Sunday, May 28, 2023

Dumont depot to be moved and saved

The C&S depot in Dumont that has been used recently as storage for a rafting company is about to move.  The rafting company needs a better structure and so donated the station to the Moffat Road Railroad Museum which plans to move it to their site in Granby.

It's unclear what happened to 2022 plan for the Rocky Mountain Railroad Heritage Society to purchase the depot.  They claimed on their site to have already signed papers last year.  

The Moffat Road Museum has already raised a significant amount of money for the moving and is still working on funds for a foundation and other restoration needs.

The video below tells the story (along with an error, claiming the station was used on the Moffat Road.

This website has more detail as well as current photos.

Their plan is to move the depot in August or September of 2023.  While it is exciting the depot will hopefully have a good home, it is a bit sad that it will be leaving the Clear Creek area where it served the C&S narrow gauge.  On the other hand, if it was to be demolished, it's better that it moves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Mill Gulch bridge and Glen Isle way station video

 Back in the fall I had a chance to explore the C&S' Platte Canyon route starting in Bailey.  I hadn't really heard much about the Helen McGraw Memorial Park until I went and I didn't know that it had some great C&S-related items.  I put this video together to showcase two main structures there: the former Mill Gulch bridge and the Glen Isle way station.  They also have a wooden C&S caboose, but it's standard gauge.  Unfortunately, the park is hidden behind a number of retail buildings and I think it would be easy to not know it's there.



Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Swan Songs of Central City - Part 8


The Swan Songs of Central City

-Part 8

by Kurt Maechner

Here is Part 1
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3
Here is Part 4 
Here is Part 5
Here is Part 6
Here is Part 7

Abandoned for the Third Time

Unfortunately, the Black Hawk and Central City Railroad entered into bankruptcy after just a short life.  While noted rail historians P.R. Griswold, Richard Kindig, and Cythia Trombly stated in a 1988 book they authored that it was “a joy to see and hear [71] operating on its short section of track,” this joy couldn’t keep it running.  It was not the first tourist railroad in history to flounder and, regardless of the causes, flounder it did.  After just three years and almost 55,000 riders, the line from Central City was abandoned for the third time in its history when in 1990 the Gilpin County Historical Society took the railroad out of the owner’s control.  

What remained in the aftermath was to deal with the now idle locomotive and rolling stock.  Dan Quiat took the lead and moved his two C&S cars, the “Colorado Yukon” and the flatcar, off the property to a storage location in Denver, leaving the original display train behind.  From 1990 to 1993, the engine, gondola, and combine sat disregarded at the old boarding site, its longtime former display location.  The property itself was now owned by Glynn Alegre, the man whose financial gift boosted the movement to return 71 to Central City from the Loop and to bring her back to operation in 1986.  In the early 1990s, other movements in town were soon to affect what Alegre did with his property.

Times were changing for Central City.  History and Opera Festivals alone, it seemed to some, could no longer keep the old mining town alive, and so gambling became its new hopeful savior.  

Casinos came to the City of Central 1991 and Glynn Alegre sought to sell the land on which 71 and her train rested to a casino and asked the Gilpin County Historical Society to move the train.  The Society, however, did not meet Alegre’s deadline, and the man who christened No. 71 on her inaugural day in 1987, felt compelled to pursue legal action against the society to get her moved.  Lest this cast a poor light on Alegre, it should be noted that he was not just a fair-weather friend to the train.  In fact, he sought to preserve aspects of the railroad after the BH&CC’s bankruptcy.

1993 at the Couer d'Alene Mine museum
Thankfully, the case was settled and the Society transferred No. 71 and coach 20, minus gondola 4319, to yet another display track outside of a mining museum on the opposite side of the valley.  The museum was housed in the Couer d'Alene Mine which was restored in 1994. 

In the fall of 1995, there was once again talk of resurrecting the train or at least moving it.  The Gilpin County Historical Society welcomed propositions, to which both Central City and Black Hawk responded.  The ensuing debacle was called a “train war” by a local Colorado news source, The Mountain Ear.  Central City offered a sum of $90,000 for the train.  Black Hawk upped the ante by offering $95,000 as well as a plan for the train’s maintenance.  One of Black Hawk’s casinos with a train motif also jumped into the bidding with a promise of tens of thousands of dollars in donations towards the engine’s yearly care.  

The bidding was contentious to say the least as Central City had already made known that it would pursue legal action against the Gilpin County Historical Society if the train went to Black Hawk.  To counter this, the Black Hawk Casino Owners’ Association offered to cover the society’s legal costs if Central City followed through on its claim.  

On Saturday, April 20th, after hours of consideration, the historical society emerged to declare that there would be no sale of the train, only lease propositions.  More board and city council meetings ensued.

