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Christmas in Salida

Letter from Orville Wright

Salida History – January 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine


Regarding the cover photo on the December edition, I remember when Engine 268 pulled the Christmas Caboose in Salida. I believe it was the only time that engine was used for the event.

I suspect the engineer was Frank Franz, fireman unknown. My father may have been the conductor or brakeman that day. He did it several times over the years.

Frank Gimlett (“the Hermit of Arbor Villa” ) was always Santa Claus. My wife Diann’s father was usually the emcee at the Salida Theater for the kids’ program that followed Santa’s arrival on the special train.

Gimlett sported a long white beard and a big beer-belly. Put a Santa suit on him and he really fit the mold. He did it for quite a few years.

The Santa Train would leave Salida early in the morning. I’m not sure where Gimlett would board it for his entry into town later in the day — maybe at Arbor Villa or Maysville. There was a wye at Maysville where the engines turned around for the Monarch Quarry run. The tracks ran right by his cabin.

I can’t recall where Gimlett got off the train; it was either at the depot or at the First Street crossing by the Hall Coal Co. At any rate, he would show up at the theater and preside at the distribution of a goodie sack to all the kids in the movie house. The local grocers and the City of Salida chipped in with oranges and candy; some group made popcorn balls. The theater ran serials — usually Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy, sometimes the Three Stooges and several cartoons. Sure made a fun day.

Frank Gimlett was sort of like St. Elmo’s Annie Stark used to be — a bit eccentric. One time when he took sick and was in the hospital, the nurses had a hard time getting him to part with his money belt; it was full of what he claimed was gold dust. I can remember him holding court in front of Alexander’s Drug or across the street at the original Safeway at Second and F streets. He always drew a small crowd.

After Gimlett passed away in 1952, the tradition sort of went away — so did the tracks a few years later.

It was a long time ago. Thanks for the memory refresh.

Orville Wright