

Denver & Rio Grande Western Engine 278
Engine 278

Locomotive #278 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1882. It was constructed as a C16 mainline freight and helper engine. Helper engines were used to assist trains up steep grades. The "C" refers to a consolidated engine type with a "2-8-0" wheel configuration. The numbers "2-8-0" refer to the number and type of wheels. In this case there are 2 "truck-" or "leading-wheels" in the very front of the engine, followed by 8 "driving-wheels" in the middle, and no "trailing-wheels". The "16" refers to the maximum tractive effort of the engine, which is the highest force the train can exert. Locomotive #278 was used on this part of the D&RG's main line, on the Crested Butte Branch, and in the railyards of Gunnison for over 70 years. This locomotive went through several changes in appearance over the years as it was influenced by various railroad standards and safety regulations set forth by the Interstate Commerce Commission

Coal Tender
Coal Tender

The coal tender (the car that carried water and coal for the locomotive) that you see on the exhibit replaced the original sometime around 1935. It is off another engine and was shortened when it was attached to #278. It was not uncommon for tenders to be interchanged between locomotives.

The boxcar was built in 1904 (rebuilt in 1923) and was large for its time, able to carry 25 tons. In the 1930s and '40s, it was used to ship agricultural products and silica ore.

The caboose was built in 1886 and used on this run of the Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad.


The locomotive and the other cars have been restored to look as they would have in 1940. Locomotive #278 was retired by the D&RG in 1952, and given to the city of Montrose as a gift. In 1973, it was leased (along with the tender and caboose) to the National Park Service for 20 years.

In 1974 they were loaded aboard a Bureau of Reclamation "lowboy" for the move from Montrose to Cimarron Canyon. At that time, the western end of the trestle was still covered with earth from fill over a culvert, and it was possible for the "lowboy" to back up to that end and the locomotive and cars to be moved directly onto the trestle.

In 1976, the trestle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, due to its significance as the last remaining structure representing the history of the narrow gauge railroad in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The lease of the locomotive, tender, and caboose was renegotiated in 1989 and extended to 99 years.

Today, the Cimarron Canyon railroad exhibit display can aid our understanding and appreciation of the accomplishments of the trains which ran the Black Canyon of the Gunnison route of the narrow gauge railroad.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Mailing Address:

102 Elk Creek
(GPS/physical address = 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO)

Gunnison, CO 81230



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