Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Follow Up: Transcontinental Railroad Symposium

As a follow up to my previous post from April 26, it's worth noting that the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden is conducting a symposium on the weekend of June 7-9 on the Transcontinental Railroad.
Celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad with a decidedly Colorado twist.

Friday, Saturday & Sunday June 7-9, 2019

The top scholars in railroad history explore the struggles undertaken to build one continuous line of track from coast to coast and the resulting impact this had on our nation’s settlement and economy.
Speakers currently on the schedule include filmmaker Richard Luckin, David Bain, Peter A. Hansen, James Ehernberger, Kyle Wyatt, Dick Kreck, and Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains magazine. Of particular interest is Saturday afternoon when Al Dunton is scheduled to present The Colorado Connection, speaking on the Kansas Pacific and the Denver Pacific Railroads. Presiding, of course, is the director of the Colorado Railroad Museum, Donald Tallman.

The symposium will be held off-site from the museum for Friday and Saturday, and seating is limited. Reservations required by Friday, May 31, 2019, only 10 days from this post, so do not wait! Visit the event site for all official details.⚒

Friday, April 26, 2019

Was It Truly A Transcontinental Railroad?

In two weeks, dignitaries and pundits will call attention to a small bluff in western Utah named Promontory Summit where rail crews from two different railroads met and held a golden spike ceremony on May 10, 1869, 150 years ago. These facts, and more like them are certain. Among the statements and praise for the men--great and small--who commissioned and built it, statements will be passed as fact with hyperbole and oversimplifications mixed in. It's important in these times to remember the facts and, among them, Colorado's special place in America's transcontinental railroad history.

Photo: Andrew J. Russell, Restored by Adam Cuerden

While we could review much of the history of 19th century America in how the transcontinental railroad changed the course of history and formed the world we live in. Without it, much of America--and the world--would be different. It's not really possible to overstate it's role in forming the United States. But is it possible to oversimplify it or overstate certain facts? Absolutely! While we celebrate the transcontinental railroad with the Golden Spike ceremony, most of it is more symbolic than the actual formation of a transcontinental railroad.

True or False: The Golden Spike joined the nation by rail

FALSE -- The Golden Spike joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads, tying Omaha and Sacramento. A trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific by rail was not possible on May 10, 1869. While the Central Pacific did connect to Sacramento, it would not reach San Francisco Bay until much later that same year. Even with that gap filled, you would be forced to disembark your train at Council Bluffs, Iowa, to take the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry across the Missouri River to Omaha. While your travel time was cut from months to weeks, it would be over-simplifying to say the nation was joined by rail.

How was the nation joined by a truly coast-to-coast railroad connection? On August 15, 1870, two crews of the Kansas Pacific Railroad met at Comanche Crossing at Strasburg, Colorado. By joining their rails together, it was possible to embark a train at Jersey City, New Jersey and disembark at Oakland, California. The Union Pacific would not complete its Missouri River Bridge until March 25, 1873. Until that date, the true transcontinental railroad actually passed not through Omaha but through Kansas City and Denver.

Ready for more?

True or False: Promontory Point has a museum run by the National Park Service

TRUE -- You can visit the museum and watch a re-enactment of the Golden Spike ceremony most days out west of Salt Lake City. Just don't look for parking on May 10th.

T/F: The Union Pacific still uses the Golden Spike route

FALSE -- While much of the route is still the same, the route by Promontory was shifted to a more favorable grade well to the north of that historic location. The Comanche Crossing site east of Denver, however, is still in use, even with a museum.

T/F: Union Pacific owns the full route of the transcontinental railroad today

TRUE -- On September 11, 1996, Union Pacific Railroad purchased and merged with Southern Pacific, which had itself been purchased by the Denver & Rio Grande Western only 8 years before. Southern Pacific purchased the Central Pacific in a series of maneuvers beginning in 1885.

T/F: Union Pacific is bringing a special locomotive to the party in May

Are you kidding? TRUE! Union Pacific took one member of the largest steam locomotive class in history from Pomona California back in 2014 and has put it through a full restoration. The Big Boy 4014 will be heading to Utah this May for the ceremonies. Union Pacific's "never-retired" steam locomotive 844 will also be on hand for the celebration. For more information, visit Union Pacific Steam

In conclusion...

So was it truly a transcontinental railroad? Depends on your point of view. Politically, yes. Businesswise, maybe yes to a degree. As a passenger? Well, if I had to hoof it over to a ferry and then wait six months for Sacramento and San Francisco to join... then no, not hardly. But, from Atlantic to Pacific in 1870 through Denver on the Kansas Pacific with my private railcar? Sure! I'd call that a railroad.⚒


Special note: Though the Comanche Crossing web site has been down for more than a year, it's archived page still survives and from all indications, the museum is still in operation, opening June 1st through the summer every year.