In the end, Central City kept her train.  The conclusion was that Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino, later the Grand Z Casino and Hotel, got No. 71 and her combine, placing them high up on a raised platform where they struck a grand pose.  On the positive side, this site was more central to the town, and thus the train was less prone to vandalism, and also more prominent for visitors to see.  Sadly, C&S gondola 4319, with her makeshift roof removed, did not make the cut and was moved to Russell Park near Eureka Street.  While 71 and her combine received periodic maintenance, the gondola, the last of its kind, slowly deteriorated.  Thankfully, C&S 4319 was later leased in 2018 by the South Park Rail Society.  The group moved it to their growing historical renovation in Como, Colorado, the former C&Sng division point on its South Park Line, where the car received a thorough restoration.

4319 at Russell Park-Tim Bain photo 2015

As of this writing, C&S 71 seems to have reached its final resting place with combine 20 on its pedestal outside a casino in Central City, but one cannot bet on it.  Proposals to get the engine running have popped up through the years with some regularity.  An unsuccessful 1996 proposal by Jarrett Carlson, who worked with his grandfather Floyd Cothran on the line in the late 1980s, sought to run the engine out of Black Hawk.  A group in the mid 2010s, calling itself The Blackhawk and Central City Narrow Gauge Restoration Project, claimed to want to rebuild and run a tourist line for the third time out of the old Central City boarding site, including the occasional use of No. 71.  In 2019, Court Hammond himself re-emerged as Chief Operations Officer of the proposed Central City Railroad and Mining Museum.  He and others held an informational meeting in Central City to lay out their plans, garner support, and answer questions, all of which depended on, as their website stated, “repatriation” of C&S No. 71.  Anticipating their eventual success, the group even laid 1500 feet of track in the fall of 2021, enough to potentially display and evaluate the engine and combine, at the old boarding site off Spring Street.

  Will Colorado & Southern 71 ever steam again?  Some are adamant that it will never happen, citing that it would cost less to build an operating replica than to restore 71 herself.  Still others have active plans, as of this writing, to bring the locomotive back to life once more.  One thing is for sure, though.  In every case, it seems a saved C&S relic rarely stays in one place for long, and something suggests 71 may be, in time, on the move once more.

No. 71 in the early 1990s forlorn, but hopeful for a better future

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Swan Songs of Central City - Part 7


The Swan Songs of Central City

-Part 7

by Kurt Maechner

Here is Part 1
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3
Here is Part 4 
Here is Part 5
Here is Part 6

Unexpected Resurrection 

Sept/Oct 1988 SL&NG Gazette

The 1986 debacle over No. 71 led to one of the stranger cases in C&S restoration history. While the line out of Central City was now twice-abandoned, it was not for long.  No doubt inspired by the fantastical nature of the speed and surprise of C&S 71’s near-miraculous resurrection to an operational locomotive, Jim Wild and Dwayne Easterling in a 1988 Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette article penned the following: “This story could have been crafted by the folks at Walt Disney Studios.”  

Residents of Central City and Black Hawk, the Gilpin Country Historical Society, and a number of investors not only got their engine back, but brought about the Disney-esque movement that started yet another tourist railroad out of Central City, the Black Hawk and Central City Railroad, Inc., this time with No. 71 as the star of the show. 

    The principal players in this railroad fairytale came into the story in 1986 when a retired veteran of the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad and, later, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, diminutive 74-year-old Floyd Cothran joined forces as lead engineman with a young and vigorous 27-year-old by the name of Court Hammond, the president and treasurer of the new line.  Within three months (yes, three months!) and with $200,000, they brought 90-year-old No. 71 back to steam.

Hammond in Sept/Oct. 1988 SL&NG Gazette
    Court’s history with the engine went back to his teenage years when Cothran, with whom he worked for a time at the Georgetown Loop, pointed out the 1896 locomotive to the then 16-year-old and related the 2-8-0’s background.  The day was foundational for Court because it was then that he began to long for a day when he would see it come alive.  

    The idea that C&S 71 would ever run again was doubted by many.  Court Hammond, in fact, had been told back then, by those who owned the locomotive, that it could never happen.

    Undeterred, Hammond, with the help of Cothran, made his youthful dream come true when the engine roared to life on the Black Hawk display track for the first time since its operating days on May 23, 1987.  The two noted “this was only possible because the C&S had shopped the engine only a few years before she was retired and thus she was in pretty good shape already.”  In June, a few weeks after the first steam up, track was laid on the right of way for the third time in the roadbed’s history. The Black Hawk and Central City Narrow Gauge Railroad was born.  Its goal: lay 3000 feet of track by July 1st. 

The “Big Haul”

The same month that track laying occurred, Steve Clifford’s “big haul” became reality.  The crew used a loader to dig a depression in the ground at the edge of the display track.  Clifford backed a lowboy trailer into this spot and a crew laid track from the stub end of the rails up onto the trailer.  A crowd that had gathered at the site lifted up a shout of celebration when the engineer turned on the locomotive’s electricity and its lights burst into life.  Then, a surprising sight filled the eyes of the onlookers as C&S 71 moved herself, powered by compressed air, off of the display track and up onto the slanted lowboy.  The engine, now on her perch, stayed the night.

