The MYSTERY of JUKES TREE
Are They the Same Locations?


By Gregory Monroe, from information supplied by Cumbres & Toltec Scenic engineer Earl Knoob

(Note: This article appeared in the April 1990 issue of Railfan & Railroad magazine,
and has been updated here, including additional photos.)

Both circa 1908 photos by Fred Jukes. Top Jukes photo courtesy History Colorado (Denver & Rio Grande Collection, F-11720);
bottom Jukes photo courtesy Golden West Books, California.
The Jukes Tree 1/2 mile outside of Chama. Compare the 2012 image (right) with the 1908 Jukes photo at the left. This is obviously the same location. Note the curve in the track behind the train in both photos, and in the 1908 photo, the small bridge (which is obscured from view by vegetation in the 2012 photo). Note too how the tree, distinctive with its dead branches from countless columns of coal smoke and steam, and already a mature pine in 1908, has changed so little in the following 100+ years. (2012 photo taken with a Nikon D100 digital SLR converted for infrared only, to turn the sunlit vegetation white.)

BELOW: Now compare the modern image (lower right) taken at what is believed to be the location of the “2nd” Jukes Tree about a mile east of Chama, with the 2nd Jukes original photo at the left. Note the milepost marker, straight track, ridge of earth behind the train, and lack of a bridge in both Jukes' and the author's photos.

Fans of the Colorado narrow gauge are probably well familiar with the “Jukes Tree,” that large Ponderosa pine just east of Chama, New Mexico, that stands beside the tracks of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that run over Cumbres Pass. (The C&TS operates between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama over a portion of the former Denver & Rio Grande’s “San Juan Ex tension” built between 1879 and 1882 to reach the gold mining boom towns in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.) This pine was made famous by Fred Jukes, a pioneer railfan and photographer and an employee of the Rio Grande in Chama during the early part of the 20th century. He photographed trains passing this rather prominent tree at Milepost 343.57 (1/2 mile east of Chama).

At least two different Jukes photographs survive today showing little narrow gauge trains with a large pine in the background. And today the pine at Milepost 343.57 outside Chama is a regularly photographed location on the C&TS by railfans wanting to capture today’s trains at the same location as Jukes. The pine was a fully mature tree when Jukes included it in his compositions dated 1908, and is little changed today. It is as well known and popular a photo spot on the C&TS line as the Lobato Trestle, Windy Point, Tanglefoot Curve, Cascade Trestle and Toltec Gorge.

But is the large pine outside Chama the same tree as that pictured in both the Jukes photos, as is commonly believed? The two Jukes photos, one showing a train headed by C-19 2-8-0 401 (top left photo) and the other a doubleheaded train led by C-17 2-8-0 417 (left photo above), were apparently taken at the same location. But were they? There is no doubt that the tree at MP 343.57 is the same pine that Jukes included in his photograph of the train with engine 401, so relax, narrow gauge fans, your photos of the Jukes Tree are of the original, genuine item.

But Earl Knoob, engineer with the C&TS and an avid fan and student of the narrow gauge, has developed evidence to suggest that both the original photographs by Jukes were not taken at the same location, and that there were, in fact, originally at least two Jukes Trees. The Jukes photo of the 417 was apparently taken at a second location about 1/2 mile east of today’s popular Jukes Tree site. After talking with Earl and following up on his investigations, this author, intrigued by the theory but still a bit skeptical at first, is now convinced that Earl is, indeed, right.

Another view of today’s Jukes Tree

Close examination of each of Jukes’ original photographs and photographs of today's tree shows why. At first glance, both of Jukes’ photos do look as if they were taken in the same location. But there are some very important differences. First, in the photo of engine 417, note the three most important clues: the milepost marker to the right of the train, the ridge of scrub-covered earth to the left of the engine, and finally, and most importantly, the straight trackage and open landscape behind the train.

At today’s Jukes Tree, there is no milepost marker, and while there is a similar ridge of scrub- covered earth paralleling the tracks at the present location, this ridge levels off a lot farther from today’s tree than is shown in Jukes’ photo of the 417 (this ridge is so far from the tree it is not even seen in my recent photo of the C&TS 489). But the clincher is the bridge over the Chama River and the curve in the tracks just west of today's location (trees obscure this bridge from view in my photo of the 489). The bridge and curvature are definitely not present behind the 417’s train in the Jukes photograph.

Now look closely at Jukes’ photo of the train with engine 401. No milepost marker is visible, although the quality of the 80-year-old photograph or the trackside vegetation may have obscured it from view. And, there may be small differences in the branches of the tree in the two Jukes photos, although this is hard to determine definitely and cannot be counted as positive evidence. But, the bridge and curving trackage are clearly visible. Of course, different camera angles and “distortion” caused by Jukes’ possible use of a wider angle lens when he photographed engine 417 could, possibly, account for the apparently straight trackage and lack of background vegetation. And the milepost marker could have simply not been present when Jukes took his photo of engine 401, and was in place when he photographed the train with the 417.

Further, is it possible that the milepost marker has been moved to a different location since the years that Jukes was active, thus accounting for the absence of a marker at today's location? Railroads have been known to realign their trackage from time to time, resulting in new mileage figures. Well, yes, the milepost markers were moved to reflect the different mileages following the relocation by the Denver & Rio Grande of the portion of their trackage over La Veta Pass, some 137 miles east of Chama, in 1899. But Fred Jukes took all his photographs of the Chama area during his years of employment there, which began in 1907, long after the milepost markers had been moved, and they have remained unchanged since that 1899 realignment to this day.

