A favorite story of mine, especially when it comes to narrow gauge lore, is that of Billy Westall. The Denver, South Park & Pacific, one of Colorado's "other" narrow gauge railroads, got rolled up in the consolidation of a number of railroads that became the Colorado & Southern.
It was around the time of this consolidation on Sunday, August 28th, 1898, that William G. "Billy" Westall was working for the railroad as an engineer, pulling a train of seven passenger cars with around 450 souls aboard. The passengers were participating in a regional phenomenon where, to beat the summer heat that regularly soars above 90°F in and around Denver, those with the means would take an excursion train to the high country. There the relatively clean alpine air, streams of cold, clear water that only hours before had been locked within snowbanks, and wildflowers like the Columbine and fauna in abundance would work their magic on the denizens of arid, dusty, and crowded Denver. Returning on a summer afternoon, it would have been perfect if not for one simple but intractable problem. As editor Ed Haley writes in M.C. Poor's Denver South Park & Pacific
Just as the engine rounded a blind left curve near Dome Rock, engineer Westall caught sight of a large pile of sand and gravel on the track directly ahead, which had been washed down the mountain side by a recent heavy rain. He could have easily "joined the birds" and jumped in the clear, but chose, instead, to stick to his engine and try his best to stop the train with its human cargo. His fireman, Joseph Nichols, also stayed with the engine but was thrown into the clear as the engine turned over and [thus] escaped injury. Westall was successful in saving the lives of all his passengers at the expense of his own. His body was pinned to the ground by the handhold on the right side of the tender. He lived 12 hours, dying in the arms of his fireman. Westall's last words were: 'Tell my wife I died thinking of her'.
|The Westall monument |
Billy Westall and Joseph Nichols are heroes for refusing to leave their positions and giving every last ounce of effort to preserve the lives for which they were responsible. His co-workers and friends were deeply moved by Westall's sacrifice and through their union, the American Order of United Workmen, they placed a large granite memorial
near the site of the wreck a year later. Three separate trains were necessary to carry the passengers to the dedication of that monument. The monument sat for over a century before being adopted by a class of middle school students. They rehabilitated the monument
and placed a placard detailing Westall's story for the public.
Westall was buried in Denver's Riverside Cemetery
, known as the "Pioneer's cemetery." It is connected to the other monument by the Platte River, which runs along its northwest side. On the other side, it's bound by the active tracks of BNSF, the successor to the C&S and the DSP&P.⚒