Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Early Railroad Photography Exhibition In Denver

Early railroad photography consisted mostly of advertisements for the railroads, which hired photographers like William Henry Jackson. In Jackson's case, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad even provided a special 3-car train with a mobile dark room to develop the plate glass negatives he used. Jackson used a combination of photography and lithography, providing eye-catching color advertisements in an era of black and white.

The Colorado Historical Society is displaying these advertisements in an exhibition at the society's Byers-Evans House Museum, 1310 Bannock Street in Denver. The exhibition is free and will run through the end of May. Visit the CHS site on the Byers-Evans House for more information.

Monday, April 27, 2009

One Last Look At The Ski Train

Kevin Morgan of Colorado​ has done an excellent job following the Ski Train under Ansco's ownership. He has some real talent and we couldn't have asked for a better photographer to document her last years. Here are all of Kevin's photos of the Ski Train, starting with his most recent, when he visited Burnham Yard yesterday to take one last look.

James Griffin, a published Rio Grande historian, built his own un-official home of the Ski Train. It's present incarnation at is its best-looking thus far. He's modeled the Ski Train for years and published a bit of a how-to on the same site, as there was no ready-made set in HO scale.

The Denver Post has compiled a slide show of Ski Train photos taken over the years. Additionally, people have been responding to the Denver Post's editorial on the newspaper's discussion page, similar to a neighborhood meeting. There have been some good comments and observations. Here are the other DP articles on the Ski Train's departure:
One good note that came out of that last article above was that the name and the logo were not sold with the equipment, meaning that we could conceivably see a revived Ski Train in the distant future, or some other rail-related endeavor. Whether this includes the flying Rio Grande seen on the cars and engines is undetermined

Here are some other links regarding the Ski Train, in no particular order:
Farewell, Ski Train, for now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dispute Involves Railroad History

I suspect there's more to this land dispute than meets the eye, but the fact remains that the property in question is historic.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How Does A Cog Railroad Work?

Visitors looking to do something to do along Colorado's Front Range don't have to look very far to find anything. Yet there is something that is uniquely Colorado right in the middle of the Front Range. Long before there was a state called Colorado, or even a Denver City, people knew of a mountain far into the Kansas Territory called Pike's Peak. The cry of the 1859 Gold Rush was, "Pike's Peak or Bust!"

Today, Pikes Peak presides over the 2nd largest city in the state, Colorado Springs. Like the settlers of 150 years ago, it is the first landmark that people from the east look for in their trek westward across the plains. Early visitors could hike to the top, and later a burro train would carry folks to the top. In 1889, Zalmon Simmons (as in Simmons mattresses) started the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway. Using a Abt rack system to climb the mountain in a fraction of the time and distance it would take a regular adhesion locomotive and cars, the railroad first began carrying passengers to the top in 1891. The cog railway saved so much time it was possible for any tourist to make the excursion to the top a day trip, turning it into the first-rate tourism attraction it is today.

Maintaining and operating a rack system makes for some interesting workings, interesting enough for Trains Magazine to use their fledgling TrainsTube service to show their subscribers and the world how the Cog Wheel Route actually works, starting with a view from between the rails at how the cog mates with the track. The video also shows one of the most curious workings: how the switching works when you have a rack in the middle that must synch up with the teeth that it connects to. It's worth the time to take a look at this Swiss and American technology that continues to prosper on Pikes Peak 120 years later.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rio Grande Ski Train Sold, Moved To Canada

It is with great sadness that I report that the Ski Train has been sold and will no longer operate in Colorado.

I'll let that sink in for a moment. The last remaining standard gauge operation that was truly a Rio Grande original is now gone. Started by the Denver and Rio Grande Western in 1940 as a means of getting the residents of Denver to their city-owned Winter Park ski area, the train operated over 69 seasons. It originated at Denver's Union Station and dropped skiers off for a day of skiing after emerging from the Moffat Tunnel, just 12 years old in 1940. The train would be wyed at Tabernash and wait in the siding at Frasier until the day came to a close, when it would return to the same curve and pick up happy and tired skiers for a relaxing ride home.

In 1984, Denver businessman Phil Anschutz purchased the Rio Grande and then in 1988, purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP), merging the two under the larger railroad's name. As part of the deal, a subsidiary of Anschutz Company would buy the Ski Train and operate it as a separate venture. They continued losing some money in the venture, but it was something they "wanted to do," according to company spokesman Jim Monaghan.

As for the reasons leading to the sale of the historic train, it was a combination of things. Monaghan cited four problems faced by the Ski Train, in no specific order.
  1. overall cost increases, particularly for liability coverage
  2. operating issues with freight trains over the route owned by SPs successor, the Union Pacific railroad
  3. uncertainty surrounding the redevelopment of Union Station and the Ski Train's place in that development (I blogged about this here)
  4. a weakened overall economy
While no control can be exerted over issues 1 and 4, issues 2 and 3 should have been mitigated or resolved before the sale became an option. One could wonder if issue 2 was a monster of Anschutz's own making when the company sold SP to Union Pacific in 1996. The Union Pacific is no lover of passenger trains, as riders of Amtrak over the years can readily attest to. By losing ownership of the route, Anschutz lost control of whose trains get priority treatment. Additionally, recent maneuvers by the Obama administration and a Democrat-controlled congress have put pressure on the Big Four railroads to make Amtrak trains on their routes a priority, resulting in better on-time performance for Amtrak. This is all well and good, but could this well-intentioned maneuver by the government have lead to the California Zephyr taking the Ski Train's priority ranking over the crowded Moffat Route? It's a logical possibility, as the Amtrak effort coincided with the end of the 2009 Ski Train season. The sad irony is that by pushing state-sponsored trains, Obama and company are sending the capitalist private-sector trains to the scrap yard or, in this case, out of the country.

Issue 3 appeared on this blog back in January. As I said in the post,
RTD feels a "social obligation" to it, but that's different than a contractual obligation. Where do the skis, poles, boots and people go if the platforms are spoken for by the local commuter train to Brighton? Putting more cars on I-70/US 40 to Winter Park is not an option.
Now it appears that the non-option is the reality. Since the RTD announced plans for redeveloping Denver's Union Station, they never publicly specified where the Ski Train would fit in the plans. Translation: The Ski Train is not welcome. The cars on the pavement in Denver are now being moved to the mountains by the neglect of an agency designed to improve transportation in Denver. Parasite or patron, Denver has historically shown that it is for Denver's cause above that of Colorado in general, and this fits right in.

This is indeed sad news. At the age of 69, a wonderful train is being sold off, with no replacement in sight.

HT: Kevin Morgan

Ski Train Ends Run Forever

More information to follow.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Volunteers Needed

Happy Easter, everyone! He is risen!

The Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden needs volunteers to work in the office, on the track crew, in restoration projects in the roundhouse, in the library and as tour guides. I've volunteered at the museum before and it's a great experience! To step up, contact volunteer coordinator David Williams at 720-274-5147 or e-mail

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Photography Tips and Techniques Special On Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Have a budding photographer in your family that wants to brush up on their skills? The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is planning a Photo & Video Tips & Techniques Special. From the site,
Spend the day with experts and learn the tips and techniques to obtain fantastic nature photography. One dome car will be assigned to each subject and the journey will allow time for a question and answer period and some one-on-one help.
Visit the site for more information or add this event to your Google calendar.

Here's the first run of steam on the RGSR back in 2007.