Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last ride of Midland


“A railroad is like a lie, you have to keep building it to make it stand.”
__ Mark Twain

“One of the things the government can't do is run anything. The only things our government runs are the post office and the railroads, and both of them are bankrupt.”
__ Lee Iacocca

It was a serious pain to switch from standard gauge down to the narrow gauge to get through the mountains. Making transfers to different rolling stock (on both ends of the journey), smaller payloads, special equipment required, and other elements were problematic. But building a full width track, through twisting canyons and on precipitous rock walls, up nearly impossible grades, was a daunting task for early railroad track engineers.
The Colorado Midland claims the title for being the first standard-gauge line to be built through the Rockies. Like Bunyan’s blue ox Babe’s measurements between the eyes, the tracks were two axe handles and a plug of chewing tobacco wide, (four feet, eight inches) compared to the narrow gauge’s conservative 3 foot span. Organized in 1884 by area pioneer banker Irving Howbert and implemented and guided by the sheer will of businessman James J. Hagerman in its infancy, the line pressed on up through the Ute Pass and eventually made it as far as Grand Junction. Originally, they intended going on to Salt Lake City but with the discovery of gold in Cripple Creek, the strategy shifted to a branch line leaving from Divide, headed south to the mining district. That effort became a tangled mess with construction delays that eventually stopped it dead in its tracks. Some of the original investors formed a new company called the Midland Terminal Railway and it carried its first cargo into and out of the district, (at least as far as Gillette Flats) in 1894.
Other railroads followed suit and by the turn of the century, multiple roads were servicing the district but their success was short-lived. During World War I, railroads were nationalized and by 1918, one competitor, “The Short Line” had shut down. The Colorado Midland stopped service shortly afterward but its track, from Colorado Springs to Divide was assimilated by the Midland Terminal Railroad, which by that time, the majority of ownership was in the hands of Spencer Penrose and A.E. Carlton and tied to mining efforts in region. They used it mostly to transport ore to the Golden Cycle Mill in Old Colorado City from the mines in Victor, Cripple Creek and the other mining hamlets in the District.
Regularly scheduled passenger trains ran on the line until 1931 but according rail expert Mel McFarland, two terminals on ‘the Westside’ burnt in the winter of ‘31. The train continued to run until the Golden Cycle ceased operation at their Westside mill in 1949.
One last passenger train ran in February of 1949. Such notables as former Gov. Ralph Carr and legendary radio announcer and newsman Lowell Thomas attended that last ride.
In the late 1980s, John Graham, owner, publisher and editor of the Pikes Peak Journal and his staff completed the following project about the last run of the Midland Terminal Railroad.


Winter wasn't the proper season for such an event, but it couldn't wait until spring. By then, all the locomotives would be gone.
So despite the chilly weather, a sizable crowd turned out on the morning of Feb. 6, 1949, at the Midland Terminal Railway yards on 21st Street to help write a page of history. The last passenger train from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek was scheduled to leave on its final trip.
Ed Chonka, a Westside resident who was born and raised near Bott Street next to the sprawling, 500-acre mill and railroad complex operated by Golden Cycle Corporation, was one of the many people who felt the emptiness associated with the railroad's impending demise. He showed up with his camera to document the Midland Terminal's last hooray.
"I wish I had taken even more pictures than I did," said Chonka. "But it was real sad. It was such a change. Suddenly the railroad wouldn't be there anymore. It was like someone dying."
Before the day ended, Chonka recorded scenes of Engine 59, one of railroad's oldest war horses, pulling four passenger cars up Ute Pass en route to Cripple Creek and the once generous gold fields which gave birth to the Midland Terminal 54 years earlier.
Chonka, riding in a car driven by his brother Chuck, took pictures of the train as it chugged its way past many landmarks and stations which are only memories today - Becker's Spur, Manitou Iron Springs, Lime Rock, Crags, Bison, Edlowe, and Ice House Spur.
Hoot Sullivan, an engineer who had worked his way up through the ranks after starting as a worker on a section crew, was also on hand that February day in 1949.
"I felt so badly about it," the Westside resident recalls. "It was like having the rug pulled out from under me. I was young and thought I had everything I wanted. I was an engineer. Suddenly, there was nothing to look forward to."
Sullivan wasn't alone. In the coming weeks, 120 Midland Terminal employees lost their jobs. Some of them later found temporary work when Commercial Metals Company of Dallas, a salvage company which hired local crews to tear out the 56 miles of rail between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek.
Two weeks after the last passenger trip, the Midland Terminal ran its final freight run to Cripple Creek, returning with 31 ore cars, 27 of them empty, and miscellaneous equipment from depots in Midland, Divide, Woodland Park, Cascade and Manitou Springs. Although all the official "good-byes" had already been said during the passenger train ceremonies, the last freight run was a more befitting tribute to the memory of the Midland Terminal. Hauling ore and freight, not passengers, was really what the railroad was all about, right from the beginning.
Born during the scramble to get to the Cripple Creek and Victor gold fields in the mid-1890s, the Midland Terminal was a survivor of an incredible and oftentimes cut-throat railroad boom which featured four other main contenders - the Colorado Midland, the Denver and Rio Grande, Florence and Cripple Creek, and the Cripple Creak and Colorado Springs.
The competition was fierce with the Colorado Midland and Midland Terminal working the northern route into the gold fields from Divide, and the D&RG and Florence and Cripple Creek teaming to work a southern route from Florence. Plying the most direct and probably most difficult line was the CC&CS, which reached the gold fields via what is today's the Gold Camp Road.
Benefiting from the booming railroad activity in the late 1890s and early 1900s was Colorado City and its ore-processing mills - Golden Cycle, Colorado-Philadelphia, Standard, and Portland. Colorado City had experienced previous boom eras because of railroad expansion, primarily in the 1880s after the Colorado Midland had carved out a route to Leadville through Ute Pass. The early gold rushes into the Colorado mountains had set the stage for Colorado City to become a staging area for workers headed for the Cripple Creek mines.
When production in the gold fields began declining after the turn of the century, the struggle for survival among the railroads and the mills intensified. More than $24 million worth of gold had been produced from ore from Cripple Creak in 1902; by 1917, that figure was down to $10 million and dropping.
The Colorado Midland went under in 1918, but the Midland Terminal acquired much of its equipment and continued operating.
"The railroad, however, was moving in a direction that spelled its own end," wrote author Mel McFarland in his book, "The Cripple Creek Road." "The Midland Terminal was becoming dependent upon the output of Golden Cycle-owned mines."
The railroad's passenger service was quickly becoming a thing of the past, thanks mainly to the automobile. The company was running in the red between 1923 and 1929, and by 1931, passenger service was essentially eliminated. A passenger car would, on occasion, be added to the daily freight runs in the summer, but the Midland Terminal was primarily in the business of hauling ore.
For 18 more years the railroad fought to stay alive and managed to overcome a number of obstacles, including devastating floods in 1935 and 1947, and a drastic decrease in mining activity during World War II. Struggling also during this time was the Golden Cycle Mill, which seldom produced at over half its capacity.
Labor problems, including a strike by workers who were seeking wage increases, added to the Midland Terminal's woes in 1948. The Golden Cycle Corporation - which by that time owned both the Midland Terminal and Golden Cycle Mill - finally decided to abandon the railroad and to close the mill in Colorado City in favor of a new facility in Elkton near Cripple Creek.
So when a final farewell trip was planned for Feb. 6, 1949, people like Ed Chonka and "Hoot" Sullivan, whose lives on the Westside were entwined with the railroad's history, turned out to get a last look.
"After the last passenger trips, I remember watching some of the locomotives being cut up with torches," Chonka recalls. "It was hard to believe. I had watched them heading back and forth to Cripple Creek since I was a kid."
One of the cruelest aspects of the Midland Terminal's demise, as far as historians and restoration groups are concerned, was its almost complete elimination in a short period of time.
A few remnants remain today, including some of the terminal building complex which is now occupied by Van Briggle Pottery (Van Briggle has recently relocated) and Ghost Town, and the tunnels along side U.S. Highway 24 in Ute Pass, but most of the physical evidence - including all the locomotives - that made the Midland Terminal an essential part of Old Colorado City and the Westside has disappeared.
"I wish the city still had the railroad around," Sullivan said. "It would be a real asset, I think, for the tourist trade. To be able to take visitors over what was once the life-line to Cripple Creek.
"It would be something."


The electronic presentation of all research materials are the property of the Old Colorado City Historical Society. Above photo belongs to the Society and is available for viewing with other materials at its site.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Simple times weren't so simple


Albert Einstein probably had it right. “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal,” he said.
Every generation tends to think society today is worse than it ever was. We are all headed to hell in a hand-basket, and “if only I were born 100 years earlier.” Life was simpler then, peaceful, calm, tranquil. Men and women went about their business, worked with their hands and simple tools, kept to themselves and didn’t have to worry much.
Well, maybe not.
One of those simple tools was found near the door of a house on Dale Street Monday afternoon, Sept. 20, 1911. Six bodies in two adjacent homes in Colorado Springs, and one of the most brutal crimes ever to take place in this town were discovered behind the doors of those two homes.
“The axe with which the deed was done was found yesterday by Mrs. J.R. Evans who lives next door to the Waynes, at 742 Hanson Place, and from whom it was borrowed last week. It was standing outside the Wayne door, covered in blood,” according to a New York Times story the next day. “Mrs. Evans thought the family had been killing chickens, and thought nothing of the incident until the discovery of the bodies today.”
Killed were Mrs. Alice May Burnham, 25, her six-year-old daughter (also Alice), her three-year-old son John. In another house nearby, Henry F. Wayne, 30, his wife Blanche, 25, and their year-old baby daughter (also Blanche).
“Mrs. June Ruth of 931 South Sierra Madre Street, sister of the murdered Mrs. Burnham, went to the latter’s house at 321 West Dale Street, in the rear of the Wayne home, to do some sewing, accompanied by Mrs. Anna Merritt of 730 Pine Street. The front door was locked, and the two women gained entrance by the rear door. On entering the front room they found the body of Mrs. Burnham lying covered in bed. Beside her, one on each side, were the bodies of here two children with their heads similarly cut open with an axe. The covers had evidently been carefully replaced by the one who did the deed. Not an article in the little home had been disturbed,” according to the story in New York Times.
“Rushing to the street, the women gave the alarm, and neighbors flocked to the scene of the tragedy. Instinctively a dozen persons ran to the Wayne home, where no sign of life had been seen since Sunday afternoon. The rear door was found unfastened, and in the bed in the front room the scene witnessed in the Burnham home was almost exactly duplicated.”
According to a 1962 paper by Carl F. Mathews, and the Times article, Arthur J. Burnham, husband and father of the Burnham victims and a yardman at the Modern Woodman sanitarium, was detained and questioned extensively by police but was quickly cleared and released with an air-tight alibi.
Another man, Italian laborer, Tony Donatel, was also arrested but eventually cleared as well. Even Mrs. Evans, the woman who discovered the murder weapon (and her son-in-law and daughter) came under heavy scrutiny, particularly because they were owners of the axe.
“Similar ax murders were taking place over the country this year, whether by the same hand or by some weak-brained individual who read of them is a question never answered,” wrote Mathews, who served for 32 years as superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in the Colorado Springs Police Department.
In April of 2007, Erin Emery of the Denver Post reported that Colorado Springs Police Investigator Dwight Haverkorn was once again trying to connect the dots on this case by trying to prove that the person who killed the Burnham and Wayne families in the city was a serial killer, responsible during a two-month period for 25 murders in five towns: Portland, Ore.; Rainier, Wash.; Monmouth, Ill.; Ellsworth, Kan.; and Colorado Springs. Haverkorn was sifting through Pinkerton Detective Agency records. The agency was called in to work on the case in the absence of a regular police chief and considering the high profile of the case.
"I'm hoping that somewhere in some of those Pinkerton records there might be actual copies of fingerprints that were taken by some of these detectives," Haverkorn told the Post. "And if we had them for two or three scenes, we could come up with a common fingerprint between any two or three and boost my theory that it was a serial killer that traveled the country."
In the end, perhaps it will come back to one of those simple tools.
“The killer almost always entered homes through an unlocked window. He usually lit a candle in the home but obscured it so it would not be too bright and wake his soon-to-be victims. In Colorado Springs, while climbing through a window, he knocked over a bottle of ink, leaving a handprint on the handle of the ax he found and used. There are no records of those fingerprints on file with the Colorado Springs Police Department,” according to Emery’s story in the Denver Post.
But someday it may be possible to link a serial killer, who perhaps rode the rails around the country and killed with a simple tool, in times that were far more complex than they appear at first blush.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

On road to ruin, but makin' good time



It’s a dark day. Things I thought would last forever may not make it through the next week. Nothing is as it once was.
Back in those days, the new car models came out in the fall before the actual model year. In 1977 — As a public, we had recently weathered the disgrace and resignation of a U.S. president. Unemployment was 7.7 percent. Jimmy Carter was the new leader of the free world and a gallon of gas averaged 62 cents for regular. Cheryl Ladd replaced Farrah Fawcett on Charlie’s Angels and Linda Ronstadt sang the national anthem to open the World Series. Muhammed Ali beat (and I mean beat) Ernie Shavers in 15. General Motors also just introduced the first U.S. Diesel auto in the form of the Oldsmobile 88.
My dad worked at the local Chevy garage, as he had for decades, in our little town of Dolores, population 800, in the far, southwestern corner of Colorado.
On the showroom floor that fall, on the grey-enameled, shined and waxed floors — right next to the 15-cent, chest-type, pop machine that still stocked Orange Crush and Grape Nehi, was a genuine General Motors sight to behold.
The 1978 Corvette, with its new fastback rear styling, a redesigned one-piece fiberglass body, and star-wars-like modern interior complete with square-shaped speedometer, tachometer and even sporting a new glove box— was of course a rarity in that showroom. In its place was usually a practical four-door passenger car at a dealership that sold mostly pickups that would bang around the ranches, forests, oilfields and reservations in that area for years to come.
But this Corvette was even more.
For the first time ever, a Corvette paced the Indy 500 that year, and not only that, but it was the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Corvette. To celebrate 25 years of ‘vettedom, Chevy originally built 300 Pace Car replicas, complete with their own special VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) series. Demand for the replicas went crazy and the car company obliged by increasing production on the edition, little by little at first, but upon failing to keep up with that demand, Chevrolet finally decided to build 6,502 of the unique vehicles — one for every dealer in the country.
To me, the silver and black sports car, with red accents and grey, spaceship-like interior parked there on the showroom floor was emblematic of the times, the apex of the dealership’s influence and importance.
The ‘garage’ or the ‘shop’ as everyone I knew called it, was unique as well.
On the front corner, with double glass doors opening into the showroom, there was a couple of gas pumps that, if you pulled up — the owner, or the parts man, or the car salesman (or sometimes all three) would come out at the ‘ding’ and fill’er up, check the oil, clean your windows.
In addition to the three “up front” with the courteous pump attendance, I remember three mechanics, a greaseman, washrack/tire guy, a service manager, two bodymen, bookkeeper and maybe an extra man here or there at times. Men with names like Dale, Jack, Tom, Fred, Wayne, Hank and Bob would turn wrenches, change tires, pound out dents, replace windshields, drink coffee and tell stories all day, six days a week. It was hub of activity and a small-town economic force.
‘The shop’ has been closed for years now.
The men moved along to other shops and garages in other towns.
I haven’t seen full service at a pump in 30 years. No more 15-cent Orange Crush and Grape Nehi. No 62-cent-a-gallon gas. General Motors and other American car companies are broke and may not survive — but if they do, it will be with a lot fewer dealerships. I think that ‘vette is the last Indy Pace Car I can remember.
It is a dark day. Nothing is as it once was.
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