The following day, Steve brought another trailer, this time to load 71’s tender.  Tracks were once again built onto this other flatbed, but this time a back hoe did the work of pulling the C&S survivor onto her rubber-tired ferry.  Once secured, off went the truck to Central City with the tender in tow.

After the tender was unloaded, Steve returned to haul No. 71 to her new workplace.  Along the short 20-minute uphill climb, a crew riding in the cab, let the engine’s whistle echo in the mountains for the first time since its scrap train days.  Steve later wrote, “It was an unforgettable day for all who love trains, railroading, the South Park Line, and No. 71.”  Thirty years later, Steve Clifford called this experience “one of the highlights of my life” and was also particularly proud that his trusty 1975 Peterbilt completed the arduous task perfectly.  As a satisfying bookend to a glorious day, Steve got to ride in 71’s cab later that afternoon as the old engine plied the freshly-laid rails under full steam on her brand-new railroad line. 

C&S gondola 4319 came to the boarding site a few weeks later, again thanks to Clifford and his truck. 

Opening Day

Opening day for the new line was set for Independence Day 1987.  On the day before, the crew constructed a roof on Gondola 4319 to cover passengers, and a door was cut into its side for their entry.   On July 4th, 1987, the Black Hawk & Central City Railroad opened for business. 

ROUGHLY 11:20am

Aug. 1987 Rocky Mountain Rail Report

A festive Independence Day crowd surrounds the Colorado & Southern 2-8-0 affectionately known as “Old #71.”  The throng, quite a few in period costumes, stands mostly on the wooden boarding platform that flanks Spring Street on the simmering engine’s right-hand side.  A few important individuals stand on her pilot.  

Behind the gleaming engine is her newly painted and re-lettered tender.  The car now has a completely new floor, a water tank fixed to retain water, and large beams added on either side below the tank with cut-outs to provide clearance for the trucks.

Amongst the celebrants are congressman David Skaggs along with Sally Hopper, a Colorado senator.  The most celebrated individual this day, however, is 45-year-old Glynn Alegre who holds a commemorative bottle of champagne in his hand.  Two years later he will win a Colorado Preservation, Inc. award for the restoration of his 1897 home in Central City.  Glynn, born the very year Old #71 came to rest in Central City, has a close personal connection with the engine.  Not long ago, he gave a sizable sum toward the railroad’s restoration, which must have helped earn him his coveted spot today.  

With a man crouching ahead of the engine on the month-old track, his camcorder capturing this historic moment, Glynn raises the bottle of champagne and swings it against 71’s front coupler.  The crash of glass, the festive spray of champagne, and the cheers and claps from the crowd all swirl together along with, according to one eyewitness, 71’s “spine-tingling whistle that sen[ds] chills through the crowd.”

Aug. 1987 RM Rail Report

The first C&Sng engine to come to life after abandonment of the narrow gauge, besides little No. 9’s short stint at the 1948-1949 Chicago Rail Fair, roars to life for the first official runs of the now-christened Black Hawk and Central City Railroad (BH&CC).

Steve Rasmussen, in the August 1987 Rocky Mountain Rail Report, gloried that this day “marked the beginning of a new era in narrow gauge railroading in the mountains of Colorado.” For so many who loved the old C&S, this was a dream come true.  This was not just a railroad running on the old C&S roadbed, but one also operating with an authentic C&S engine and gondola. 

In time, C&S combine No. 20, still awaiting transport from Black Hawk at the railroad’s inception, came behind Steve Clifford’s truck to join C&S gondola 4319 to haul passengers on the line.  Besides its appearance in the 1974 TV special and a commercial, this was the first time since 1925, when it was converted for maintenance use, that the car hauled paying passengers.  While it was not the most popular for riders due to its limited seating and limited views of the surrounding scenery, it was still impressive to have this historic car once again available to the public.  

Great Ambitions

The BH&CC railroad started off with great ambitions.  From the start in 1987, Hammond and Cothran planned to reconstruct the three trestles needed to make the entire five-mile journey to Black Hawk, starting, of course, with that same barrier never surmounted by the Ashby’s Colorado Central Narrow Gauge: Mountain City Trestle over Packard Gulch.  Court’s plan was to accomplish the extension over the course of five years.

    By the railroad’s second season, the goal remained in place but with little progress.  A 1988 Colorado traveler’s guidebook repeated the plans: “The new railroad hopes to reach Blackhawk in the next five years.”  As if rebuilding costly trestles wasn’t enough, the same guidebook noted, “the railroad hopes eventually to restore [the old brick Central City depot].”  One must keep in mind that this would mean digging it out from under a mountain of mine tailings beneath which it had been buried to begin with!  

There was some growth at the railroad, however, in the form of newly acquired historic C&S rolling stock.  A man by the name of Dan Quiat lent two former C&S boxcar frames to the railroad.  The cars, given to the Rio Grande Southern by the C&S for a financial settlement in the late 1930s were later taken to Alaska for use by the White Pass & Yukon railroad in the early 1940s.  In Alaska, the two boxcars were turned into flatcars.  Quiat, who, along with friend Rob Thompson, began to amass narrow gauge equipment in 1987 to build a tourist route over the C&S’ abandoned Boreas Pass route, returned the cars to Colorado that year.  When his tourist railroad plans did not come to fruition, he lent the cars to Hammond and Cothran in Central City where C&S 8323, ex-WP&Y 783, was turned into a rider car aptly named “Colorado Yukon” and the other car, C&S 8311, ex-WP&Y 773, was used in its flatcar form as a maintenance car to haul track materials.

The Dinky

Another curious piece of equipment that came along at some point was a small gasoline-powered switch engine.  Jarrett Carlson, engineman Floyd Cothran’s teenaged grandson, who worked on the BH&CC, was given the old engine by his father who worked in the tunneling industry.  Much work was done on what came to be called the Dinky, including adding a Ford Pinto engine to it.  It was later painted to include the C&S’ early 20th century Columbine-shaped herald on its cab.

    In 1989, the line’s third season, while trains were running every 45 minutes daily except Tuesday, still no progress had been made on the line’s extension.  The railroad’s spokesman and a conductor at the time, Siegfried Benson, commented in an article for The Bloomfield Enterprise, regarding the nearly 40-foot-tall missing trestle over Packard Gulch, “We have the timber for the trestle.  Now, we just need some contributions and volunteers to build it.”     

A cloudy day in 1990.  The line is silent for the third time. One of Dan Quiat's cars in foreground
    Needless to say, the great tourist railroad genie didn’t grant any of these wishes, and, in fact, the situation was much worse.  Despite 1990 advertisements to ride the railroad in Colorado tourist guides such as Colorado Yesterday & Today, a Magazine of Adventures, visitors to the boarding area only found engine 71 and her train sitting forlorn minus any signs of active life, human or mechanical.  71 was parked at the end of track with her bear trap limply hanging to the side, a flat car, one of Dan Quiat’s cars, in front of her, laden with a jumbled display of parts.  Behind the tender was gondola 4319 still sporting its makeshift roof for passengers.  Combine #20 sat idle on the yard track along with the Dinky.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Swan Songs of Central City - Part 6

The Swan Songs of Central City

-Part 6

by Kurt Maechner

Here is Part 1
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3
Here is Part 4 
Here is Part 5

Hope for the CCNG

While crews now worked back and forth on the two lines, the railroad still hoped to expand the Central City Narrow Gauge to Black Hawk.  This required a means to surmount a figurative and literal chasm: at the present end-of-track, the long-gone 39-foot-tall, 132-foot-long Mountain City trestle over Packard Gulch would need to be rebuilt.  Sadly, but wisely, they reached the conclusion that the expense of this structure was out of the question.

Innovative as always, the partners came up with an alternative: build track around the trestle site by using a sharp curve cut into the gulch and back to the roadbed on the other side.  This brilliant idea solved one problem but created another.  The curve required to accomplish this feat would be too sharp for a conventional steam engine like No. 40.  The answer was to find a Shay engine.  These uniquely-designed geared locomotives, mainly built for logging lines with steep grades and sharp curves, would easily handle the proposed design.  With this obstacle surmounted, the Central City Narrow Gauge track had the potential to be built at last towards Black Hawk. 

Rocky Mtn. Rail Report - May 1974

The CCNG, in time, got to work grading the Mountain City Trestle work-around and also purchased former West Side Lumber Company Shay engine No. 14 from the defunct California tourist route, Camino, Cable & Northern.  

Shay No. 14, Aug. 1974 Jeff Terry Collection
    With the Shay’s arrival on April 27, 1974, it became the work horse in Central City while No. 40 was put to rest.  No. 40 later followed her sister IRCA engine to Silver Plume in 1978. John Bush, who worked as an engineer at the CCNG, rode in the cab of No. 40 on the truck ride over to the Loop.  Bush, who would later become the president of Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, was the last man to ride in a locomotive cab through lower Clear Creek Canyon when the engine was hauled on Colorado 119 and US 6, which closely parallels the abandoned roadbed of the C&S narrow gauge, from Black Hawk to the division point of Forks Creek and on up through Idaho Springs to Silver Plume.

The Closing Chapter

The move of No. 40 was an ominous omen of things to come.  While hopes were high for the Loop, hope for the future of the CCNG faded.  Yes, some of the grading for the line’s extension was started, and Shay No. 14 had the capabilities to run on it someday, but more track was never laid and the half-mile Central City Narrow Gauge Railroad, whose ridership was dwindling, remained its short, non-lucrative self for the remainder of its life.  

