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Today in
S.C.V. History
July 25
1915 - Pioneer Juan Batista Suraco buried in a family graveyard, currently unmarked, in Bouquet Canyon near Benz Road [story]
Suraco family

Railroad historian and author-photographer Tom Gildersleeve will present a multimedia slide show with narration and music, depicting operations on the San Juan extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. This was a narrow-gauge section of the Rio Grande that operated a 200-mile mainline between Alamosa and Durango, Colo., with branches to Silverton, Colo., and Farmington, N.M. Altogether it included 300 miles of trackage, all 3 feet between the rails instead of the standard 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches.

The photographs were all taken between 1960 and 1964. The show was first presented in 2012 at Winterail, a multimedia event held annually in Stockton, and was shown in 2013 at Summerail, a similar event in Cincinnati. Gildersleeve has also co-authored a book on the Rio Grande narrow gauge, published in 1993: “Narrow Gauge, Then and Now.”

The presentation will be held Saturday, May 30, at 1 p.m. at The Old Town Newhall Library, 24500 Main Street.

Gene Autry's Engine 463, which he acquired and kept at Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon as a prop, is seen here as it's trucked through Newhall in 1972 on its way back to the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, from whence it came. Click image for more.

Gene Autry’s Engine 463, which he acquired and kept at Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon as a prop, is seen here as it’s trucked through Newhall in 1972 on its way back to the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, from whence it came. Click image for more.

For more than 100 years, steam was the universal motive power for most American railroads, but that started to change in the 1940s with the introduction of diesels. By mid-1960, the last Class 1 railroad in America was fully dieselized and steam was history, with the exception of this section of the Rio Grande, which continued to operate throughout the 1960s as a fully steam-powered railroad. It became, in effect, the “Last Great Steam Show in America.” It operated its last freight train in 1968 and was officially abandoned in 1969 except for the Silverton branch, which had become a major tourist attraction.

The states of Colorado and New Mexico acquired the 64-mile section from Chama, N.M., to Antonito, Colo., in 1970, and it reopened as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. It still operates with that name today and is now regarded as an important historical operation and tourist destination.

For his creative color photography documenting railroad history for more than 60 years, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented its 2014 Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award to Tom Gildersleeve of Santa Clarita. His production of high-quality duplicate slide sets also contributed to preservation of the visual history of railroads. Since then, his work has been published in at least 49 books and in calendars, magazines, cards, and video jackets. He wrote an article on night photography for Rail Classics magazine in 1973, while for Classic Trains he has written and illustrated “Early Days in the O.C. (Orange County),” Fall 2012, and “Cab-Forward Curtain Call,” Winter 2007. His 1951 picture of Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam engine No. 3751 is one of only a handful of color views of the locomotive in regular service. He was Winterail’s Hall of Fame recipient in 2012. With Hank Mills and Gordon Glattenberg, he photographed extensively along Santa Fe’s San Diego Surf Line shortly before the area underwent its major transition from pastoral to urban; one of these photos, taken at what is now Mission Viejo, appeared in the True Color section of the Spring 2014 issue of Classic Trains.

In his professional life, Gildersleeve was a civil engineer. He graduated from Stanford in late 1959 and, as an ROTC graduate, spent three years in the Air Force as a lieutenant, stationed in Ohio. He had worked summers for the California Division of Highways after graduation from high school and majored in civil engineering while in college. He returned from the Air Force in 1963 and took up a career with the Division of Highways, later called Caltrans. He spent most of his time doing design work on highways and freeways. He retired from Caltrans in 2000 but spent another three years in post-retirement work with the agency, negotiating with cities about relinquishing state highways to them, finally reaching full retirement in 2003.

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society is pleased to present multimedia slide show this on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. The public is welcome. Admission is free. For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the Historical Society, visit www.scvhs.org.


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