Of course, I rated the bell on a 130-year-old steam locomotive. And you too.
Right after entering the Colorado Railroad Museum, you are greeted by a huge locomotive from the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. You can enter the cabin and see the caldera, but the doorbell is one of the main attractions. Who wouldn’t call it?
It was an excruciatingly hot day when I toured the museum in Golden, Colorado, on the western outskirts of Denver. It wasn’t ideal weather as the museum is almost entirely outdoors, but there was enough shade and enough trains to get in and explore, that was fantastic.
Here’s a look.
Historic mile-high trains at the Colorado Railroad Museum
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Hear that train coming
The 15-acre railroad features more than 100 steam and diesel locomotives, plus passenger cars, mail cars, cabooses, and more. As I made my way, I was pleased that many of the exhibits are complete train sets with a locomotive, several cars, and a caboose. Many railway museums place each piece individually, which is fine, but I like to have them all together.
The museum also has one of my favorite locomotive designs, an EMD F9 in western livery of Denver and Rio Grande. If you think of a locomotive from the mid-20th century, this is probably what you are imagining.
As visually stunning as the F9 is, what’s next is even more interesting: a rotary snow plow. This square machine has 9 foot wide rotating death blades. Death to the snowdrifts, that is. Conventional wedge-shaped snowplows just weren’t enough for the heavy snowfall found in the Rocky Mountains. Plows like these cut through tons of snow at a rapid rate, but required so much power that a coal-fired steam engine existed just to power the blades.
Later, I was able to see the circular house where the museum’s on-site restoration team works. Many of these trains still run, and keeping them in shape takes great talent and effort – it’s not like you can race to AutoZone and grab a piston for an 1890 steam locomotive.
A narrow gauge track surrounds the museum, and several times an hour you can ride one of the “Galloping geese. “These are wagons from the early 20th century modified by the Rio Grande South Railroad to operate passenger and freight services when they couldn’t afford to maintain steam locomotives.
The museum, and the Denver Garden Railroad Society that runs it, let me place a camera on one of the model flatbed rail cars. Pushed by a locomotive, I was able to capture a first-person view of the track in the open air. In the basement of the main museum building there is even an incredibly elaborate Model railway HO.
Before I left, I got a close look at the largest engine in the museum: a colossal 4-8-4 Class O-5B locomotive, one of the last great steam trains ever made. This one retired in 1956 after only 16 years of service. Apparently this beast could hit 100 mph in the Denver to Chicago race. Not bad for something that runs on coal and is based on early 19th century technology.
The Colorado Railroad Museum It is a charming museum, much more charming than many of the larger train museums I have visited. If you are in the Denver area, I highly recommend that you visit. They also have regular events.
If visiting Denver isn’t on your schedule, check out the gallery above.
In addition to covering television and other display technologies, Geoff takes photo tours of museums and interesting places around the world, including nuclear submarines,, , and more.