COBWEB CORNERS: Up Ute Pass in an ore train

By Mel McFarland

       There are many in Colorado City who remember when the railroad yards were busy, noisy and smoky. Today it is the route of US 24.
       Let's look back. Daily from 1907 until 1949 a daily train normally left Colorado City in the evening, taking from three to five engines to pull the 40 to 50 empty ore cars to Cripple Creek. The trip started in the afternoon. The engineers, firemen, brakeman and a conductor gathered at the roundhouse where their locomotives were already waiting. As the cars were gathered, the engines pulled into line, the engines connecting to the train ahead of it. The train was arranged in this way to provide a safe distance between the locomotives. It was too smoky if all of the engines were in the same tunnel at one time. When ready, the train slowly started the climb out of Colorado City to Manitou.
       Working up through the tunnels to Ute Pass took hours. In Cascade the train stopped for water. Each locomotive needed to take on several hundred gallons of water. The train then rumbled on through Green Mountain Falls, Woodland Park, and Divide. South of Divide the train stopped at Midland for more water. As it climbed up from Midland, the lakes at Rainbow Valley, once used for ice on the trains, could barely be seen. The train chugged through Waters Tunnel, which was named to honor Jesse Waters, an early official of the railroad who was killed in a tragic collision near Cripple Creek.
       Upon reaching the top of the hill, the train dropped toward Gillett Flats. It was named after William Gillett, one of the original officers of the company. It had been planned as the road's main shop, but the area gets very cold in the winter. As the train wound around Blizzard Point, where early trains often got stranded in snow drifts, Bull Hill was to the left across the meadow. The station lights were now in sight. It took until nearly midnight to reach Bull Hill. A switcher in the district had worked all day, traveling over most of the area's 25 miles of track, picking up loaded ore cars from the various mines. Here the train traded the empties for loaded cars. Once the train was ready, the engineers carefully worked their way to Woodland Park and Cascade, where they stopped to let the brakes cool. The train reached Colorado City in the early hours of the morning. A switcher took the cars, a few at a time, to the mill and returned with empties for the next night's train. This routine was repeated almost without variation for years.