Gillett, Colorado: Not such a sharp idea

IN TELLER COUNTER, THE ABANDONED town site of Gillett lies just beyond Cripple Creek and Divide, near the intersection of County Roads 67 and 81 (Lazy S Ranch Road). It looks uninteresting, amounting to nothing more than a field with a couple of modern homes near the road. Gillett began as a simple log cabin. …

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Pedaling Rail Bikes on the Old South Fork

Revolution Rail South Fork

THREE OF US “ADVENTURERS” found ourselves enjoying a short jaunt on rail bikes recently. We were in the old D&RGW (Denver & Rio Grande Western) railroad depot in South Fork. A company there regularly rents out bikes for the three-mile run up to the turntable and back. Up for discussion was the idea of pedaling. …

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Salida to the U.S.A. by Passenger Train

By Forrest Whitman Passenger rail travel can be accessed conveniently with a three-hour bus ride from Salida to Denver. It’s going to be even more convenient in the future if the Colorado Passenger Rail Commission has its way. I host a rail show on KHEN radio (106.9 or on podcast) and attend many rail meetings. …

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Alpine: The Town That Wouldn’t Die

A view of the Alpine railroad station, a combination frame depot, freight room and living quarters. A large group of men is pictured on the wooden plank depot platform with piles of bundled canvas sacks. Denver, South Park & Pacific freight cars are on the tracks, circa 1882. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

By Jan MacKell Collins

There is much to say about Colorado ghost towns that have found new life in more recent years. While some places have simply vanished, others have been regenerated in one form or another. One such place is Alpine, located about twelve miles from Nathrop on Highway 162.

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Railroading Returns to Como

Chuck Brantigan with No. 4 in February 2017, as the engine begins its journey to Wyoming for repairs. (Photo courtesy of Chuck & Kathy Brantigan)

Article and photos by Laura Van Dusen

It’s been 80 years since the last train left the Como depot. Eighty years, a lifetime ago, since a train whistle gave a last shout pulling away from the station, and a narrow-gauge engine, steam belching from its stack, pulled rail cars across South Park.

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Touring (and Arguing) The Great Railroad War

By Forrest Whitman

Lots of the railroad history around Central Colorado is fun to discuss and argue about. The great railroad war (1878-1890) was a fierce fight. The contenders were General William Jackson Palmer’s Denver and Rio Grande Railroad versus the Santa Fe Railroad led by William Barstow Strong and Thomas Nickerson. The reader is invited to revisit the sites of the battles.

The first battle: A fine way to look at this site is to take the Southwest Chief passenger rain. As that train crawls up Raton Pass, I recommend getting a beverage and scanning out the sightseer lounge car window. Near the summit there’s still a sign erected by the Santa Fe Railroad. It’s announcing the site of “Uncle Dick Wootton’s place.”

This opening skirmish was fought in the very early morning of February 27, 1878. As the name of his line says, Palmer wanted to build south to the Rio Grande. The Santa Fe coveted the same territory.

The law was on the side of which railroad could lay track in the pass first. This battle should have gone to Palmer. He had interests in southern Colorado for a long time and had built rail here. Why didn’t he claim the pass long before 1878?

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All Aboard the Southwest Chief from Pueblo?

By Forrest Whitman “A review by BNSF Railway of needed infrastructure improvements to support that service would be complete before Christmas,” said Ray Lang of AMTRAK. He gave that quote at a Southwest Chief Commission meeting to the Colorado Association of Railroad Passengers. The folks in Pueblo have worked for several years to make passenger trains …

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The Caboose

by Forrest Whitman I recently took a lovely walk up the old Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad grade to the Orient mine in the northern San Luis Valley. It’s a spot anyone can visit on their own. Just stop at the Valley View Hot Springs office and sign in. Graded in 1881, this narrow …

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Historic Architecture – The La Veta Pass Depot Constructed by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad

Photo and story by Kenneth Jessen The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached La Veta Pass in 1877 on its way westward into the San Luis Valley. At 9,390 feet, it was the highest railroad pass in the United States at that time. A stone depot was constructed at the pass along with other railroad …

