2016-01-26

Burnham Shops In Final Countdown To Closure

For more than 140 years, the at-first narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and its standard gauge successors have maintained a locomotive maintenance facility and yard at 8th and Pecos in central Denver. In less than 3 weeks, that facility will turn it's last wheel.

Such news is a bitter pill to take.

It's no secret that declining coal traffic in Colorado and the unlikely prospect of its revival, at least in the domestic sense is driving the business decision. Nearly a year into a continuous drop in earnings, Union Pacific isn't shy about falling back on the tried and true method of shoring up a soft bottom line by consolidating operations and reducing expenditures. The bitter pill is the number of "relocated" jobs--at least 210--and the location, which is to some Rio Grande fans, sacred ground.

In his comments on the Denver Post news article announcing the closure, rail historian Dillon A. wrote
I propose that the Burnham yards be put on the Register of Historic Places. This facility is where hundreds of thousands of steam and diesel locomotives were overhauled and repaired. A good example of why this needs to be saved and saved NOW are one of the locomotives that came from this facility. These locomotives still survive on the Cumbres & Toltec scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico, Durango & Silverton scenic Railroad in Durango, and one at the Colorado Railroad Museum.  ... These locomotives were the narrow-gauge K-37 class of the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Out of 10 made, 8 still exist and one is currently operational. #491 is operating at the railroad Museum in Golden. These locomotives are the greatest example of the power and craftsmanship that this facility produced. That is why this facility needs to be saved NOW. It might just look like an old rail yard, but it holds MANY secrets and hold LOTS of opertunity [sic] for future historic rail preservation.
While my heart strongly echoes these sentiments, interested parties must either hastily coalesce into a preservation group or contact the existing preservation organizations like the Colorado Railroad Museum or History Colorado to get involved. Otherwise, we have little right to complain. 

At this point, UP spokeswoman Callie B. Hite says the railroad plans to prepare the 70-acre locomotive repair yard for sale. There are about two dozen buildings on the site, which is zoned for industrial uses. "The 70-acre property is located in an area experiencing renewed urban development," Hite was quoted in the article.



Opinion

More than 20 years ago, I can remember gliding past the "dead line" on neighboring tracks operated by Denver's pilot Light Rail line, scrolling past the many Southern Pacific and Union Pacific locomotives, searching intently for a Rio Grande in among the dirty grey and dingy yellow engines awaiting their fate to be rebuilt or sold. It's hard to imagine that the next time I do ride past, the dead line, shops and structures could be all demolished and plowed under for a scenic strip mall or trendy retail "infill." This was a place that birthed the Rio Grande's narrow gauge conversions, refit and rehabilitated the mighty 2-8-8-2's and their kin during the heyday of steam and rebuilt and repaired the generations of diesel locomotives that defied gravity over the spine of the continent. For generations, men punched in, endured hours of hard, sweaty work in grimy iron horses, some loving every minute of it. Their sons and grandsons remembering their work with pride. This place probably will now be re-developed and paved over with not even a hint that such history transpired there, except perhaps the irony of the same name, Burnham Shops.

If you disbelieve me, consider that today's Elitch's was in 1993 a very different place, the Colorado & Southern yards. Abandoned and quiet, they still had history waiting inside structures that had stood for decades. In two years, the only hint that remained of it's railroad past was a heavy, through-truss turntable, and in only a few more years, it was gone, replaced by a mediocre bat swing ride. It became a forgotten corner in a park that itself has suffered under a series of lackluster owners and stagnant growth after moving from it's own home in 1994 over a century old in the West Highlands of Denver. Is that really what should happen to Burnham?◊