CHAMA — Within the thick of swirling plumes of coal-fired smoke and greasy engine elements, eleven males, principally center-aged and clad in blue overalls and metal-toed boots, are preparing for a day of sophistication. Everybody’s standing within the tiny rail village of Chama, gazing at clanging, heaving locomotives.
“It’s a wierd beast,” stated Tom Chenal, a sheep farmer who hails from New Jersey. For him, it virtually appears alive, “prefer it’s received a heartbeat or one thing.”
Every of the lads listed here are signed up for a uncommon and distant faculty close to the Colorado-New Mexico border: the Cumbres & Toltec engineer and fireman faculty.
Courting again to 1880 with a mission to faucet the assets of the southern Rockies, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the very best and longest steam-operated railroad within the nation. A Nationwide Historic Landmark, vacationer trains lumber every day between Chama and Antonito, Colo., in the course of the summer time and fall seasons.
“This entire operation right here could be very a lot a time capsule,” stated Ed Beaudette, the railroad’s supervisor of engineering and operations. “It’s a type of few locations the place you will get out of your trendy Mercedes or Cadillac and step onto the gravel pavement, and go searching after which you’re again in 1925.”
It’s day two of the four-day class and instructors put together the lads for his or her first day in Engine 487. They’ll be working their very own practice, separate from the steam horse that conducts the sightseers. Earlier than they arrived the scholars learn lots of of pages of manuals as homework.
“For those who get nervous or in the event you don’t know the subsequent step, don’t be scared to ask questions, we’re right here that will help you guys,” conductor Chris Aira informed the lads.
The scholars rotate turns within the locomotive — in teams of three — because the practice travels by means of alpine meadows, aspen groves, steep mountain canyons, and climbs previous a sheer rock face to the ten,022 foot Cumbres Cross Summit. Later, once they run the complete sixty four-miles of the railroad, they’ll inch alongside the 800 foot Toltec Gorge and comply with the dashing Rio de los Pinos.
“Basically it begins out with a light quantity of terror,” Beaudette stated of the scholars’ demeanor. To not fear, alongside them within the locomotive are skilled railroaders.
“As quickly as they really get one thing shifting, the fear tends to go away they usually actually get wrapped up…