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.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Modeling the Jefferson Depot

I found this article in the July/August 1987 Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette.  Obviously, it appeals to modelers, but it also has some historical info on the depot for us non-modelers.  It's fun to see the author photographing the station outside in Plainview, Colorado.