Monday, November 30, 2015

Mysteries of Alpine-part 2

Mysteries of Alpine-part 2
By Kurt Maechner

Mystery #2: The line from Hancock to Quartz was scrapped between 1923 and 1924, so why was the track inside Alpine Tunnel and a mile down the west slope left after dismantling?

When the rails were finally pulled up between Hancock and Quartz, the C&S engineering department   claimed that it was “impossible” to get the rails inside the tunnel because of cave ins and “considerable” ice buildup. This reasoning is partially an alibi.  The C&S strangely evades reference to leaving an additional one mile of track extending from the west portal.  Clearly there were other villains hampering the scrapper.

The most logical approach would have been to tear up the track from Quartz all the way to the railhead at Hancock, but since the tunnel was impassible, it had to be done in two segments.  The west side was torn up first in 1923 and then the east side of the route in 1924.  The cave ins and ice that caused this issue, though, were largely confined to the east portal, not the west.

A Colorado resident named Bill Turner recalls entering the tunnel in 1923.  Dow Helmers recorded Bill in Historic Alpine Tunnel stating that the east “tunnel entrance was pretty well iced up.  [However, he] climbed over the ice and found, after the first fifty feet or so, that the tunnel was in excellent condition.”  So, why could the tunnel rails not be pulled from the western approach?  To add to the mystery, Mr. Turner, who is quoted above, is in fact the very man contracted to dismantle the line.

Turner had numerous difficulties to surmount notwithstanding the blockage at east portal.  One was motive power.  As photos show us, locomotives are often used to haul dismantled rails away, but Turner did not have this option.  I suspect it is due to the fact that 13 years of idleness had made the tracks too unstable for an engine.  His only option, then, was to use horses to haul a flat car up the grade and then ease the loaded car down by hand. 

Despite his motive power, Bill Turner’s track record was one of dogged persistence.  He stated that he pulled the Hancock-Atlantic rails “from under the snow and [brought] them down on sleds.”  He also scrapped the line through Trout Creek Canyon.  Since the line had been rebuilt several times due to floods, there were rails still under the mud.  Helmers comments that Turner “would dig a hole to locate the rails and then run a plow along the rail edges, opening a furrow so many of these rails could be salvaged.”

So, what stopped a man like this on the west slope from getting the rails in the tunnel?  Well, this mystery is unsolved.  In Dow Helmer’s interview with Turner, he makes no reference to it.  But there are some clues elsewhere.  Mac Poor in DSP&P quotes a Gilbert A. Lathrop who visited the pass in 1936 as writing, “Although the pike closed down about 30 years ago, a locomotive could still run on the track to a point where a rubble of massive granite chunks came down the mountain just east of the Palisades, blocked the line and kept some scrap iron salesmen from completing their job of total demolishment.”

While Lathrop’s discovery is 13 unlucky years after Turner last trod the roadbed, the reference to a pile of rubble is our best clue to the truth.  Simply put, Turner must have run into this rock slide and determined that it was impossible to haul any of this rail up and over the rocks to his flat car. 

To add color to our mystery, a curious story came to light on the DSP&P forum a few years ago.  A poster said that he came across the following in a source he can no longer recall, but possibly a CRRM Annual.  He read that the scrapper, having run into the large pile of rubble, attempted to slide the rails straight down Tunnel Gulch to the lower grade and pick them up there.  However, “The rails got away from them down the steep Gulch and almost killed the men and the horse.  They decided that it was too dangerous and that the value of the rails not worth the extreme risk, so they abandoned the idea.”

So, who finally got the rails leading to the tunnel?  And where did all those ties go on the western approach?  That calls for a little more snooping...


Sunday, November 29, 2015

New sign at West Portal of Alpine Tunnel

As much as I'd like to be a frequent visitor to the Alpine Tunnel, I realize it ain't gonna happen; so, I have to live vicariously through what I find online.

I found this pic of an interpretive sign very close to the west portal.  I don't know how long it has been there, so forgive me for calling it "new".  Several people have remarked that they knew it was there in 2014 so it is at least a year old or possibly more.

