COBWEB CORNERS: Down at the roundhouse
By Mel McFarland
It is well known that Van Briggle Pottery is located in the old Colorado Midland and Midland Terminal's roundhouse. At times I get asked what the roundhouse was actually used for. Today I want to answer some of that.
The roundhouse was more than a garage where up to 14 locomotives would be parked. It was the center of activity for the crews who used, as well as worked on, the engines. If we could follow a typical engine, we would see lots of people coming and going. I want to go back to the scene a hundred years ago, because later, say 70 years ago, it was a bit different.
Trains were coming and going day and night. When an engine came in, it was made ready to go right back out. The fire in the boiler was taken out, and the engine was turned on the turntable at the front of the roundhouse. The engine still had enough heat to move. It was backed into one of the stalls. A crew of up to six or seven men went over the engine, checking to see if everything was in good shape. If easy repairs were needed, they might be done in the roundhouse. One stall even sat over a pit to allow inspection under the engine. Apprentices might spend hours cleaning and wiping down the outside and inside of the cab, making it look good to the public. This was more important for the passenger engines. For lighter repairs, a small fire might be kept in the firebox, in case the engine was needed. The boilers were only cooled if an engine needed heavier repairs. A chimney over the smokestack vented the engine's smoke outside.
When the roundhouse foreman decided an engine was ready, it would be moved outside by a hostler (who was not really an engineer, but might be training to be one). He might even take it over and get a load of coal. Once the engineer and fireman for its trip arrived, it would be almost ready to go. They would check the engine while their conductor went and checked his caboose. The train cars were probably in the yards, ready to go, or maybe not. They would get their orders as to what they were going to do that trip and everyone would be sure all the watches had the same time, and everyone had the same orders before they got on the train to get going. The roundhouse crews were already busy getting another engine ready.