Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Idaho Springs depot 1937-2003

The Idaho Springs depot served until the end of the Colorado & Southern narrow gauge in 1941.  Below is how she looked in 1937.
Richard B. Jackson photo from Ferrell's C&Sng book
13 years after the railroad was torn out, the August 1954 edition of Narrow Gauge News noted "C&S ex-Idaho Springs depot is now a gift shop."

About 9 years later, 1963, she looked like the photo below.  A fence has been added.  Also the door between the two end windows has been converted to another window.  The utility pole near the corner is now gone.  The raised freight platform appears to still be intact. The brick building (a hotel I believe) is still standing on the other end.
Kurt Maechner collection
At some point, the depot was moved and converted to a private residence.  According to this site, it is "located 3 miles up highway 103 from Idaho Springs."  It is on the road to Mt. Evans.  The photo below is from February 2002.
Jeff Christlieb photo

The photo below is from 2003
Bob Meckley photo

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Frozen toes and mangers-Merry Christmas 2020

Girl on tracks near St. Elmo
I love to imagine what it would have been like to live in the time when the C&S narrow gauge was alive and kicking, especially the winter time.  

For me, it's fun to imagine living out stories like those of Charlotte Marrifield, who lived in St. Elmo.  "We very often skied down the hill to go to school.  We had to jump the railroad tracks and we would land in very deep snow.  The trainmen shoveled off the tracks in to twelve or fifteen foot piles on either side of the rails.  One morning my younger brother, when making the jump, landed on the other side of the tracks, upside down buried in the snow.  All I could see were his skis sticking up out of the snow!"

Other times, though, I think of the terrible challenge of running trains in that awful weather.  

Charles C. Squires remembers, "One bitter cold morning with the thermometer indicating 38 degrees

bucking snow above Tunnel Gulch
below zero, we were called to leave Gunnison at 3am.....At Woodstock Tank [,While working on a problem on the last car, my partner] sat down on the edge of the car with his feet hanging over the side of the car.  I told him had had better get up and keep moving about to keep the blood in circulation....After we had set out our train at Hancock and returned to Alpine Tunnel, we all went into the depot for orders and were hovering around the stove when my partner discovered that his feet were frosted and pained him so much that he cried like a baby....We were on the road 82 hours continuous time."

Then I think...nope!, I like learning about life back then from afar!  I'll pass on the frozen toes and long work hours!  

One thing I love about the story of Christmas is that God didn't just look at human life from afar, observing the joys and painful aspects like me looking at my train books.  Instead He incarnated Himself inside human life, even in the most humiliating start as a weak, helpless baby.  

I like how the New Testament book of Hebrews puts it: 

Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

Merry Christmas.



Memories of St. Elmo by Charlotte Merrifield with Suzy Kelly

Historic Alpine Tunnel by Dow Helmers

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

C&S Coach 70 takes a trip to Silver Plume!

Photo Corinne Westeman 
 C&S coach 70 made her last trip west from Golden to Idaho Springs in 1941 coupled to engine 60.  The two were pulled by Rube Morris, the scrapper, using engine 69 for power.  By this time the Idaho Springs to Silver Plume stretch of the Clear Creek line had been torn up roughly three years earlier.  Coach 70 and her locomotive were put on display in town and the remaining tracks were subsequently torn up all the way to Golden.  Despite a few moves within Idaho Springs coach 70 and engine 60 have been outside on exhibition for nearly 80 years.  

But just a little over a week ago, coach 70 finally reached the end of the Clear Creek line, arriving in

Photo Corinne Westeman
Silver Plume on December 8th, 2020.  This time, unlike her life in revenue passenger service, she didn't travel over the Georgetown Loop; she was pulled by tractor trailer up the mountainside on I-70.  

Her hometown, Idaho Springs, paid $15,000 to move her to Historic Rail Adventure's workshop adjacent to the Georgetown Loop railroad facilities in Silver Plume where the coach will be inspected this winter to see what it would take to restore the car.  Once Historic Rail Adventure has an estimate, Idaho Springs will then determine the next steps.

On a curious note, while C&S engine 60 is sitting solo for the first time in almost 80 years, coach 70 is reunited in Silver Plume with the only other fully intact C&S coach known to still be in existence, C&S 76.  

