Volunteers gather at the start of a 2003 work session. Photo: Tom Cardin.
A recognized leader in the railroad preservation field, the 1,800-member Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the official museum support group for the C&TS, managing the museum and restoration functions of the railroad. In particular, the Friends has assumed the responsibility of preserving all of the railroad’s historic assets that are not used in the regular tourist train operation, and interpreting the railroad to the public.

The Friends got its start in 1981 when founding president Bill Lock grew concerned that no one was caring for the railroad’s irreplaceable collection of historic equipment and structures. That year he convinced the railroad to let him and a friend paint and refurbish an old refrigerator car body. Lock and a growing number of volunteers returned to the railroad each summer thereafter, primarily concentrating on the stabilization and restoration of rolling stock.

These long weekends evolved into the present work session format. Several times each summer groups of up to 150 volunteers gather along the railroad to pursue specific preservation projects for a week at a time. Over the years, these projects have encompassed virtually all of the railroad’s historic buildings, as well as the restoration of many railroad cars, the renovation of line-side signs, the removal of asbestos from out-of-service locomotives, and landscape and grounds improvements. In 2003, the Friends conducted six of these sessions. 280 different individuals participated, contributing 15,480 hours of labor.

The Friends’ work sessions are amazingly productive because of pre-planning that clearly defines work, provides leadership, identifies and assigns needed skills, and pre-positions material and tools. Moreover, an exceptional work ethic has developed that keeps people focused on the tasks at hand.

In recognition of its efforts, the Friends has received awards from the New Mexico state legislature, the Colorado Historical Society, and the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office. The Friends is an affiliate member of the Association of Railway Museums (ARM), and a member of the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN).