Friday, June 5, 2020

Rocky Mountain Railroad Club to ride the Loop in 1938...almost

While I've long heard of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club (RMRRC), I largely associated it with excursions on the Rio Grande Southern and the Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge in their twilight years.

In research that I've been doing about the C&S narrow gauge in the post-abandonment years I am surprised just how much the RMRRC has come up and how important a role it played in saving or recording parts of the C&S in many cases, not the least of which was their support to help Mac Poor publish his Denver, South Park & Pacific book when the previous rail society who had planned to publish it refused to do so without massive cuts.

In the process of tracking down more details about the history of the RMRRC, I contacted them via their website.  A member responded and recommended that I get a copy of Journeys to Yesteryear by David C. Goss that chronicles the group's activities from 1938 to 2003.  It is a delightful book especially as it describes every excursion from the group's start to 2003 when the book was written.

A curious C&S-related detail popped up in the very first page of the major Club events.  Quoting from the March 1938 issue of Railroad Magazine Carl Hewett wrote "I want to hear from persons interested in forming a rail fan group in Colorado, especially around Denver.  Also, I'd like to organize a narrow gauge fan trip over the famous Georgetown Loop."

On March 30th of that year, the Club had its first meeting "in the basement of the Union Pacific Freight House with approximately 20 charter members present."

In the course of research for the book the author came upon a short letter with no date, but likely 1938, and possibly written by Carl Hewett, when he mentions two trips the group planned to take that year.  The first was to Cheyenne where they hoped to visit the Union Pacific facilities, but this trip never occurred.  The second planned trip was to the Georgetown Loop.

The C&S was already in the midst of abandonment procedures for the line from Idaho Springs to Silver Plume at the time.  The ICC had given permission to junk the line starting May 30, 1937, but due to upheaval from those protesting the C&S plan, the case reopened and the date was pushed back to January 31, 1938.  More back and forth went on and the date was moved to December 31, 1938.  Then, the date was again changed and all was to be revisited on January 31, 1939.  This final date secured permission to abandon and the track was taken up a few months later.

In the midst of all this, the Club had a short window to ride the Loop.  However, in the end, Goss writes, "This trip was not operated either and the Colorado & Southern abandoned this route less than a year later removing the rails."  When one thinks of the iconic images and videos taken of other RMRRC excursions on dying narrow gauge routes like the Rio Grande Southern and the D&RGW, it's sad to think the Club came so close to capturing similar final moments of the Loop just before she was lost.


Mac Poor's Denver, South Park & Pacific, 1976 Memorial Edition pg. 404
Daniel W. Edward's A Documentary History of the South Park Line: Vol. 8, pp. 250-252
David C. Goss' Journeys to Yesteryear, 2005, p. 11

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Alpine Tunnel Station and Boarding House Video

I put together a video with a focus on the telegraph office/station and two-story boarding house at the West Portal of Alpine Tunnel.  The video shows the changes over the years from operation to abandonment and decay to restoration.

I also show the inside of the present restored telegraph office.

My footage comes from our 2018 trip to the tunnel.  We rented ATVs, but due to the closure of the right-of-way just past Sherrod Loop we had to walk to the station complex.  We headed up grade for quite a while.  At one point, though, because we had a time limit on our ATV rental, I figured there was no way we could all reach the tunnel in time.  I decided to turn around, but my 10 year old egged me on to have the two of us give it a try.  So we left the rest of the family a little past the Palisades and hustled in the thin mountain air.  We never made it to the tunnel itself, but did get to the station area.  I'm thankful for my adventurous daughter who pushed me on!


Friday, April 10, 2020

Alpine Tunnel and Alpine Pass by Drone

When I posted a video of the Alpine Tunnel engine house I included some drone footage filmed by David Moore who graciously allowed me to use the remaining footage that he had not already posted.  Many enjoyed the footage and at least one person asked if Dave had flown his drone over the pass from West Portal to East Portal.  Indeed he had.

This video includes the footage from that segment.  I included a few titles to designate important points of interest (such as the summit of the pass, Mount Poor, and various railroad remains) and put a couple before and after shots of the line during operation.

I can't get over the majesty of the area every time I look at Dave's footage.  I also can't get over the bravery (or foolishness-not sure!) of those who surveyed and built a railroad line over such treacherous terrain.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

C&S 74 video 1952 on the RGS

C&S 74 served many railroads.  It first ran on the Colorado & Northwestern which then became the Denver, Boulder and Western.  After the demise of this line out of Boulder, the C&S purchased her along with two other sisters and they became C&S 74, 75, and 76.

After the close of narrow gauge operations in 1943 she went to Morse Bros. Machinery.  Eventually the Rio Grande Southern purchased her in 1948.  She led two Rocky Mountain Railroad Club excursions, the last of which was in 1951, one year before the RGS shut down.

The video below includes lots of color footage and live audio of both the 1949 and 1951 excursions.  The second was the final excursion of passengers on the line.  Many will enjoy the footage of the Rio Grande Southern and interviews with the likes of such friends of the C&S as Richard Kindig, Robert Richardson, and Jack Thode, but if you want to cut to the C&S 74 part, go to 1:13:59.

It's truly a delight to hear former C&S 74 work hard in the Rocky Mountains at the tail end of her active career.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Mysteries of Alpine-part 4, Tunnel entrances-sealed or blown up?

A common device used by mystery writers is the use of the red herring.  It’s a false trail that distracts the reader and the sleuth from the real evidence.
Interior of Alpine Tunnel-source unknown

As stubborn webs cling to old timbers of the Alpine Tunnel so do red herrings cling to the web called the internet.

Throughout the years, as I have snooped around various websites that reference the tunnel, odd comments arise like the following: “The tunnel caved in from years of erosion.”

Other sites state “the tunnel has been sealed off for safety reasons.”  Even Wikipedia, in its opening paragraph on the tunnel, refers to it as “sealed shut.”

It gets stranger from there as talk of explosives creep up.  According to one jeep club, the “tunnel was closed (the entrances blown up) years ago.”  Another site states, "The entrance to the Tunnel was sealed with dynamite many years ago.”

West Portal 1989-Author's Collection
Did the forest service do this?  They may have had reason to consider it.  There was a time when visitors inside the crumbling tunnel were common.  One visitor to the tunnel in the 1970s remarked that there were up to 25 people inside “including some biker types” when he ventured within.  There was enough concern that rumors spread that the county was going to clear out the debris leading to the west portal and install a gate to keep people out.  So, did they resort to blowing it up?

Thankfully, Ray Rossman set the record straight.  He commented, “There has not been any action using any explosives to seal the tunnel.  All the closure action has been that of mother nature and the slow decay of the granite.  The only action I have
authorized was placing a rather large boulder to prevent entry into the western portal.”

The real culprit in the end, then, is Mother Nature.  Unfortunately, she may be doing more damage than the supposed dynamite might have.

In a later correspondence he remarked, “I have been monitoring the west portal closely and we continue to slowly lose the battle there….During the winter of 2002/2003 it appears that a portion of the tunnel on the western side collapsed.  The natural repose of the tallas debris now goes straight back for about 20' right behind where the upper portion of the stone portal is located.  Very
disheartening.  For those lucky few to have seen the interior, I think they have glimpsed at a piece of history perhaps now gone from our view.”

Alas, the plot thickens, but at least the red herring-colored dynamite can be thrown back into the sea.

Author at East Portal 1991

Below are various websites with wacky statements about what "happened" to the tunnel:

Says west portal collapsed
Says west portal caved in
Covered by landslides:
Tunnel has been sealed
Tunnel has been sealed.
West sealed BECAUSE East Portal collapsed in 1992
Tunnel sealed by a cave in & plans to open part of tunnel
question about forest service blowing it up.
both sides blown up “tunnel was closed (the entrances blown up) years ago"

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Alpine Tunnel interior shot

I wish I had a little background on this photo, but I just happened on it somehow on a Facebook page belonging to Jack Sanderson.  It's a stunning post-abandonment shot of the interior of Alpine Tunnel looking toward what appears to be one of the cave-ins with the original South Park rails above water and looking ready to take on an eastbound train of Gunnison coal.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

51 Year Expedition of 3 C&S passenger cars - video

While C&S 9 has had a fascinating journey, the three C&S passenger cars inextricably tied to it have had an equally curious expedition.  This video explores the cars' lives from the end of the C&S narrow gauge, their travels to three other states*, and their return to Colorado.

*While the Silver Plume informational sign for Business Car 911 claims that it went to the 1939 New York World's Fair, no photo evidence of this has come to light as far as I know.

Other sources argue that it did not join 13 and 76 at the World's Fair, but did participate in the 1948-1949 Chicago Rail Fair.  The research on this site states: "Car #911 was almost scrapped in 1938, but the cost to cut it up would have been $30, while the cost to burn it and then cut up the remaining scrap would have been $20. The low price of scrap was all that saved it. It was stored in Denver for awhile, then sometime in the mid '40s was moved to the CB&Q shops in Aurora, Illinois, where it joined coach #76, RPO #13 and 2-6-0 #9, which had been exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939."