Record History Center crowd hears about area’s old trains

       Roughly 120 people - the most in memory for an Old Colorado City History Center program - turned out Jan. 24 for Westside railroad author Mel McFarland's presentation on the “Early Days of Colorado Railroading.”
        “This is the best crowd we've ever had,” announced Old Colorado City Historical Society President Beverly Disch before the talk, looking out on a standing-room-only crowd that barely fit into the venerable, converted church that the society uses for its center.
       Wearing a turn-of-the-century rail conductor's uniform, McFarland started out with a recording of a train whistle, which he said later was from one of the last trains up Ute Pass. He then proceeded with a rambling, hour-long discussion - containing intriguing details and a slide show of seldom-seen photos - addressing the ways railroads affected the lives of Coloradans in days gone by.
       Part of his talk addressed the two railroads through the Westside - the Colorado Midland and the Midland Terminal lines - and the impetus they gave to the towns up Ute Pass, particularly during the Gold Rush days.
        “Imagine 8 to 10 trains a day heading up that pass,” he said. “If it weren't for the Midland, they (those towns) might not have been there.”
       The Colorado Midland Railway line started in 1887, followed by the Colorado Midland Terminal in 1894. The former shut down during World War I, with the latter ceasing operations in 1949, McFarland said.
        About a decade later, the old Midland railbed was converted into Highway 24 (also known as the Midland Expressway).
       McFarland has written five books about railroading. One of these is still in print - “The Winter of '99.” He is employed as an engineer at the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway (also called the Cog Railway) in Manitou Springs.
        Here are some vignettes from his talk:
       * A popular, though illegal, stunt was for members of the public to use three-wheeled velocipedes to joy-ride down the tracks from Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs. “You didn't want to do it more than once a day,” McFarland said, noting the story of a man who went down twice, and “the second time the police were waiting.”
        * The Cog Rail toboggans, which simply slid along the tracks, could go as fast as 75 mph and were used by workers to get to work sites until they were banned in the 1960s.
       * The reason that the several engines on the Midland trains were scattered among the cars was that otherwise the heat would be concentrated too much in one place as the trains labored through tunnels at 3 to 7 mph.
        * A Colorado City rail station used to be at Cucharras between 21st and 22nd streets. “It burned down one cold winter night (in 1931),” McFarland said.
       * The old Midland bridge over Ruxton Avenue was torn down in 1964. It was supposed to be sold some time later, but when the seller went to the yard where it was supposed to be stored, “it wasn't there anymore,” he said.
        * Although the 21st Street rail yard (now the Van Briggle Pottery building parking lot) has been paved over many times through the years, a circular crack “keeps reappearing,” McFarland said. It's from the old roundhouse turntable.

Westside Pioneer article