The Friends is a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving, restoring and interpreting the historical character of the railroad. In 1970 when the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased 64 miles of the Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge railroad between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico, they acquired a large collection of historic buildings and rolling stock. While the railroad is owned by the states of New Mexico and Colorado, the day to day operations are handled by a contracted operator who is responsible for the upkeep of the equipment needed for daily operations, and for the track. Unfortunately this organizational structure did not provide for the maintenance of the unused historic equipment and buildings, nor for the interpretation of the history of the railroad to the visiting public. The Friends were created to fill this need.
By 1980, ten years after the birth of the C&TS, much of the unused historic property was falling into decay. Recognizing the need to do something, Albuquerque attorney, Bill Lock, approached the railroad about establishing a volunteer preservation program. Their first project was an old refrigerator car body in Chama that had once served as a bunk house. In 1981 Lock and a friend spent a day and a half performing minor carpentry repairs and repainting the car. The following year Lock and a few more friends returned to renovate caboose No. 0503, the only caboose the C&TS was allowed to purchase from the Rio Grande. Focusing on the historic D&RGW rolling stock in the Chama yard, these weekend work parties grew year by year, to the point that some 70 volunteers participated in 1987. In 1988 the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was incorporated, setting the stage for an impressive string of achievements.
The Friends also returned several pieces of rolling stock to home rails, including a rare D&RGW short refrigerator car, six double-deck sheep cars, and two D&RGW passenger coaches. Most exciting, however, was the return of six former UTLX narrow gauge tank cars. Built by the D&RGW between 1924 and 1930, these cars were among 50 or so that hauled oil into the early 1960s between Chama and a refinery in Alamosa, Colorado. None of these cars were available from the D&RGW when the the C&TS was created in 1970--a notable omission since the Chama yard still has an oil loading dock.
As the Friends matured as an organization, inerpreting the railroad and presenting the history of the area to the public became a major goal. In that light, the Friends designed and provide free of charge a walking tour of the facilities at both Chama and Antonito. Tens of thousands of walking tours, in both English and Spanish, have been printed and distributed to the public. The Friends have also established a docent program to provide interpretation and information to passengers riding the trains.
Today, the Friends is an organization of nearly 2100 members from all 50 states, and from several countries overseas. The Friends conducts six week-long work sessions each year--two each in May, June and August--involving hundreds of volunteers, many of whom participate in more than one session. The scope of the work includes the traditional Friends activities of car restoration and painting, the stabilization and restoration of virtually all of the historic structures along the line, general clean-up and aesthetic improvement of the property, and interpretation of the railroad.
We have established a site in Colorado Springs that host ongoing restoration projects. That crew has completed restoration on the OB Pile Driver and are currently working on restoring a Pullman Sleeper Car.
The Friends of the C&TS completed a three year project to help the Alder Gulch operation in Montana stabilize narrow gauge car bodies and also move standard gauge equipment on site.