As to the differences in the landscape between today’s location and Jukes’ shot with the 417, vegetation does grow and die off, and in the century between when Jukes took his photos and today, could obviously be quite different in appearance. But there has been no development (commercial, building of houses, etc.) at either of the locations that would have resulted in an alteration of the landscape since the early 1900s, so the topography features at today’s location and in Jukes’ photo of the 417 should be essentially unchanged. And, of course, there is that bridge over the Chama River, present during Jukes’ time and today, but definitely not in Jukes’ photo of the 417.

So there can be no doubt that Jukes took his photograph of the train with engine 401 under the tree that still stands and is known today as the “Jukes Tree.” And it is just as clear that the other Jukes photo, with engine 417, was taken at a different location and under a different tree! So where was this second Jukes Tree? Earl, from his perch in the engineer's seat on C&TS trains, has had ample opportunity to survey the whole line for a location that matches the one shown in Jukes' 417 photo, and he believes that this second tree was located approximately one-half mile farther east down the track from today's tree.

Today’s Jukes Tree taken with a Holga camera with a plastic lens and severe vignetting to simulate the lovely look of an old tyme photo.

From the highway crossing just east of Chama, (from which point the Jukes Tree at Milepost 343.57 is visible a short distance to the west) a quarter-mile hike east down the tracks is a location that is identical, except for the absence of a tree, to the location shown in Jukes' photo of the 417. All the key features are there. Milepost marker 343 stands beside the track, the trackage is very straight, with an open field behind the tracks, and a ridge of land is in the proper location beside the tracks. There is no evidence of a large tree here, and neither Earl nor this author have been able to find even the remains of a rotting stump in the grass beside the tracks, although a friend of Earl’s has claimed to have found an old stump in the proper location.

But there is, plainly, a raised strip of ground that looks suspiciously like a railroad grade curving off to the south from the tracks from a point just west of the milepost marker and running for several hundred yards across the open field to cross Highway 17. Earl believes that there had been a lumber mill in this area at some point, and that this old grade was a spur line serving that mill, and that the large tree photographed by Jukes was a victim of the lumbering activity here. A talk with John B. Norwood, a former D&RGW employee who worked on the narrow gauge and now an author of several books on the D&RG, confirmed the presence of this lumber mill.

John verified that there were, in fact, two mills near this location, the first being built in the early 1880s at about the time of the construction of the railroad, and the second much later, in the 1950s. And there was a spur line to the first mill. As the C&TS tracks enter the “Narrows” about a mile east of this location and the landscape changes drastically from there on eastward, there really is no other location that matches both the milepost marker and landscape features shown in Jukes’ photo of the 417.

Of course, it is possible that Jukes took this shot of the 417 on the eastern slope of Cumbres Pass, probably somewhere between Lava (at MP 291.55) and Sublette (MP 306.06), where the landscape is fairly open with occasional large pines. But judging from the collection of his photos, Jukes was active only on the west slope of the pass, between Chama and Cumbres. And, in the early 1900s transportation was limited and slow, and a trip of over 40 miles over primitive roads to the Sublette area for train photography would have likely required more time than Jukes probably had available, given the six- day, ten-hours-a-day work weeks common at that time. So it is quite probable that Jukes did all this photography on short day-trips out of Chama, or after his duty hours at the telegraph key.

Further, the five-car train pictured in Jukes' photo would likely not have required two engines out of Antonito, while helpers were almost the rule on the 4 east out of Chama. So it is logical to assume that Jukes’ photo of the 417 was taken near Chama.

Curiously, there is another large pine very similar to those shown in both Jukes photos growing near the tracks about a quarter mile east of Milepost 343.00. It is too far back from the tracks, though, to have been the tree in either of Jukes' photos. And, too, the landscape features are again different at the location of this tree. But given Jukes' apparent affinity for these large trees, it is quite possible that Fred Jukes took photos at this location, too, which would mean there were three (or more) original Jukes Trees! This, of course, is pure speculation, as no Jukes photographs of this or any other location with a big pine are known to exist. But a large body of Jukes' work, left with a friend for storage after Jukes left Chama, was lost when that friend threw the negatives out, mistakenly believing that Jukes was no longer interested in them. If Jukes did indeed photograph at this third or other locations, possibly the original negatives were lost in this manner. The Jukes Tree about 1/4 mile down the track can be seen from the first highway crossing outside of Chama.

And, finally, more speculation. There is a young pine, of about 15 feet in height, growing in the approximate location of the missing tree at Milepost 343.00. It is unlikely that this new tree would have sprouted from any remains of the stump of the original tree. But regardless, given a few more decades to mature, all the elements for recreating Jukes’ classic photo at this second Jukes Tree location may once again be in place.

Follow Up
The above article brought this response in mail to R&R editor Jim Boyd: Bob Richardson of the Colorado Railroad Museum (and one of the iconic photographers and historians of Colorado's narrow gauge) recalls this second tree as well as George Bond's sawmill and railroad spur at MP 343. Bob said he has witnessed Johnny Krause attempting to photograph a train at the first Jukes Tree and then "roaring that car of his with the 'Alco Number One' builder's number ahead of the radiator" trying to beat the train to the 2nd tree. Bob did not mention if Krause was successful, but went on saying "Krause and the train reached the second tree at the same time. You suspect the engineer notched it back a little bit seeing him running?"

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The Modern Narrow Gauge Circle: Its Heritage     Coal Smoke Over the Conejos
Squealing Flanges Along the Animas     Whistles Over Clear Creek

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