Colorado, in the 19th Century, had two things in abundance: precious mineral deposits and snow. In their quest to serve the mining communities of the Rocky Mountains, the Denver & Rio Grande, and Denver, South Park & Pacific, both found that winter in the high country could be very brutal. These diminutive narrow gauge lines found that their small, wedge-plow-equipped locomotives were no match for the drifts and snow slides created by the mountain storms. A larger and more powerful means of keeping their lines open during the winter was needed.
The UP’s Denver, Leadville & Gunnison had narrow gauge rotary plow No. 064, originally built for the Denver South Park & Pacific, based at Como, to clear its line to Leadville as well as through the Alpine Tunnel to Gunnison. Number 064, which became C&S 01, 011 and finally 99200 in 1912, had trouble keeping up with the heavy winter snows all by itself.
In 1899, the new owner of the line – The Colorado & Southern Railway – ordered a second rotary from the Cooke Locomotive Works. The 03 was delivered in February, 1900. It arrived on standard gauge trucks, so the wheels were pressed inward on the axles to three foot gauge in Denver for use on the South Park line. But, it proved to be too heavy for the narrow gauge rails and too large to fit through Alpine Tunnel, so the new rotary sat idle as of October, 1901. In 1903 it was returned to standard gauge and sent to Cheyenne where it worked the C&S northern division.
Rotary 03 was renumbered to 0270, then 99201 in 1912. During the 1913 blizzard it was used between Cheyenne and Denver to clear the mainline through Longmont and also between Denver and Falcon, through Elizabeth.
With the inability of the 99201 to operate on the light rail, narrow gauge rotary 99200 worked alone on the South Park line, doing the best it could to keep the line open until 1935. On March 25, 1935, it was damaged, along with engines No. 72 and 75, when the wooden addition to the Como roundhouse caught fire. As a result, rotary 99201 was moved from Cheyenne, again had its wheels pressed to 3-foot gauge, and was sent to Leadville. The burned locomotives and rotary 99200 were hastily repaired, and the winter of 1935 and 36 saw both rotaries working between Denver and Leadville.
Approval by the ICC for abandonment of the South Park line came in 1936, and on April 11, 1937, the last passenger train ran from Leadville to Denver. The line between Leadville and Climax was spared, however, and made dual-gauge to provide the Climax Molybdenum mine with a rail outlet for its products. On August 25, 1943, narrow gauge locomotive No. 76 met standard gauge No. 638 in the Leadville yard on the last day of narrow gauge operations.
Rotary No. 99201 was converted back to standard gauge again and returned to Cheyenne after an extensive rebuild at the Joint Burlington/C&S Denver shops in 1949, at which time it received a new steel housing and a boiler from a scrapped 0-6-0, 200-series switch engine.
In 1951, the rotary was again sent to Leadville to replace the 99200, which had suffered a broken wheel drive shaft, caused by metal fatigue. The 99200 had also previously been converted to standard gauge in 1943 for the Leadville-Climax line.
No. 99201 continued to operate when needed, pushed by 2-8-0 No. 638 and then by sister engine 641 until the end of steam operations on the Leadville branch. Its last run was made in 1965, ahead of a red-and-gray EMD SD9 diesel, No. 828.
Seven years later, on October 15, 1972, John Terrill, the President of the Colorado & Southern, donated the 99201 to The Colorado Railroad Museum for display. It was “displayed” in the trees across the street from the museum for 35 years.
Placed on newly-laid track beside D&RGW 5771 and 5762, and just ahead of Union Pacific 0-6-0 switcher No. 4455 in January 2008, it is finally accessible. It’s a unique and welcome addition to our collection of locomotives and rolling stock.