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Famous locomotive with rich history returns to Colorado

The Rio Grande Southern Locomotive No. 20 was built for the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad in 1899 and has undergone years of restoration.

GOLDEN, Colo. — After years of restoration, the famous Rio Grande Southern Locomotive No. 20 rolled into the Colorado Railroad Museum Tuesday.

For the past 12 years, it's been undergoing restoration in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. 

Originally built for the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad in 1899, Locomotive No. 20 was a narrow gauge engine that could, according to the Colorado Railroad Museum, climb the winding and steep Phantom Canyon to Colorado’s last gold mining bonanza – Cripple Creek.

Credit: George Lawrence

Christened “Portland” after one of the area mines, the locomotive was a powerful 10-wheeler measuring 49 feet from engine to tender and weighing 85,000 pounds.

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By the late 1930s, Locomotive No. 20 had become a fan favorite and was often requested by tourists or railway clubs for excursions.

Hollywood “discovered” the locomotive, and in 1949, it was used in the film "A Ticket to Tomahawk." The 1899 engine was redressed to an 1876 look for its role as the Emma Sweeny.

Credit: Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library

In 2006, the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club transferred ownership of Locomotive No. 20 to the Colorado Railroad Museum. A generous donation was provided to bring Locomotive No. 20 back to operational condition with the stipulation that it be rebuilt by Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. Locomotive No. 20 was then sent to Strasburg in August 2006 to begin the restoration process. 

The Colorado Railroad Museum was founded in 1959 and is dedicated to preserving for future generations a tangible record of Colorado’s dynamic railroad era and particularly its pioneering, narrow gauge mountain railroads.

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It has more than 100 narrow and standard gauge steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses, an HO Model Railroad and a G-scale garden railway on our 15-acre railyard.

Restoration work on the locomotive is not quite complete; the Colorado Railroad Museum will complete the remaining 20%.

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