This life ended in 1981, an unlucky 13 years after its resurrection in 1968, when the tracks once again went silent and were then carted off, leaving a twice-abandoned grade with nothing but dirt.  Lindsey, Rosa, and their partners, having managed the two railroads since 1973, believed it was time to shut down the Central City line.  The dream that it could become profitable had long since died, and the way out pointed instead towards the growing Georgetown Loop.  As a closing chapter in the CCNG’s life, Shay No. 14, once the path to the line’s future, was carted off to Silver Plume in 1982. 

Aug. 1980 Bud Bulgrin photo-Jeff Terry collection

The Great Train Robbery

When the Ashbys took up the Central City rails after 1981, the second time track was pulled in the city’s history, C&S 71 sat alone with her two cars again, but she had not been forgotten.  Forty-five years had passed since 71 had been placed on display, and the railroad that originally donated her and also, if the rumors were true, threatened those who sought to run her again, was finally gone.  On December 31st of that year, the Colorado & Southern Railway was absorbed completely into the Burlington Northern Railroad.  Five years later, the Colorado Historical Society felt the time had come at last to bring No. 71 back to life, though not in its home town.  Their eyes were set on giving the engine a future on the CHS’ endeavor at the Georgetown Loop.

On a cold winter morning in 1986, a crew loaded No. 71 minus her tender onto a flatbed truck and hauled her through the canyon near the track she had lumbered along so many times in her past.  Later that day, she reached Silver Plume for the first time since her operating days nearly half a century ago.  Could it be that the newly reconstructed Loop bridge would have an authentic C&S locomotive run over her once again?  The excitement was palpable.

But others were not so happy.  While Central City had never become another Williamsburg, as some 1940s visionaries hoped, it still worked to attract day-trip tourists from Denver.  Georgetown was her biggest rival, and it appeared that it had just stolen one of Central’s historical attractions.  The kerfuffle hit the news, and hit it hard.  One particular later news piece called it “The Great Train Robbery.”  

Westword article

But what could the residents of Central City do?  They had an idea and put it in action.  When the crew returned to haul 71’s tender away, they were met with a big surprise: Residents had physically blocked the road out of town.  These mobilized citizens and the accompanying news publicity helped the town’s massive effort to take back No. 71.  The Gilpin County Historical Society formed a fund to buy back the train, fanned into flame by a notable donation from a businessman by the name of Glynn Alegre. 

Amidst all the negative publicity, the CHS reluctantly let go of their plans for 71 in order to honor the residents of Central City.  Old 71 was brought back as far as Black Hawk after the Gilpin County Historical Society laid down $25,000 to pay for her return. 


Truck driver Steve Clifford drives a truck for a living, but his affections are reserved for trains.  Growing up in Grant, along the abandoned South Park Line’s roadbed in Platte Canyon, he developed a close affinity specifically for the C&S narrow gauge.

Today, he decided, was a day for an enjoyable ride into the mountains via Clear Creek Canyon with a train in mind.  He plans to check on old 71 and her gondola and combine.  The display train went through quite a hoopla last year with the failed attempt to take the engine over to the Georgetown Loop, but she’s back.  Well, not exactly.  They have her down in Black Hawk.  It’s not quite her real home in Central City, but close enough.

As he pulls up to the train’s new display spot next to old Victorian homes nestled in the rock and pine-infused mountainside, Steve expects to see a lonely historical artifact standing sentinel, like she did for all those years up the hill in Central.  

What he finds, however, gives him a start.  This engine, for over four decades steam-less, and in many cases ignored, is oddly the center of a mysterious flurry of activity.

Surrounding the locomotive and tender is a precariously constructed housing with people abuzz all around it.  Clifford, an inquisitive man by nature, simply has to find out what is going on.  He parks, gets out, and approaches the activity to find an explanation for the scene before him. 

Steve addresses one of the men at work who explains that they are starting a new tourist route to be built on the same spot that the Central City Narrow Gauge ran, but this time the motive power is not to be foreign steam but the very locomotive the city fought to get in 1940 and 1941 and fought again to keep in 1986, Colorado & Southern 2-8-0 No. 71.

Then, something passes in their conversation that catches Steve’s fancy.  Naturally, the gentleman mentions the need to move the train from Black Hawk back up to its old display spot off of Spring Street in Central City where the new tourist pike will board passengers.  At this moment, Steve’s mind begins to race as he formulates a way he can offer his trucking services, using his 1975 Peterbilt truck, to haul the train up the hill.

Steve Clifford’s potentially providential meeting with those working to resurrect engine 71 led to an acceptance of what he termed the “big haul,” his offer to move the entire train uphill to its old display spot that will soon no longer host a few spectators, but hundreds of passengers. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Swan Songs of Central City - Part 5

The Swan Songs of Central City

-Part 5

by Kurt Maechner

Here is Part 1
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3
Here is Part 4

 Open for Business

Finally, in September of 1968, with only ten days remaining in the tourist season, the Colorado Central Narrow Gauge Railway opened for business, hauling tourists to the end of their quarter mile of track and back for 75 cents-a-person.  With No. 44 steamed up, still lettered for the International Railways of Central America, the CCNG began hauling its first trains.  In the same month that saw the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the introduction of the Boeing 747, a tiny portal to the past came back alive with the resurrection of a tiny stretch of narrow gauge railway from the 1870s.  For decades, C&S narrow gauge mileage had gone down until it was all gone.  Now, the turntable had turned and, for the first time in history, a C&S narrow gauge line had been brought back to life.  