According to Bob Bowland, former Idaho Springs mayor, the end goal of the restoration, if it occurs, is to bring the coach back to No. 60 in Idaho Springs and build a shelter over the display train to protect it far into the future.  

More details can be found here from an article in the Canyon Courier.  Note: The article claims the engine and coach were "gifted to the county by the railway."  In actuality, the county pressured the C&S into giving them the train.  The C&S owed the county a good deal of back taxes.  The county offered to drop the case to pursue the missing tax money if the railroad would give them a display train.  This was no small ask considering that nearby Central City had to fight the reluctant railroad executives quite a bit to finally get a display train for their town the previous year.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Como roundhouse 1981 "reaching the point of no return"

For anyone who has seen the startling restorations in Como in the last few years, it is good to remember just how far things have come.  

In perusing old copies of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club's Rocky Mountain Rail Report newsletters, I came across the following from one year shy of four decades ago.

June 1981 

IF YOUR TRAVEL PLANS INCLUDE ANY EXPEDITIONS across Colorado in the future, and you are motoring through South Park on 285 around eating time, stopping to vanquish hunger pains at the Como Depot [sic - the hotel] at Como may be worthy of consideration. We don't "own any stock" in the restaurant, but Jo and Keith Hodges deserve credit and mention for providing a useful function for the building by the operation of their restaurant, which also results in the preservation of the historic railroad hotel. The food is good, and reasonably priced. (A recent visit reaffirmed a previous observation that the prime rib is "tops".) Hours are 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM (until 8:00 PM on Sundays). They are closed on Tuesdays.

The Como roundhouse sits nearby, of course, looking more forlorn everyday. The building and grounds are for sale for a reported $50,000, a sum hardly attainable by any group desiring to acquire the building for preservation, particularly when con­sidering the cost of needed repair. It is sad to see such a memorable part of our state's railroad history reaching the point of no return. Ideas, anyone? Oh yes, the name of the company handling the property is Leach Realty.

Below are some photos of photos of the roundhouse in the 1980s.   These shots were in the roundhouse office when I visited in 2018.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

C&S Tales: retrieving rail in 1948

I came across a February 1991 Rocky Mountain Rail Report where Irv August told the story of a trip he took with two friends to the west portal of Alpine Tunnel to retrieve a piece of rail to help in the promotion of M.C. Poor's DSP&P book.  It seemed a fun idea to make a little "audiobook" of the story and include related photos (some from August's trip, some from elsewhere).  I don't claim any skill at voice work, but it was fun nonetheless.  Here is the video. 

As a fun addition, I took a video of C&S 9 under steam in 2006 and edited it over a few photos at the Alpine Tunnel station complex at the beginning and end of the video.  It's hardly professionally done, but I enjoyed seeing what it might have been like to have a video camera at work back at the beginning of the twentieth century




Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The last train through Alpine Tunnel? 110 year anniversary

 110 years ago on this day, November 10, 1910, the last train went through the historic Alpine Tunnel...or was there another?  I explored this questionable date in the below article previously found in The Bogies & the Loop. 

Mysteries of Alpine - part 6

On the afternoon of August 16th, 1977, Elvis Presley was found dead in his Memphis home. Or was he? A long-standing mystery suggests that the King of Rock and Roll may have faked his death and has been sighted numerous times since that fateful day. 

The King of South Park Lore, the route of the Alpine Tunnel, also has a curious ending. To be sure, the bell tolled for the majestic route over "the hill" late in 1910. But unlike the final scheduled narrow gauge movement on the C&S in Leadville on August 23rd, 1943, the date of the funeral train on the Gunnison division lacks an equivalent Time magazine-covered event.

November 10th, 1910 is the most common date given for the last run through the bore. It is based on Dow Helmer's interview with a South Park fireman named Zed Scott. Recorded in Helmer's 1963 Historic Alpine Tunnel book, Scott claims decisively, "I remember distinctly, the last train through Alpine Tunnel. The date was November 10, was a mixed train, eastbound for Como."

Scott's definitive claim flies in the face, however, of C&S company announcements. On approximately October 10th, one month prior to Scott's date, a minor cave-in occurred in the tunnel. Mac Poor in his iconic DSP&P book states that, "the management inferred that the damage was beyond repair." On October 14th a Gunnison newspaper reported to "have positive information that the C.&S. has decided to close the railroad to Denver for the winter, perhaps permanently" and by October 24th the railroad's management "announced that all through service to Gunnison would be discontinued."

