COBWEB CORNERS: What happened to the Midland shops?
By Mel McFarland
A hundred years ago, when the Midland railroad's shop area was already 20 years old, it was a busy place. Annual inspections and repairs of locomotives and cars also took place in Leadville and Basalt (near Aspen), but Colorado City was always where the major work was done. After the 1890s fire, the buildings were more metal than wood. The railroad also built and repaired heavy equipment for the mills and even the Cog railroad.
During World War I, the Colorado Midland was shut down, but the Midland Terminal still served Cripple Creek and all its equipment was brought to Colorado City. Many of the 63 locomotives were rebuilt and sold off during the war. Older cars were scrapped, while others were rebuilt. Half of the passenger cars were sold too. The income from the sales helped pay the wages of the employees who had been retained. In 1920, the Colorado Midland west of Divide was scrapped.
The larger buildings in Colorado City started to disappear too. In 1925, less than a hundred were working in the shops. There were empty stalls in the old roundhouse, and this became a smaller machine shop area. The other shop functions moved into the old machine shop. One woodworking shop was retained, and the old car shop was mainly used to store the passenger cars. After 1931, there were only a few trips these cars would see. The Colorado Midland had two private cars, and the Midland Terminal had one too, until the 1920s. The Cascade was the newest of the three. It was stored in the old car shop until it was sold just after World War II and moved near Green Mountain Falls. It got moved two more times in the 1950s, and is now sitting restored in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After the war, a strike in the shops led to another decrease in the number of employees, and started the steps to the end. By 1948, there were only about fifty employees working for the Midland. A new gold mill opened in Cripple Creek, and the railroad closed and was scrapped in 1949. By this time, only a few buildings were still standing. A stone building between the machine shop and the roundhouse was pushed over; then the big office building burned in a big January fire in 1953. The roundhouse was offered for sale, and after a couple of years it became Van Briggle Pottery. Around the same time, Ghost Town started in the old machine shop and adjoining tin shop.