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A Love Affair with Model Trains

by Judith Reese, Photos by Mike Rosso “Fabulous! Colorado’s Best Secret Attraction,” declares an entry in the Buena Vista Model Railroad guestbook. It’s in the hand of well-known history professor Tom Noel, and now the secret is out. The delightful diorama, housed on the top floor of the BV Heritage Museum, depicts in miniature the …

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The caboose

by Forrest Whitman

This column is dedicated to two Colorado Central readers I ran into in a Salida coffee house. They tell me they are planning to go hoboin’ this fall. This column might prove useful to them. I love hearing hobos spin yarns, at least when they are fairly sober. I had an uncle who was a hobo for a while. He’s gone off to the big Rock Candy Mountain now, but at least some of his information is still good today. My recollections from my own time on the rails as a brakeman is dated, but possibly useful. I’ve also interviewed four hobos out there right now so some of this column is hot off the rails. If it’s of no use, well as the hobos say, “What the hell; it’s free isn’t it?”

Where did all the hobos go?

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The Alpine Tunnel (and how to get there)

by Kenneth Jessen

In 1879, the Denver, South Park & Pacific railroad constructed a narrow gauge railroad from Denver up the South Platte Canyon, over Kenosha Pass and across South Park. It was a grand scheme to tap shipments to and from the mining areas, pick up agricultural products, and carry passengers on one of the most spectacular railroads ever constructed. It was also a race with the Denver & Rio Grande railroad to reach Gunnison. The Denver & Rio Grande wisely picked a rather conventional route over Marshall Pass, while the Denver, South Park & Pacific embarked on a daring scheme to drill a tunnel under the Continental Divide.

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New Railroad to Colorado Central Country

(It’s Probably Coming To Leadville)

by Forrest Whitman

Every time I stroll along the out-of-service Union Pacific (U.P.) tracks near Cleora I get nostalgic for passenger trains. Why can’t I board a train in Salida? I know my black lab Gus and his buddy Bodie would hate to have trains honking along their favorite stretch of track and Bodie might just chase trains. But we could leave the dogs home and board in Leadville. That’s not a fantasy. Your Colorado rail authority is about ready to decide on a rail route through the Rocky Mountains. Mainly that’s to take the pressure off I-70, but it will serve Colorado Central Country, too. I’m predicting that a decade from now we’ll be able to board a “medium high-speed” electric MagLev train. That passenger train will whisk folks from Golden to the ski resorts, Leadville, and Eagle County Airport.

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Remnants of the Narrow-Gauge Circle

Sidebar by Ed Quillen

C&TS RR – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

The C&TS locomotives are now confined to the tracks between Antonito, Colo., and Chama, N.M., but when they were put into service decades ago, they pulled freight and passengers across vast stretches of Colorado and northern New Mexico.

In the 1920s, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad promoted “Narrow-Gauge Circle Tours.” A tour typically began with a trip from Denver or Pueblo over the standard-gauge to Salida, where they shifted to narrow-gauge for a trip over Marshall Pass to Gunnison, and then a climb over Cerro Summit to Montrose.

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Getting a ticket to history

Sidebar by Steve Voynick

C&TS RR – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine


The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a Registered National Historic Site and a New Mexico Registered Cultural Site. Recently, the Society of International Railway Travelers named the C&TSRR to its list of the world’s top 20 railway experiences.

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Steam: Still whistling after all these years

Article by Steve Voynick

C&TS RR – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

I ADMIT THAT I ENVY Tom Atkinson’s job. He begins work by climbing into the cab of No. 497, a huge, black, 96-year-old Baldwin steam locomotive. Coupled to a six-car train, the K-37 Mikado-type locomotive has been building steam for two hours. At 10:30 a.m. sharp, Atkinson pulls an overhead cord and sends two wailing blasts of the steam whistle echoing across the little town of Chama, New Mexico. Then he nudges open the throttle and No. 497 pulls slowly away from the Chama station, accompanied by a cloud of black coal smoke and the rhythmical hiss of escaping steam.

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