Disappointingly, despite the excitement, ridership was low, and, by the end of their very expensive and short first season, the railroad was essentially bankrupt, owing tens of thousands of dollars in loans.  Lindsey put it simply, “We had no money.”  

Money or not, it was time to lay into the prep and development for a full second season in 1969.   As they scurried to find a way forward, Rosa and Lindsey made a decision they could see was in the cards: the Ashbys decided to cover all the expenses with their personal funds and, to add insult to injury, they would not take a salary.  This state of events would not be short-lived.  In fact, it would be a way of life for many years to come as the couple continued their full-time jobs while running their struggling railroad after-hours.  

What is the way forward in a situation like this?  According to Lindsey, “We've survived by never risking more than we could make up at the end of the year-although we've teetered on it.”  To make ends meet, two sources of support came at crucial times.  The Ashbys first credit the City of Central for “cover[ing] our mistakes while we were learning the business.  And we’ve made every classic blunder a small business can make; many of them twice, I’m sorry to say.”  

The second source of support is one to which many can relate: begging from relatives.  When the coffer was low, they got on the phone.  Friends are a grace given in life, but family is a lifeline that one can count on, and count on them the Ashbys did, taking loans from, “any relative who had more than was necessary to survive.”  They promised to pay them back, and they did, albeit in regular installments over time.

July 1969 - Jeff Terry collection
Thankfully, the railroad survived its first complete season in 1969, but with only one locomotive, No. 44.  The other engine, IRCA No. 40, purchased at the same time as the 44, had not yet even left Central America.  With no motive power backup, their chances of ongoing success could be precarious.  

Of course, an obvious question arises: Why didn’t the CCNG restore the steam engine sitting right at their boarding site, Colorado & Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 71, on display there since 1941?  The story surrounding this possibility may be true, or hearsay, or a mixture of both.  

Some sources, such as F. Hol Wagner, encouragingly announced in his 1970 book The Colorado Road that permission was given to the CCNG to restore and operate No. 71 for sporadic use.  What Wagner leaves out is who requested this permission and who gave it.

There is a possible answer to the question of what parties were involved in asking for and receiving permission for the restoration of No. 71.  The Colorado & Southern Railway sold the engine and two cars to the Central City Opera House Association in 1942, but according to documents discovered by Rick Steele, who worked at the CCNG, the railroad retained 1/3 ownership.  The Association had another 1/3 of ownership and the City of Central owned the remaining portion.  Steele believes that, at some point, the Opera House Association gave their share of ownership to the Colorado Historical Society (CHS).  Did the CHS, not the railroad, request permission to restore the engine from Central City?  Was it, then, the city which granted this permission?  While the answers to these questions remain murky to the author, another part of the story, again through hearsay, makes the tale larger.

Aug. 1980 Bud Bulgrin photo-Jeff Terry Collection

As the story goes, one of the remaining 1/3-owners of No. 71, the Colorado & Southern Railway, was not happy with the prospect of the engine coming back to life.  Back in 1942, when the railway agreed to sell the train to the Association for a dollar, the C&S stipulated in the agreement that if the train was ever used for any other purpose than “exhibition” it would be returned to the railroad’s ownership.  Possibly in keeping their word to this part of the paperwork, according to an engineer at the CCNG and one of Lindsey Ashby’s business partners who told the following to Steele, the C&S, when it got wind of the plan to steam up 71 after nearly thirty years of idleness, sent word that they would scrap the engine on the spot for back taxes if the railroad tried to run her. 

If the story is true at all, in part or entirely, one thing did get scrapped: the idea of old 71 running on the Ashby’s railroad.  Besides being pushed around the yard for various logistical reasons, the engine never got a fire in its boiler while the CCNG plied the rails. 

To put the story to rest, the author asked Lindsey Ashby directly whether he was ever given the go-ahead to run the C&S engine.  He responded emphatically, “No.  We never had permission to restore or use 71.”

No. 40 at Last

Fortuitously, a more reliable option for additional motive power became possible in 1970.  The other locomotive purchased back in 1968 from the International Railways of Central America was at last headed to the Central City Narrow Gauge when 1920 oil-burner No. 40 started its journey north from the city of San Salvador.  Ironically, the diesel hauling the 2-8-0 experienced a mechanical failure, and the half century-old steam engine was coaxed to life to continue the trip on its own.

Trouble struck, however, in the form of a political impasse in the country as the recently nationalized International Railways of Central America was unable to pay back loans to the government.  One byproduct of the problematic railroad situation seemed to be that the border was blocked against No. 40.  The locomotive’s progress was halted indefinitely and hope for the engine’s use in Central City was ultimately given up.

