Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Railroad Riches of Golden, part 9: Last Train

 See Part 1 here.

Last Train

FEBRUARY 24, 2007

    “There is an unconfirmed report that Robert W. Richardson, 96, has died this morning...With his passing, the narrow gauge fans of the world have lost one of their best.” With the last few clicks of his computer keyboard, Steve Walden, host of the Colorado Railroads blog, grabs his mouse and navigates to the “Post” button.   

    Walden got this news earlier from the widely used online Narrow Gauge Discussion Forum.  Such web sources are easy to find nowadays.  Essentially, though, they are the distant descendants of Bob Richardson’s Narrow Gauge News (later called the Iron Horse News), written in a time when few outside of remote western towns had access to the goings-on of the slim gauge in Colorado. 

    The news about Bob Richardson is later confirmed: The man who helped people around the world discover and rescue remains of the Colorado narrow gauge, had indeed died this morning in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania where he went to live with his family after retiring as executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum sixteen years earlier in 1991.

Bob had been dealing with some intermittent illnesses in the past few years, but by and large, he had lived a long, healthy life and had still been full of humor and his noteworthy memory to the end.  

As the news about Bob’s passing spread, words honoring his legacy travelled far.  Commemoration of his life reached beyond railfan circles with articles chronicling his remarkable life even in major newspapers like The Denver Post.  Ron Hill of the Colorado Railroad Museum, in his reflection on Richardson’s life wrote, “It is no exaggeration to say that he did more than any other person to preserve Colorado’s unique railroad heritage.” 

Less than a year before his passing in the summer of 2006, Bob Richardson took one more trip to “his old stomping grounds” in Colorado to attend a special event named Railfest in Durango.  At 96, he planned to drive himself nearly 2000 miles from Pennsylvania to his former adopted home state, but one friend, Gordon Chappell, thankfully convinced him to take Amtrak to Denver, where Chappell met and drove him to various spots.  

Bob made many stops besides Durango, including a visit to the Georgetown Loop on September 3rd to ride behind the short-lived resuscitation of Colorado & Southern 2-6-0 mogul No. 9.  But little can compare to his stop in Golden where he visited the museum he birthed first with Carl Helfin in Alamosa in 1953 and then reincarnated along with Cornelius Hauck in Golden in 1959.  On the day of what would be his final steps in the Colorado Railroad Museum’s rail yard, likely marveling at the growth of the once-small museum, he was greeted by so many old railroad friends of the Colorado & Southern narrow gauge that he had a hand in saving including C&S stock car 7064, giant C&S rotary snowplow 99201, diminutive C&S caboose 1009, C&S boxcar 8308’s frame and wheel sets, and lastly the crown of South Park locomotive memories, the venerable 1880 consolidation Denver, South Park & Pacific 191.   

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