High Country Railroad No. 8

The plaque on High Country Railroad No. 8.

A brief introduction, my name is Steve Rontti. I am a heavy equipment operator in Salina KS, but was raised in Colorado as a train nut by a train nut father. Dad was raised less than 1/4 mile from the DMIR mainline out of Duluth, MN. Dad told me stories of watching empty ore trains being hauled up-grade out of Duluth by as many as three massive, Y-3 mallets back to the iron mines in the Missabe Range, but those stories belong elsewhere. We spent weekends together going to train shows, the Colorado RR Museum, Georgetown, Cripple Creek, Durango, Chama and all the ghost railbeds that we could track down.

My first real job was on the High Country RR at Heritage Square, where I worked as a ticket agent and general labor for Ed Gerlitz, owner of the railroad. Because I was only 16-17 at the time, I could not run the locomotives due to insurance reasons, yet I was in heaven just being around trains and getting paid to do it!!

Anyway, in my continual web browsing on the subject of trains and model live steamers, I stumbled upon one of your archived photos of your full size collection, specifically #8 the 0-8-0 tank/tender locomotive in the photo. I can not begin to describe the excitement that I felt when I saw the locomotive that I worked on as a teenager. As I said, I was too young to operate the locomotives but Ed seemed to sense the steam oil coursing through my veins and would involve me as much as he could legally get away with. Ed told me some of the history of each of the locomotives that were there. On the line was a Henschell 0-4-0 side tank. The Henschell was under steam all summer and she was also the "newest".

Also on the line was a class B shay, two Plymouth gas mechanicals, and my favorite, #8. I don't remember the builder, but she is an outside framed 0-8-0 with a side tank and tender. Number 8 was originally a WW1 German trench engine with an unusual form of articulation on the front and rear drivers. The tender, pilot and many other modifications were made to americanize her for tourist apeal. The two times I saw her under steam were only on the big 4th of July weekends. On a few occasions, I was allowed to act as breakman on #8 when she was pulled dead from the siding by one of the small Plymouths, to add or remove cars to the consist and getting her ready for the big weekend. When I wasn't selling tickets, I was always there helping load coal, filling the water tanks, oiling the bearings... Ah, the memories that photo has brought back.

About 10 years ago, I returned to where I worked as a teenager to see how my (I wish) railroad was doing just to find it gone! What had happened to all those wonderful 2-foot gauge locomotives? Well I found one [at Bitter Creek Western RR] and I am very happy she hasn't yet given in to the scrappers torch. Even though it doesn't look like she has seen steam in many years, my memories of her will steam on.

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