And so, the railroad back in Central City soldiered on, working tooth and nail to keep their half mile of track alive with one engine.  

Something shifted, though, in 1972, and good news came regarding No. 40.  The steamer was finally allowed to continue its trip after a two-year delay.  Lindsey teamed up with Don Drawer, a man developing a tourist destination in Colorado that included a narrow gauge railroad he would name the Sundown and Southern.  Lindsey traveled south of the border with Don to finally move No. 40 north along with another engine No. 111, a business car, and a caboose for Drawer’s project.  No. 40 hauled the train itself for part of the journey.  A diesel did the rest of the work until the two engines and two cars were later transferred to standard gauge cars and finally truck trailers.  After some work following the engine’s arrival in Central City, No. 40 served as No. 44’s backup.

Winds in the Canyon

With No. 40’s arrival, the CCNG operators were grateful to finally have two locomotives on hand, and yet, a dream kept pulling their attention westward.  The winds in the canyon sent news of one of the most exciting Colorado & Southern narrow gauge rebirths imaginable: the abandoned 19th century railroad engineering marvel known as the Georgetown Loop, up the canyon from Central City, was being raised from its grave.  The Loop Line, whose resurrection had been talked of for years by the Colorado Historical Society, albeit without much tangible evidence for it becoming reality, was finally showing real signs of life.  Rolling stock had now been acquired and restoration work had begun on the old right-of-way.  

The Ashbys had known for a while that the operation in Central City would never be financially viable.  In contrast, the Loop project, with its historical society partnership and promising future, could be an entirely different ball game.  Three days after Thanksgiving in 1972, the Central City Narrow Gauge partners walked the old C&S grade of the Loop line and subsequently decided together to offer to help reconstruct and then operate the line.  While they planned to simultaneously continue the struggling Central City line, their spirits felt a new lightness with the hope that the Loop might be the way out of their present circumstances.

October 1973 Rocky Mtn. Rail Report

In early 1973, the Ashbys and their partners’ offer to the Colorado Historical Society was accepted and they became the driving force in reconstruction of the Georgetown Loop.  In September of that year, IRCA No. 44 left No. 40 behind in Central City and became the first engine on the ground in Silver Plume since the line’s 1939 abandonment.  She was steamed up three days later to herald the news: a live railroad was returning to upper Clear Creek Valley.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Swan Songs of Central City - Part 4

The Swan Songs of Central City

-Part 4

by Kurt Maechner

Here is Part 1
Here is Part 2
Here is Part 3


A small note in the Iron Horse News, a newsletter published by the Colorado Railroad Museum’s Bob Richardson, caught the Ashby’s attention.  It stated that some narrow gauge engines in El Salvador were soon to be scrapped.  Lindsey, on the outlook for hard-to-find narrow gauge steam, subsequently wrote a letter to the commercial attaché in San Salvador to get him in touch with the government-owned El Salvador Railway.  

Teko Salvadoreno photo (El Salvador steam)
The railway sent a letter in response, in Spanish of course, necessitating translation, which explained that they had a small 2-8-0 3-foot gauge engine, No. 36, available to purchase.  The locomotive was still in use and the letter noted that it was in great shape with the exception of its mirrors.  The latter statement about mirrors seemed a bit odd, but hardly concerning.  This letter then led to a phone conversation conducted out of an attorney’s office in the US, with the attorney on the line.  Thankfully, someone at the attorney’s office could speak Spanish which helped get to someone at the El Salvador Railway who spoke English.  In the end, the purchase looked promising and plans were made to visit El Salvador to see No. 36 in person.  

For the trip to Central America, Lindsey wanted to bring a second set of eyes.  It should be noted that, while the Ashbys were the driving force behind what would become the Colorado Central Narrow Gauge, they knew the task would be insurmountable without help and thus partnered with several other families to create and operate the line.  The second set of eyes, then, came from one of these partners, a city engineer by the name of Bill Baird.  Bill and Lindsey hopped a Pan Am flight together and flew south of the border to visit what they hoped would become the first live steam engine in Central City in over four decades.   

Down in El Salvador Lindsey and Bill had the thrill to ride behind big steam still in regular service.  But while it delighted the two men’s eyes to see those grand locomotives, the real purpose of their visit was to see a diminutive engine.  The two were eventually taken to a roundhouse where little No. 36 was under steam.  Unfortunately, this engine that was supposedly in excellent condition was, instead, leaking steam all over.  It was then that Lindsey and Bill began to wonder about the original letter regarding No. 36 and the veracity of their Spanish-to-English translation.  Later, they would find out that what was rendered in the letter as “bad mirrors,” was actually “bad flues,” a serious problem for a steam locomotive.

Still, despite No. 36’s obvious flaws, it was steaming and, as Lindsey noted, it didn’t blow up!  In the end, Lindsey and Bill were offered not only No. 36, but two more engines at $2500 each.  The pair declined the additional steamers, knowing they could not afford more than one, and agreed to purchase the 2-8-0 for their new railroad.

