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This glorious steam locomotive is full of 1923's finest technology

Rollin' coal

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There's something wonderfully romantic about steam locomotives. They speak to you. They have personalities. They whomp and clank and hiss. There's a lot going on. For the engineer and fireman — the two folks operating the engine — there's much more to do than in a modern diesel locomotive.

The American Locomotive Company K-28 shown here, number 478, was built in 1923 for the Denver & Rio Grande Western to run on its narrow-gauge rail lines in the mountains of Colorado. Standard rails are 4 feet 8.5 inches wide, while the D&RGW's lines were just 3 feet wide. The narrower gauge meant the trains could make tighter turns and navigate the narrow mountain passes and tunnels of Western Colorado.

Named the K-28 because they could produce roughly 28,000 pounds of tractive effort (a way to measure how much an engine could pull), they were affectionately known as "sports models" because they were optimized for speed and lightness — well, as speedy and light as a 150,000-pound locomotive that's nearly a century old can be. For comparison, Amtrak's modern ACS-64 locomotive produces 72,000 pounds of tractive effort.

The 478, shown here, is owned by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (disclosure: my wife works for the D&S) and recently fired up for the first time in three years. Here are some shots of the hardworking engine in the Durango Yard.