The sign has the iconic photo of a loco in the 1890s emerging from the portal when no snowshed existed there.

Thanks to Steve Schweighofer, treasure for the DSP&P historical society, I now have a close-up of the sign taken in 2014.  Thanks, Steve!

As a note of curiosity, I think the date of the last train is untrue.  I will post an essay soon explaining my reasoning for a later date for the last train.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

More C&S 9 pics

I did some more perusing of the net in search of old photos of C&S no. 9 after abandonment of the South Park Line in 1937 (minus the Leadville-Climax run).  

The first shot of interest is this color photo of the mogul on display at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  I would love to read that sign above the middle driver!  I still can't figure out why the Burlington Route was displaying a narrow gauge engine after they had chucked most of their narrow gauge lines.  

The next was a photo taken by a vacationer in 1984 who found C&S 9 still in the red paint from the 1948-1949 Chicago Rail Fair.  Below is the caption from the photographer.
Keystone South Dakota 1984.  Photo from this site.
Caption from the site reads:
I took this photo on a 1984 summer motorcoach vacation to the states of South Dakota and Wyoming. C&S # 9 was on display back then in the town of Keystone South Dakota. It was still wearing the color scheme it wore at the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948 and 1949. It was acquired by the Black Hills central tourist railroad wich ran from Keystone to Hill City South Dakota, but was never used there. It was acquired in recent years by the Georgetown Loop railroad in Colorado, was overhauled mechanically, and restored to it's 1920's and 30's era appearance. It hauls tourist trains today in Georgetown Colorado.

This must have been written around 2006 as this was the only year that no. 9 ran on the rebuilt Georgetown Loop.  She has since been placed on static display in Breckenridge, Colorado where she once ran.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"New" photo of C&S 9 at the Chicago Rail Fair

I was snooping around for some C&S loco pics and I found one of C&S no. 9 that I hadn't seen before.  It's a beautiful color photo of the mogul working at the 1948-1949 Chicago Rail Fair.  Here she is pulling an "old time western train" for tourists.  The red is gaudy and the stumpy balloon stack is even worse, but hey, this excursion is one reason she's still with us today.  

Besides being labeled "Chief Crazy Horse" for the defunct Deadwood Central, the engine also is sporting the logo of her owner The Burlington Route (CB&Q) on the cab.   

The photo belongs to the Charles W. Cushman photo collection at the Indiana University Archives.  Here is the link.

The train included three old C&S cars, but I don't believe the one in the photo is one of them.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Alpine Tunnel: The Inside Story VHS 1992

Back in the early 1990s, as a young teen I was enthralled with the following advertisement that I found in the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette:
A video of the interior?!!!  Holy smokes!  I got my mom on the case (I was 15!) and she called to reserve a copy and sent in the payment.  Eventually, I received it.

I was so thrilled to see moving images from inside the tunnel, to see the rockfalls, the remaining rails and all the curiosities from inside the bore.

While glad to have a copy of the VHS, I noticed many years later that some people wanted copies, but that it was no longer available.

Here was my aborted attempt at considering making DVD copies of the film:

A couple emails back there was some talk about the VHS “Alpine Tunnel-The Inside Story.”  I own a copy.  Since it doesn’t seem to be available for purchase anymore, does anyone see a problem with making copies or posting portions online?  I have the capabilities of converting the video to computer video files and/or DVD.  Just curious if there is any interest and/or if anyone sees a legal problem with copying it.

I've been searching for a copy to purchase or view for quite some time and am pretty sure that it is no where to be found and that the original copyright owner is no longer contactable. I am no lawyer so can't advise you on the copyright issue. However, I don't think it wise to advertise or make money from providing it.

Please keep me in mind if you do decide to move forward!

I'd be interested, but I'll bet there will be a lot of negative comments.  Assuming it is 90 percent no legal problem, perhaps if you did it at close to cost and added a fee to be donated to the historical society or ?the tunnel project?  Just a thought.