The challenge ahead of them now was transportation.  Thankfully, a narrow gauge line, the International Railways of Central America (IRCA), ran north through several countries.  Lindsey and Bill visited the railway to make arrangements.  At the office of the IRCA, owned by the American-based United Fruit Company, a British gentleman living in El Salvador agreed to haul the 2-8-0 from San Salvador through Guatemala to the Mexican border.  

The Englishman, however, also issued them a warning regarding No. 36’s seller.

“You’ve got to be careful dealing with these government people.  They’ll tell you one thing and then do something else,” said the IRCA representative.  “If, for some reason, they renege on your deal, let me know and I have a couple of locomotives that I will sell you.”

Appreciative, but still hopeful that No. 36 would work out, the two flew back to Colorado where a dinner was scheduled with prominent Central City residents.  There the Ashbys and their partners intended to announce their in-process plans to acquire an historic 3-foot gauge locomotive, proof they were sure would convince the influential guests to accept their franchise of the new Colorado Central Narrow Gauge Railway (CCNG).  Excitement was in the air, until the air was weighed down by a letter in Spanish received just two days before the dinner.

The letter from the El Salvador Railway, which took a whole day to get translated, taking them to just one day before their dinner, informed the CCNG that the price tag on No. 36 was now slightly higher.  It no longer cost $2500, but $10,000.  After a quick trip to their attorney, the group got in touch with the IRCA gentleman who had warned them of such shenanigans.  His response was, “That’s Central and South America.  That’s how they do business.”

Thankfully, he was not just telling them “I told you so.”  In fact, as promised, he had two 3-foot gauge steamers, outside frame 2-8-0s No’s. 40 and 44, he could sell to them at $5500 a piece.  He would transport them by rail for that price to the Mexican border for the CCNG to figure out transportation from Mexico to Central City.  

This was more money than the CCNG group had bargained for.  However, it would get them two engines for just a bit over the price of the one from the El Salvador Railway, and, they figured, they could raise the necessary money.  Thankfully, they still had a locomotive, and now another, in the works to announce to the dinner crowd the next day.  As a result, they acquired franchises from both Central City and Black Hawk in 1967.  In Lindsey’s words, the man at the IRCA “saved our bacon, so to speak.”

Laying Track

The new railroad, with hopes of opening in 1968, purchased a mile worth of 65 pound rail from the Colorado & Southern Railway.  They had to remove it themselves from what was known as the Black Hollow branch near Fort Collins, Colorado.  Without proper equipment, Lindsey used his Jeep Universal with a front-mounted winch to pull rails.  As each rail length was removed from the ties, he put his Jeep in reverse.  The rail then bounced along the ties until he reached a waiting truck.  The winch was again used to raise each rail length enough to reach the back of the truck.  

While negotiations with railroad officials to purchase track materials were formal in nature, Lindsey found the railroaders themselves abundantly helpful.  Some C&S men told them where soon-to-be-replaced track tools were to be found so the Ashbys and their partners could take them.  They were even told to take railroad ties with the provision that they did so without being seen.  In addition, more narrow gauge-sized ties were acquired from the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad.  

Track laying on the new line began in June of 1968 and, in time, a quarter mile of old C&S roadbed had railroad track once again.

Aug. 20 1968 Jim Ozment photo-Jeff Terry collection

1921 IRCA engine 44 arrived from its long trip as well.  The engine had been hauled by train through El Salvador, but ran under its own power through Guatemala.  Finally, the engine was transferred to a standard gauge flatcar for the remaining part of the journey to Rollinsville, Colorado where it began its last 18 miles via a low-boy trailer with 3-axles to Central City.  When the engine arrived at its new home, work needed to be done because all copper and brass parts on the engine had been stolen on its way north.  The D&RGW came to their aid again, offering to sell the railroad these missing parts that could not be found elsewhere.  

Rolling stock was to be a full circle for Lindsey when the CCNG was able to buy three open-air cars used on the train he rode at age 15 at the 1948-1949 Chicago Railroad Fair behind C&S engine No. 9.  Built from former D&RGW gondolas, the excursion cars were located at the Black Hills Central tourist railroad in South Dakota until they made their way to Central City.  

By August, excitement for opening day hit the newspapers as the August 25, 1968 Colorado Transcript reported in the article “Old Train Resumes Run in Central City as Attraction” that the “The project is to replace three and 1/3 mile of track and ties; to rebuild four trestles (of which the largest is over 240 feet long and 70 feet high) which were sold for scrap during World War II.”  The article goes on to thank various railroads for their assistance and concludes with this: “The idea of recreating the old narrow gauge would never have taken root without the continual encouragement, cooperation, and assistance of the Mayors and City Councils of Black Hawk and Central City, the Central City Opera Associations, and the citizens of Black Hawk and Central City.”