Chama to Cumbres gets a special gallery here because the tough 4 per cent eastbound climb required it be operated differently from the rest of the railroad. Eastbound trains would be taken up the hill in cuts, with two engines struggling to get relatively short trains up the grade. After two or three "Cumbres turns" had been run, at Cumbres the cuts were assembled into long trains for one engine to take down the long grade to Antonito and on to Alamosa.
Crews from Alamosa and Durango turned at Chama, after spending the night. The morning after arriving an Alamosa crew would typically be called for two Cumbres turns, taking a 15-20 car cut up the hill in the morning, and then returning to Chama to repeat the process a second time. Each cut would have two engines, the road engine on the point and a helper cut in ahead of the caboose. They would then spend a second away from home night at Chama. The next day they would haul a third cut up the hill, put everything together at Cumbres into one big train, the helper would run light to Alamosa, and the road engine take a 60-70 car train down the hill to Alamosa.
While the photographic drama was eastbound, it is worth noting that the long westbound trains that came down the grade took a lot of skill with the air brakes to make the descent safely, with trainmen setting retainers as needed.