The Denver and Rio Grande — Gold Quarter Dollar Coin (California Fractional)

Today, the Gold Quarter Dollar Coin (California Fractional) remembers when the first narrow gauge locomotive shipped from Philadelphia to the new Denver and Rio Grande railroad company on July 13, 1871.

First, let’s look at the company then at the new engine and railway system.

From Poor’s Manual of Railroads, Volume 5, published in 1872:


Denver and Rio Grande (Narrow Gauge) RR.

Line of Road.—Denver City, Col., to El Paso, (Rio Grande,) Tex —850 miles Completed—Denver City, Col., to Colorado Springs, Col —76 miles completed.

Sidings and other tracks, 2 miles Gauge, 3 feet. Rail, 30 and 36 lbs. to yard.

Opened to Colorado Springs October 23, 1871. Will be opened a total length of 120 miles (to Pueblo) in March, 1872; and an additional length of 65 miles to Cañon City and Alamo will be opened before the close of same year.

Surveys are in progress to Santa Fé and the St. Louis Valley.

The first narrow-gauge engine built in the United States was shipped from the works of M. Baird & Co., Philadelphia, July 13, 1871.

Financial Statement.—Capital stock, $16,000 per mile; funded debt, 1st mortgage sinking fund tax free 7 per cent gold bonds, dated November 1,1870, and payable, principal in New York, London and Amsterdam, November 1, 1900, $16,000 per mile; interest at same cities May and November; denominations, $1,000 or £206, and $500 or £103 sterling.

Rolling Stock.—Locomotive engines, 13. Cars—passenger, 10; baggage, mail and express, 5; and freight, box, 30, and platform, (4 wh.,) 140.

Gross earnings to December 31, 1871, about $215,000.


The American Artisan Weekly Journal of August 23, 1871 provided the specifications of this new narrow gauge system:


Narrow-gauge (three feet) Passenger Locomotive by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, for the Denver & Rio Grande Railway.

The locomotive illustrated upon this and the preceding pages, with two others for freight service, has just been completed at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, and by the time this meets the public eye will undoubtedly be at work on the pioneer narrow-gauge line in the United States.

As this machine is entitled to the designation of the first narrow-gauge passenger locomotive built or operated in this country, a brief description of it, which we take from the Railroad Gazette, Chicago, will be of interest both to the railroad and general public.

Its dimensions are as follows:

Cylinders: 9 inches diameter.
Stroke of piston: 16 inches.
Diameter of driving wheels:  10 inches.
Diameter of pony wheels: 24 inches.
Distance between center of pony-wheels and center of front drivers: 5 feet 8.5 inches.
Distance between driving-wheel centers: 6 feet 3 inches.
Total wheel-base of engine: 11 feet 11.5 inches.
Rigid wheel-base (distance between driving wheel centers): 6 feet 3 inches.
Capacity of tender: 500 gallons.
Diameter of tender-wheels: 24 inches.
Distance between centers of tender wheels: 6 feet.
Total wheel base of engine and tender: 26 feet 5.5 inches.
Length of engine and tender overall: 35 feet 4 inches.
Weight of tender empty: 5.500 pounds.
Weight of engine in working order: 25,300 pounds.
Weight of engine on drivers: 20,500 pounds.
Weight of engine on each pair of drivers: 10,450 pounds.
Weight of engine on pony wheels: 4800 pounds.
Height of smoke-stack above rail: 9 feet 9 inches.
Height of cab from footboard to center of ceiling: 6 feet 3 inches.

It will be seen that the rigid wheelbase is given as 6 feet 3 inches, the distance between centers of driving-wheels.

This is due to the fact that the   leading or pony-wheels are fitted with a swing bolster and radius-bar, allowing them to move laterally under the engine in passing curves.

These wheels are also equalized with the front pair of drivers.

By this arrangement, while the pony truck assists in guiding the engine on a curve, and so relieves the front pair of drivers from the excessive wear of tires which would otherwise result, the rigid wheelbase is reduced so that the engine will pass curves of very short radii without difficulty.

It is, in fact, only about two-thirds that of the four-wheeled cars designed and built for the same road.

As much interest attaches to the subject of the speed practicable on narrow-gauge roads, we may remark that the proportions of this machine are such that it develops the same total travel of piston in going one mile as does a locomotive having 24 inches stroke of piston and driving-wheels 5 feet in diameter.

It is therefore apparent that equal or nearly equal speeds are possible with this engine as with the engine of the usual pattern on the full gauge, i.e., 24 inches stroke and 5 feet drivers.

The plan of this engine gives somewhat more than four-fifths of the whole weight on the drivers, so utilizing it for adhesion.

Its tractive power on a good rail, exclusive of the resistance of curves, is as follows:

On a level: 512 gross tons.
On a grade of 40 feet to the mile: 164 gross tons.
On a grade of 80 feet to the mile: 98 gross tons.

From these figures should be deducted 17 gross tons, the weight of the engine and tender in working order, to get the total weight of cars and lading which can be drawn on a level or on the grades named.

The freight locomotives built for the same road have three pairs of drivers and a swing-bolster pony-truck.

Their cylinders are 11 inches diameter and 16 inches stroke; drivers, 36 inches.

The total weight of engine in working order is 33,500 pounds, of which about 29,000 pounds are on the drivers.

Being distributed to three pairs of wheels, the weight on each pair of drivers is a little less than 10,000 pounds, nearly the same result as with the passenger engine.

We hope to give a full description of the freight locomotive also at an early day.


The Gold Quarter Dollar Coin (California Fractional) shows with an artist’s image of the new narrow gauge engine.

Gold Quarter Dollar Coin (California Fractional)