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...