The Swan Songs of Central City
by Kurt Maechner
|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 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.
SATURDAY, JULY 4, 1987
CENTRAL CITY, COLORADO
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.”
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.
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.
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.