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COBWEB CORNERS: The mysterious telegraph operator

By Mel McFarland

        I recently learned that a telegrapher at Divide in the early 1900s went on to become a state senator. This story gets better than that.
       Long before a town started at Divide, the Colorado Midland had a station there. It being the top of the divide between Florissant and Woodland Park, the railroad needed a place where trains could wait, as well as a telegrapher to announce when they'd arrived. One of the earliest to work as a telegrapher there was a rather tall, lanky gent, not long out of school.
       This fellow only stayed at this fairly lonely outpost for a couple years before taking charge of another station near Glenwood Springs. But that too soon became dull. He left railroading and traveled north and west, trying cattle and lumbering.
       He settled in as a lumber merchant and developed a reputation with residents as a good manager. After being urged to become a politician, he served as a state representative and U.S. senator before working his way up to governor.
       But he never forgot his early vocation. There are two stories about that.
       One was during the filming of the 1952 movie, “Denver and Rio Grande,” down on the Silverton line. It celebrates the early days of Colorado's railroad history. In it General William Palmer, the D&RG founder, says to a telegrapher, "Send this message!"
       The telegrapher was this man, who had already been (and would be again) the governor of Colorado!
       The other story relates to when the Colorado Railroad Museum moved to Golden from Alamosa. Its main building resembled a railroad station. It had a complete telegrapher's office, but was not connected to the outside world at all.
       One day a big black limo pulled up, and out stepped the governor. He toured the facility and asked if he could sit at the telegrapher's station. The director of the museum knew him well, and welcomed the offer. Power was turned on, and he sat there several minutes, with his hand on the key, tapping out messages. Afterwards he got up, thanked the director and left.
       This, however, was not the end, as the man would return during times of stress at the state capitol, sitting and tapping at the machine. He usually just slipped in, not making it a "big deal." The museum staff got used to this visitor, and the other visitors enjoyed it, even if they did not know that this was Ed C. Johnson, Colorado's governor from 1933 to 1937 and from 1955 to 1957.
       And yes, he continued to come by, even after his term ended.

(Posted 11/2/15; 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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