I searched online for the company (Historical Video Productions) that made it and they are nowhere to be found.  Their videos, ranging from railroad videos to crop dusting films are noted on various pages as references or are listed in some libraries, but you plain can’t buy the Alpine Tunnel video anywhere I’ve checked including ebay or amazon.  I’m a big fan of a folk musician named Pierce Pettis.  When some of his older albums went out of print he told people to go ahead and copy them since you couldn’t buy them anyway.  Basically, the author is not losing any royalties when their product is not available for sale in the first place.
On a funny note, I popped in my video the other day and noticed at the beginning that there is a warning against copying the video—it calls upon the ghosts of steam engines to get you if you copy it!  Anyway, I’m still thinking about it.  That being said, I have 3 little kids to chase around so I won’t get to it ASAP.


You would be walking into a minefield.

You may recall that I posted a note to this List about who almost certainly owns the copyrights to that video. I talked to them on the phone. As I said earlier, they now have a model railroad business called "Backdrop Warehouse" which advertises in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.  It's a going concern.

I own a copy of the video also I had an off-List inquiry about copies and had to answer it as follow:

"Thanks for inquiring.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the rights to the video. Copyright laws apply to videos, too. I presume that the owners of the rights probably are the people now doing business as "Backdrop Warehouse".

"Under no circumstances do I want to get into a Copyright fight with anybody. I'm a retired San Francisco banker and I've seen these types of fights before. Besides, I have no means of making copies.

"Accordingly, I'm not able to help you."

Hi all: Well, this may be the nail in the coffin: I talked to the company
that produced the video. They said that only a certain number of copies
were made and that's it. Side comment: I was surprised that someone who
obviously had put a decent amount of sweat and heart into a film would be so
'flat' in the discussion of the subject. I, as a customer who was delighted
in their work and wanted to find if it were available, felt like I was being
seen as a bit of a nuisance. Anyway, they said there is a possibility that
the film may be released in DVD sometime in the future, but that is several
years down the line. The gentleman I spoke to said that if someone were
making copies they would be very "unhappy" if that were occurring. So,
anyway, considering the less-than-embracing tone communicated from them, I
think I'll bow out of any attempt to make the video available. Bummer.


I'm glad that you called the company. I got exactly the same reaction when I called them last week --the man (he didn't identify himself) on the phone very much sounded as though he wanted to get me off the phone ASAP. Maybe they lost money on the video or there were some other things that left a bad taste behind.

Alas, everyone, in the meantime, check ebay!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Truth about C&S 60

A while ago I wrote an article & blog post about the post-abandonment lives of the 5 remaining C&S locomotives.  In covering the history of No. 60 I shared that it had broken down in Idaho Springs and was subsequently donated.  Recently, in correspondence with the Colorado & Southern Railway Society, I have come to see that my information may have been incorrect on this.  Here is the society’s response when I asked about the veracity of the break-down story:

The story of 60 breaking down, we believe, is a popular myth. I say “believe” because we cannot say
absolutely that there is no truth to the story.  However, evidence from her service records, which we obtained from the CRRM [Colorado Railroad Museum] library, do not support the story.

The C&S mileage records for 60 show she received a complete overhaul in April of 1936. She ran for a year till mid 1937 when she was stored serviceable in Leadville from mid 1937-January 1939.

The records contain monthly inspection sheets filled out for every month of her layup and which state she was stored serviceable in Leadville.

In 1939 she operated for 6 months, being put in layup again in June 1939.

According to the mileage record she never ran again after that.

The story of the 'breakdown' seems to come from having one of her eccentric links disconnected.

We haven't determined why that is or when it was done.  However, all of our research seems to support that the idea of the breakdown is a myth.

From the records, and from physical inspection this far, 60 appears to be in excellent mechanical condition with only mild wear from her service time

The Como Depot: from Destitute to Dedication

Back in 2004 my wife and visited the Como Depot and found this:

Who would ever have guessed that a little over a decade later, we would find this:

This August 2015 the Como Depot was formally dedicated.  It is now an active museum of the Denver, South Park & Pacific railroad and its presence in Como, Colorado.  This is truly a miracle of teamwork and commitment.  I can't wait to return someday to see it in person!

For more photos of the dedication see this link at the Denver, South Park & Pacific Historical Society page.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Oh, how the West Portal of Alpine Tunnel has changed!