While most agree that the cave-in was simply a good excuse to justify killing the expensive line, few deny that it occurred in actuality. (See note at bottom for a correction on this) If Scott is right, though, they must have cleaned it up enough to continue running trains. Yet, if the management was using the cave-in as a motive for abandonment, why would they clean it up?  Apparently, that cave-in was not "beyond repair." 

One way or another trains kept running into November 1910. The Gunnison News Champion commented on November 4th that the railroad "still runs a train every other day but probably will stop that shortly." Could the 10th, then, have been that final funeral train? 

One source suggests that it was not. A. A. Brownie Anderson, a C&S trainman, kept meticulous notes on his C&S trips, recording in his time book nearly every train he worked on. He fired several trains over Altman Pass, the last of which were recorded as November 12th & 13th, 1910 with engine 55. Both of these dates exceed Zed Scott's "distinct" conviction that the 10th was the final run.

I have several theories concerning the inconsistencies between our principal defendants. First, it is clear that the management's statements were conjecture. Plus, they had a motive: to bury this money-drain of a line. Plus, at least two separate trainmen without a motive mention runs in November.

Zed Scott is closer to the truth, but we have reason to question his accuracy. He was speaking on memory roughly fifty years after the event in question. On the other hand, he may have been on the last scheduled run. Maybe Anderson's trains were specials as the line wrapped up for the winter. This year, as so many others, they probably figured the line would open again in the spring.

A. A. Brownie Anderson's dates, then, are the most accurate we have. He does not have a motive, and he recorded the dates on their actual occurrence. Was then, the last run through the tunnel on November 13th, 1910? It was Anderson's final run through the bore, for sure, but we may never know how many or if any followed after that day.

To those whose coffers the tunnel was draining, the line's death could not have come soon enough, but for those of us who love this route lined with ghostly debris like the city of Rome, it was laid in its grave all too soon. Still, the grand mysteries draw us ever more to it, because our spirits long to know the details of the final stand of this mighty hero who stared Mother Nature in the face for so many years. While we may never know the exact date that it was finally brought low, in its short life, this line, like its name, Alpine, rose to great heights that still inspire us today.


So now I have to discredit my own article. I wrote it a few years ago before I had access to Daniel W. Edwards Documentary History of the South Park series. Having just checked that book now, I found more facts. In Daniel W. Edwards' Vol. 1, he quotes from a Nov. 20, 1910 letter from the James D. Welsh, C&S General Superintendent, where Welsh wrote, "This leaves our Gunnison district west of Hancock so it can be closed as soon as we are able to move 48 coal and one box car to that territory." Daniel W. Edwards, the editor, then inserts a comment "This suggests that several freight trains hauling empty coal cars to Gunnison passed through Alpine Tunnel after November 20 and that probably the last engines, running light or going east-bound with a few cars, had gone through Alpine Tunnel by December 1."

Note on the cave-in:

It has come to my attention that there is good reason to believe that the cave-in may never have actually occurred, or was so minor that it was easily patched up.  The fact that quite a few trains traveled through the tunnel afterwards is one case against its existence.  Daniel Edwards (mentioned in the update above) also wrote, ""the so-called flood in Trout Creek Canon in the summer of 1910 was used later as a reason to justify why the South Park abandoned that stretch of line, just as the 'cave in' at Alpine Tunnel was cited for abandonment of the line from Hancock to Quartz."

Saturday, November 7, 2020

C&S Button Herald Graces a Diesel in 2020!

Many who love the C&S also love its iconic button herald logo so proudly displayed on equipment such as C&S caboose 1006 in Silver Plume.  It recently made a comeback in memory of the Colorado & Southern Railway.

In August 2020, Burlington Northern Santa Fe celebrated its 25th anniversary by revealing in Kansas City the first ten locomotives painted with its predecessors' logos.  The General Electric ES44AC engines carried logos from Frisco, Great Northern, Burlington Northern, Santa Fe, Spokane Portland & Seattle, and, most importantly in my humble opinion :), the Colorado & Southern.  

Twenty-five years ago in 1995, BNSF came into being in the fall month of September.

Could this possibly be the first revenue diesel locomotive to carry the C&S button herald logo? 

David Hawkins photo: