Recently, as I watched trucks negotiate our late spring snowstorms, I thought how different it was for trains. Before there were trucks, how did things get to where they were needed? The answer involves trains, even in short trips.
An example is Cripple Creek. Before the railroads came, there was heavy railcar traffic from places like Florissant, Divide, Cañon City, and even Pueblo. When mining started, more than heavy machinery was needed. Things we don’t usually think about much have also moved. For example, some of the items needed were coal, food, and household items. They needed a way to move the ore from the mines to the mills, and sending empty wagons was not profitable.
Many do not realize that most of the district’s ore traveled in covered wagons, in part because the cargo was valuable and needed to be secured, and these wagons were available. The narrow gauge Florence and Cripple Creek also brought a lot of coal from the mines near Florence, and some of this coal came in wagons because the wagons were needed to move the ore. Mines and even support companies got things in boxcars, and the boxcars rarely came home empty.
Watching the trucks travel up the Ute Pass, how many are heading to places like Utah? Not that much, because trucks from Colorado Springs go north to I-70. Road traffic today used the railways in the 1890s. Even after trucks began to travel across the country after World War I, trains still carried many of the things needed in the district. The first trucks could not handle the very heavy things that trains could move. Then, after the Second World War, Midland saw regular freight movements, not just ore trains running up and down the pass. The railroad was then owned by the mining company, but it still supported other businesses in the area. They even still brought coal to the mountain camps. Grocery stores, hardware stores, and other small businesses have to move things by train or get things by rail car.
I’ve written a few articles about the practice of moving Cripple Creek’s concentrated gold ore by truck. It goes to Colorado Springs, where it is loaded into railroad cars to be transported to the factories which purify it. These moves could have started at the old bull hill yard.
Imagine modern trains rumbling up Ute Pass! Sure, there would be tons of complaints, but I still like to think about it.
EM “Mel” McFarland is an artist, historian and railroad enthusiast. He is originally from the Pikes Peak area and has written a handful of books and guidebooks highlighting the area’s rich history. Contact Mel at [email protected].