McFarland: A ride on the early Midland
If you can picture Ute Pass without towns or lakes, then you can picture it before the Midland Railway came through.
These changes were among the most prominent and lasting resulting from the development of the railroad in 1887. The work included laying out the Midland's main headquarters in Colorado City (off present-day Highway 24 - which follows the Midland's original right of way through the Westside). The roundhouse, where trains were repaired still stands, having been recently renovated into a commercial center.
Mel McFarland, who has written two books on the subject, shared his Midland lore with two separate groups of listeners (totalling more than 100 in all) Feb. 19 at the Old Colorado City History Center.
His roughly 50-minute talk, using slides of historical photos, gave his audience a sense of the 1 ½-day experience of passengers riding a Midland train its full distance from Colorado City to Glenwood Springs.
“Before the Midland,” the local artist, historian and newspaper columnist pointed out, “there were no towns up Ute Pass and no lakes.”
The railroad removed dirt to make the lakes - thus providing water sources for Midland steam engines in what became places such as Cascade and Green Mountain Falls - and then used that dirt as fill material in grading the rail bed during construction, McFarland explained.
A member of the audience asked McFarland where the Midland got its name. Nothing mysterious, he replied. Named the same way similary situated railroads in other states were, the Midland went across “the middle of Colorado.”
In those days before planes and automobiles, the Midland was part of America's transcontinental rail network, so there were plenty of riders on the passenger trains that ran twice a day (one leaving Colorado City at noon, the other at midnight), he said.
In those days, there were more than 200 railroad companies in Colorado. “Now it's wound down to two,” McFarland said. “The Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific.”
Also back then, “you could get about anywhere you wanted to go by train.”
The heyday of the Midland came to an end during World War 1 when it went out of business and was bought up by a new company named the Midland Terminal. After that the passenger trains only went as far as Cripple Creek, and even that service came to an end in the 1930s.
Today no passenger trains serve this area - although the state has embarked on an $800,000 study that will look at such possibilities.
Westside Pioneer article