I found this recently on Facebook (2015).  I had no idea just how much of the archway stones had been uncovered in recent years.  Wow!

Compare to the portal in the early 1990's:

Compare to the portal in 2004:

How it all started for me and the Alpine Tunnel

I grew up in a family that loved garage sale-ing.  One such sale that we frequented was held at my grade school and church, St. Mark Lutheran.  Little did I know that a little find laying on a folding table in that old gym would fuel a passion that has lasted for nearly 30 years.  

On that table was a stack of old railroad magazines ranging from Trains to Model Railroader, but the curious one was the February 1985 edition of the NMRA Bulletin.  In it I was completely absorbed in the story of a group of people who visited a long-abandoned railroad tunnel high in the Rockies.  Not only was this tunnel still there, but the tracks were still nailed to the ties!  The photo of the inside of that tunnel was like a dream world to this young 12 year old.  

From there I scoured the library for books about it and devoured Historic Alpine Tunnel and then DSP&P by Poor.  Of course, then came the clincher: my parents' decision to take a trip to Colorado where we saw the real thing-the mighty Alpine Tunnel!  

As they say, the rest is history. 

I thought some of you might enjoy seeing and reading that old article.  Here it is below:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mysteries of Alpine - Part 1

Mysteries of Alpine
By Kurt Maechner

Dow Helmers, author of the definitive Historic Alpine Tunnel, named one of his chapters “Curse of Alpine.”  The eerie aura of four men who lost their lives working in the tunnel to the freak destruction of the town of Woodstock by an avalanche still hang in the air about the mountain.  Outside of these strange occurrences there are a number of mysteries concerning this route.  Having been abandoned long before fan trips and enthusiast visits, we are left with curious photos and the sketchy memories of those who worked the railroad to put pieces together.  I’d like to explore a few of these mysteries in a series of articles where I will attempt a bit of sleuthing to put together some answers to a few peculiar mysteries.

When you abandon a railroad you tear it up.  Look at the South Park and Clear Creek lines.  Within a year or so after abandonment the tracks were scrapped, hauled away to be melted down or used in mine shafts.  Yet, a perusal of photos of the line on either side of the Alpine Tunnel show tracks decades after abandonment.  To confuse the matter more, portions disappear at varying intervals. 

Mystery #1: The tracks of the South Park were torn up everywhere else after abandonment.  Why are there still tracks in the Alpine Tunnel to this day?  In addition, why were the tracks between Hancock and Pitkin still in place into the early 1920s? 

The tunnel was finally closed in 1910.  The reason given was: a small cave-in.  There are many who
question the significance of this cave-in.  Mac Poor states in his DSP&P book that “The cave in was not serious and could have been cleaned up; however, the management inferred that the damage was beyond repair.”  It may very well have been what the C&S management was looking for to convince the powers-that-be to allow them to finally discontinue service on this extremely expensive and operationally troublesome branch. 

However, the tracks weren’t pulled for another 13 years.  Why?  Poor states, "Due possibly to some legal stipulation incorporated in a mortgage, the rails between Hancock and Quartz were left intact for 13 years....In 1923, all the rail between these two points, with the exception of that between the east portal and a point about one mile beyond the west portal, was removed.”
In referring to this odd 13 year hiatus, Poor mysteriously uses the term “possibly” in reference to the mortgage conditions.  Yet, this is the only reference to this issue I have found in print.  Not being in the legal or mortgage profession, I would be curious to learn what kind of conditions would necessitate leaving rails down this long after abandonment. 

This unlucky number of years when the mighty Gunnison branch rails languished does explain at least one of our mysteries.  In 1923, “The C&S Engineering Department announced that due to some additional cave ins and a considerable amount of ice which had formed inside the tunnel during the 13-year period of idleness, they found it impossible to salvage any rail inside the bore." 

“Impossible” seems a bit unconvincing when you consider the plethora of reports from those who walked through the tunnel in the many decades after abandonment.  There was another reason those rails couldn’t be salvaged, or the ones down past the old engine house, but that mystery will have to wait for next time.