COBWEB CORNERS: Researching train wrecks... with postcards

By Mel McFarland

       I collect old postcards. A hundred years ago it was possible to get a postcard made from photos. These are some of the most valuable postcards today, IF. The IF is if the photo shows what or where it was. I have looked through tons of old cards of people, houses, animals and buildings where there was not so much as a date or a name. In very fortunate cases, I recognize something in the picture to give a clue. There are certain places that are obvious, like Balanced Rock.
       With my interest in trains, that is something I really look for. I have found lots of postcards with photos of unidentified train wrecks. Fortunately, in many cases the date and maybe the location is written on the picture. In the BEST cases there is even a message about it on the address side. Thirty years ago, when I was just starting on my first book, I found a picture of a train wreck that had happened somewhere near here. It looked as if it might have been in Ute Pass, but there was no date or other information, and no one I showed it to knew either. BUT I found more pictures! There were lots of variations in the pictures and each one told a bit more about the accident and the location. It indeed was Ute Pass, but I still had no idea of the date.
       After a couple years I finally found a postcard with a date. My, oh my, was I happy. I rushed off to the library to look at the old newspaper files. It had been in August 1920, a short distance up Ute Pass. One of our summer rains had washed away part of the track. It was in one of the worst spots and closed the line for almost two days while crews got the train out of the way and filled the hole. People drove up the pass just to look at it! A group of tourist from Chicago were stranded in the pass until the wreck was cleared.
       People had postcards made and sent them to friends all over the area, but few put the information on the photos. They probably wrote letters to tell the story, or sent newspaper clippings, but those have been lost. Stashed away in Chicago, I bet, there are pictures that show some good views! I bet no one today knows anything about THOSE pictures!