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COBWEB CORNERS: The short-lived WWII soldier train excursions

By Mel McFarland

Aug. 20, 2018
       It was 1944, and not since 1931 had the red plush chair cars of the Midland Terminal carried passengers over the famous Cripple Creek road. Not since the mid-'20s had the observation coach echoed the oohs and ahhs of tourists as the train climbed the steep grade.
       It was not a new generation of tourists that brought the cars out of their retirement in the Colorado City car sheds. It was soldiers from Camp Carson during World War II. The public relations and orientation office of the First Medical Group found the dusty coaches in the Midland Terminal sheds and took the idea to W.H. McKay and Len Butler of the railroad, and their cooperation resulted in plans for a series of special trains for Colorado soldiers in the summer of 1944 over the Midland Terminal line from Camp Carson to the Cripple Creek District.
       The first ride went pretty well, and so did another on June 18, 1944. On Sunday July 2, the passengers were 175 members of an engineers battalion. The train arrived in Victor at about noon. After a stop-over, the group proceeded to Cripple Creek, where the group had a chance to explore the town for an hour or more.
       That would be the last of the excursions.
       It seems the "war-weary" soldiers found interests in Cripple Creek quite tempting. As they returned to the train, many carried "refreshments." It seems that the high mountain
Locomotive 59 pulled the Midland Terminal Railway's last train for passengers in February 1949. Regular passenger service had ended in 1931, but the railroad tried offering "excursion" rides for Camp Carson soldiers in 1944.
Courtesy of Mel McFarland
air and a supply of adult beverages caused the "boys" to become a bit rowdy and even surly.
       The train made some stops on the way down the railroad for group pictures. With each stop it was harder and harder to get the attention of some of the troops and some of the cars were damaged. As the train pulled into the yards in Colorado City, the train crew was certain this would be the last of the excursions.
       Some five years later, when the Midland Terminal was closing down, it would take some real "salesmanship" from Ernie Payton - who had even worked for the railroad - to allow one last excursion on the line, this time for a large group of train enthusiasts from Denver that he was part of.
       One problem was that although the railroad had enough passenger cars, they still showed the damage from the earlier excursions. The club managed to "borrow" two old wooden cars from the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad. These two D&RGW cars, along with two Midland Terminal cars, made up the last passenger excursion to Cripple Creek on Feb. 6, 1949.

(Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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