McFarland seeks photos showing Short Line, D&RG
Historian Mel McFarland shared Westside railroad facts and stories with an audience of more than 100 people at the Old Colorado City History Center Feb. 28.
Featuring old photos displayed on a project screen, the talk covered a saga that began with the Denver and Rio Grande opening for business in 1871 (Colorado Springs founder William Palmer's first year here) and ending with the last of its tracks through the Westside being pulled up in 2000. In between those milestones, three other railroads came and went, adding to local lore and leaving signs that are indelible to this day.
The other three railroads were:
Most of the presentation was about the two Midlands, which McFarland has written about at length in two hardcover books and smaller publications. He even had two uncles that worked as welders for the Terminal.
The problem, he told the audience, was finding material (particularly photos) about the D&RG and the Short Line. “I didn't know how hard this was going to be,” he said, and at the end of his talk he appealed to the audience to be on the lookout for such rareties.
As an example, he described two D&RG stations on the Westside, for which no pictures have been preserved. One was “supposed to be” in the 2400 block of West Cucharras Street in the 1880s, while the other burned down in the winter of 1931 when the station agent built too big of a fire in his stove one cold night, McFarland said.
By contrast, McFarland had numerous Midland photos, including various angles of a multi-car crash/derailment near the 25th Street crossing in 1904. “Everyone but the guys in the caboose got out ahead of time,” McFarland said. “They had piled up every soft thing they had against the wall [to cushion the impact].” In the end, he noted, the only injuries were to a couple of hobos who had been riding the train that day.
The D&RG line was laid through the Westside (the modern-day Midland Trail follows part of that route) and into Manitou Springs. The Colorado Midland tracks ran from Colorado City over the Continental Divide and west as far as Glenwood Springs. When gold was found in Cripple Creek, the Midland Terminal line went in between there and Divide. The Short Line was a nickname, reflecting the reality that the route (now that of the partially closed Gold Camp Road) between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek was more direct than the Midland.
The heyday of Westside railroading was from about 1890 to 1920, according to McFarland. At one point, in addition to the ore trains at night, as many as eight passenger trains a day chugged up Ute Pass, and the special wildflower trains up to South Park sometimes ran daily in the summer months. “If the attendance was good, the wildflowers didn't last that long,” he chuckled.
A lady in the audience, remembering long-ago days on the Westside, told McFarland the Midland train whistles would wake up her 6-month-old in the early morning. McFarland recalled how train engineers blew their whistles a different way, so their wives would know when they were coming home.
McFarland is a retired Fountain-Fort Carson teacher, a member of the OCCHS board and Westside Pioneer historical columnist.
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