COBWEB CORNERS: The noisy but reliable ‘Uncle Sam’
By Mel McFarland
One of my usual breakfast stops is Uncle Sam's in Manitou, as I have mentioned before, but this is another one! There is a connection here! The “Uncle Sam” in this story was Engine Number 501, which ran for many years between the D&RG station in downtown Colorado Springs and the station in Manitou Springs, pulling the train along that route three times a day. Built in 1883, the engine had previously worked the main line between Denver and Pueblo.
The line to Manitou was originally built as a narrow, three-foot gauge track in 1880. But later that decade the Denver and Rio Grande started converting to standard gauge. The Manitou branch saw conversion to both standard and narrow gauge in 1888. In 1902, the narrow gauge track to Manitou was removed altogether.
Engine Number 26, a little narrow gauge locomotive, preceded Uncle Sam on the Manitou branch. Built in 1878, it was ideal for the service. It was too light for the main line, even though that was where it had originally run. Engine 26 could pull the little train, passenger cars, freight cars and sometimes both from the downtown station. It survived on the run until about 1888. Around 1900, the much larger 501 arrived.
This locomotive easily pulled the two-car train to Manitou. One thing it became known for was how loud it was. It was said it made more noise than similar engines pulling heavy trains out of Colorado City on the Colorado Midland. But the engine also became known for its reliability. It served the Manitou branch with Jack Stephen as its engineer. It was not unusual for trains to get reputations, even names. The Rio Grande's first engines even had formal names, like over in England, but "Uncle Sam" was the name given to 501 by the people along the line.
In 1916, Uncle Sam's days ended. It went to Denver and was scrapped. Another engine later got the number 501, but it was not "Uncle Sam"! Business on the line was declining. The last Rio Grande train to Manitou ran in 1931.