COBWEB CORNERS: England: Where Palmer researched trains

By Mel McFarland

       Every now and then I visit England to see its trains. They have a lot to do with our history! The Denver and Rio Grande Railway, started by Colorado Springs founder William Palmer, was incorporated Oct. 27, 1870. On Nov. 7, Palmer married Queen Mellen and they sailed to England. While in England, the Palmers stayed at Dr. William A. Bell's home near London. Palmer and Bell continued their search for investors and additional ideas even during this time. The question of the equipment and gauge for their railroad had not been settled. Before the Civil War, Palmer had been introduced to various narrow gauge lines in Wales, and he thought these workable in Colorado's mountains.
       One person Palmer and Bell sought information from was George E. Spooner, enterprising owner of the Festiniog Railway. While the two were guests at the railway, Palmer made extensive notes on the equipment and operation of the little line. He felt the gauge was too narrow, that something about twice the size would do better. The men then met with Robert F. Fairlie, one of England's most vocal narrow-gauge proponents. He introduced them to a proposal he was about to send to India that was quite similar to what they had in mind. The line would bring to American a novel railroading system. Using a slightly wider gauge than the Welsh trains, it would still be able to negotiate mountain curves and slopes. It definitely would be less expensive and quicker to build than the standard gauge.
       Palmer and Bell also wanted the railroad to use British style stations, operations, and names patterned after the best of what they observed. Palmer insisted that his little locomotives would each carry a name, as well as a number, in typical English tradition. The passenger and freight cars showed the influence of Welsh and English standards, but this was soon found impractical, and a truly American style developed in Colorado. We have heard Colorado Springs was called "Little London," and here is another set of reasons!