On Wikipedia:

Promontory, Utah
Comanche Crossing on the Kansas Pacific
Union Pacific Railroad

Monday, April 8, 2019

How to Fire Up Your Morning

Ever wonder how to fire up a steam locomotive? Take a trip inside the Colorado Railroad Museum's roundhouse to bring life to Rio Grande 491!



Producer Jeff Berrier shows us the condensed version* of the steps required to steam up 491 early in the morning before a day of hauling visitors around the Colorado Railroad Museum. Grab a cup of coffee, stoke the fires, and get ready to enjoy this high quality look at operations in Golden! ⚒

* condensed version ...get it? Steam ...condensed ;)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Spring Cleaning On Cumbres Pass 1993

Speaking of John Bush on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, here he is in 1991 showing Rotary plow OY.



Opening the pass the old fashioned way sure looks like a lot of work, but a lot of fun too! ⚒

Video courtesy Greg Scholl Video Productions

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Short Film: The Railroader

This short film, The Railroader - Lessons Learned From a Lifetime of Working On a Historic American West Railroad, is currently in National Geographic's Short Film Showcase. Says NatGeo, "Filmmakers Annie and Russell O. Bush tell the the story of those who built and maintain this American tradition through the lens of lifetime railroader John Bush in this powerful short."



Powerful indeed. ⚒

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Of Lines Loved and Lost

For Christmas, I received Narrow Gauge in the Rockies by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, sixth printing, first published in 1958. It is illustrated with photos from W.H. Jackson, Otto Perry, and Richard Kindig, and paintings by Howard Fogg. Its pages are flowing with history and elaborate, almost florid accounts of life surrounding the narrow gauge in Colorado. Its foreword speaks of the narrow gauge railfan as if they were the Hebrews of old, saying,
To perpetuate the memory of the narrow gauges a generation that would gladly exchange the com­forts of here and now for yesterday in Boreas Pass has taken steps that stand as a testament of de­votion without parallel among other antiquar­ians no matter how dedicated. The Rocky Mount­ain Railroad Club tells their story in volumes that only a toler­ably strong man may heft; there is a Narrow Gauge Museum and Motel at Alamosa toward which dedi­cated railroad buffs every­where as Moslems [sic] toward Mec­ca; there is a periodical devoted solely to narrow gauge tidings which is the de­votion­al reading of The Faith­ful, and there are narrow gauge books, pamph­lets, post cards, ex­cursions, engine models, book ends, beer mugs, paperweights and pictured likenesses of the cars beyond all counting. To have ridden the San Juan or the Silverton Train is a greater experience than to have seen Shelley plain. The Faithful sigh for the snowsheds of Lizard Head and by the waters of Gunnison they sat them down and wept.
Even though it's a bit ostentatious and maybe pretentious in its prose, I can't help but see myself in this paragraph. I have indeed turned myself toward Golden (now where the said Museum and former-motel owner moved from Alamosa), bought countless mementos, ridden the Silverton Train and the surviving portion of the San Juan each many times over. I mourned the loss of the Rio Grande Southern while walking Lizard Head Pass and sat in the depths of the Gunnison and--I kid you not--wept bitter tears silently by its banks that the Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge is no more.

Am I embarrassed to admit to those tears? No. Those who don't understand the loss and share in the grief have my pity. Furthermore, for all the faults, both real and perceived, the days of yesterday contained, they also had gems, real and perceived, that today's progressed people have never experienced. It is truly a loss that our forebears did not retain them.

Nonetheless, I cannot stand in judgment of those who failed to keep those lost treasures, for one by one, other, non-narrow gauge lines are similarly dying in front of our eyes with only a little interest shown in preserving them. I am thinking chiefly of the Tennessee Pass line from Pueblo all the way to Dotsero. It is more than 21 years after seeing its last through revenue train, and the line is suffering from profound neglect.

This may be just my own opinion, but it seems Union Pacific cares little for jobs or industry in Salida, Leadville or Minturn. With the closure of Burnham and other points and routes, it's easy to think that the suits sitting in UP headquarters wonder why all jobs can't be based in Omaha, Seattle and San Diego. It's highly doubtful we would fare better with CSX or NS, were they to merge with the UP.

I believe the citizens of Colorado and her government need to be able and willing to use their powers to preserve the thoroughfares built and maintained by generations before so that the means of moving people and goods through Colorado does not waste away. Even the Moffat Route is not impervious to the forces of consolidation and removal. Am I looking at a future in which Granby and Craig sit isolated like Gunnison and Dolores and the Moffat Tunnel lies in ruins like the Alpine Tunnel? I sincerely hope not.⚒


Beebe, L., & Clegg, C. (1970). Narrow gauge in the Rockies. Berkeley, Calif: Howell-North