Saturday, September 25, 2010

Waved to his wife and headed for a train wreck


Not far from my house, very near the present-day North entrance to the United States Air Force Academy, once stood the town of Husted. Named after pioneer lumberman and early El Paso County Commissioner Calvin R. Husted, the town was never what you might call a thriving metropolis. But until the late 1950s, when most of its buildings were removed in preparation for the coming academy, it was an important stop on the Sante Fe and Denver & Rio Grande (D. & R.G.) railroads. It also was the location of one of the most horrific train accidents in Colorado history.
“On the D. & R.G. railroad at West Husted was a round house, turn table that employed several engineers, brakeman, and other crew men all year,” wrote Lucille Lavelett in her book “Monument’s Faded Neighbor Communities and its Folklore.”
“The steam engines had power to pull the freight and passenger trains from Colorado Springs to Husted, but not enough power to pull the steep grade to Palmer lake to the “Divide,” therefore extra helper engines and crews of men were kept at Husted. They turned around at the ‘Y’ at Palmer Lake and returned to Husted,” wrote Lavelett.
The Colorado Springs Gazette of August 14, 1909, related the story of the rail accident there over 101 years ago.
“Nine persons are dead, and others are expected to die; between forty and fifty are injured; three engines are in the ditch; two baggage cars, including the contents, are smashed to kindling wood, and several passenger coaches are badly damaged as the result of a head-on collision between east bound passenger train No. 8, and westbound passenger No. 1, on the Denver & Rio Grande, near Husted, thirteen miles north of this city, at 10:25 a. m. today. The wreck was due to a misunderstanding of orders, it is said.”
Report from papers all over the nation carried the dispatches.
As No. 8 drew into Husted about forty miles an hour, the crew of the engine saw a light engine standing on the switch north of the station.
“Mistaking the engine for the second section of No. 1, the crew did not stop, and went through the station as fast as the two engines could draw the thirteen heavily laden coaches. As soon as the train got out of the station, the engineer of the first engine of No. 8 saw another train coming slowly down the incline. He slammed on the air brakes, and the emergency brakes, and then shouted to the other members of the two crews to jump. Before they had time to jump, No. 3 had rammed No. 1 so hard that all three engines lay in the ditch,’ according to the Nebraska State Journal at the time.
“Fireman J. A. GOSSAGE, of train No. 8, was killed as he was firing his engine, and never knew what struck him. The members of the other crew escaped serious injury by jumping.”
The smoker, attached to train No. 8, was the car in which the people were killed. All those badly injured were in the same car.
Other reports said that J.A. or Jack Gossage, the fireman on the helper engine who lived at Husted and had just waved to his wife as the train passed his home was trapped between the engine and the tender when the collision occurred.
Jack Gossage's wife continued to work for the railroad for many years afterward as a cook for crews in Husted, and the Gossage name eventually became quite famous for other reasons in Colorado Springs. Jack Gossage is grandfather to Colorado Springs standout and major league baseball hall of famer Rick “Goose” Gossage.
“The wreck occurred just east of the east switch at Husted. The impact of the trains was terrific and the locomotives and the baggage and smoking cars of both trains were badly damaged,” reported papers at the time.
“The shrieks of the wounded were pitiful and those who were not injured among the passengers immediately started the work of rescue. It was impossible to accurately determine the number of dead, but first reports indicated that eight had been killed.”
Later reports blamed the wreck on one of the train crews negligence.
An August 20, 1909, account in Carbon County, Utah, related the following:
“The coroner's jury which investigated the head on collision on the Denver & Rio Grande railroad at Husted, Colo, Saturday morning, when ten persons were killed and three score injured returned its verdict on Tuesday. The verdict finds that the wreck was due to criminal negligence on the part of the train crew, composed of Engineers Lezsig, and Hollingsworth, Fireman Wright, Conductor Dalton and Brakeman McElhern. The verdict also declares that the evidence shows that a defective system for issuing train orders was employed by the railroad at the time of the wreck. An order was sent to Denver to arrest the members of the train crew.”
Wilbur F. Fulker and his brother Iven were passengers on the southbound train out of Monument involved in the collision. Wilbur took a series of photographs with a new camera using glass plates that famously chronicled the accident. Wilbur’s son, also Wilbur, is the tuba-playing inspiration for the Colorado Spring’s landmark “Uncle Wilber’s Fountain” at Acacia Park and longtime teacher and administrator at the Colorado Deaf and Blind.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ski Stoner and you can ski anywhere

The first time, on long wooden skis, heavy leather boots,
They laced both front and back.
It started there and progressed up slope —
Until you got the knack.
With bamboo poles, a jacket snug and
Cable bindings snapped down tight.
To the bunny hill, a glove-eating monster
A hundred kids, like ants, on hills of white.
The diesel smell and clang of fitful starts and stops,
The rope tow’s safe, you know
Oscar Hamilton will save you fingers, if only treated right.
As you aged and skied and learned the ropes,
The T bar loomed, the ridge, the trees,
The bumps, the open track.
On holidays and weekends, for just nine bucks
Stoner slopes always asked with grace,
Nudged politely, said its piece,
“Please come back.”
The red plastic locks would form a chain on winter coats,
and tell of countless visits,
Chili in the lodge and hundreds of people
Drinking in the mountain spirits.
If you helped the Clarks, and stayed at the lodge,
You knew you may be scrubbing dishes.
The T-bar spring was a deadly tool.
It would take your hat, rip your shirt, rake your back,
Snatch you bald, and prove the fool.
The trick it seems, you skied it twice
On boards, its true, both up and down the hill
From ‘51 to ’83, to the slope, the kids they came,
From towns along the river,
but the special use permit was not renewed,
and Tramway asked for things that area just couldn’t deliver.
It closed, they pulled the hut, the T-bar was taken down.
By ’91, the deed was done. The area was no more.
But if you learned it there, skiing up and down its slopes,
‘Ski Stoner,” they said. “And you can ski anywhere.”
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Monday, September 6, 2010

High-flying haylift for hard luck horse


There are many paths to the top of a mountain but the view is always the same.
In truth, Bugs was just a regular packhorse that happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. And, like Andy Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes of worldwide fame for people of the future, Bugs transformed into “Elijah” the marooned horse of the Colorado Rockies as the world worried about him.
“Stranded forlornly on the two-mile high Continental Divide in Colorado, a shaggy dark bay horse named Bug was a prisoner of and the most-worried-about horse in the U.S.,” said the April 30, 1956, edition of Life Magazine. “Last autumn, Bugs and another horse, a gray, strayed off from a pack string belonging to surveyors mapping the range. Obeying the horsey instinct to seek higher ground they retreated before deepening valley snow to the ridge and were cut off by 40 foot drifts.”
Gunnison pilots Wally Powell and Gordon Warren discovered the two horses, in February as they were flying over the Collegiate Range near Buena Vista.
“Mayor Ben Jorganson, of Gunnison, Colo., hired Powell to drop hay to the horses. On the first haylift flight, Powell discovered that the gray horse had disappeared. Newspapers, recalling the stranded prophet who was nourished by ravens, renamed the survivor Elijah. People sent money to the mayor and two expeditions set out to rescue the horse,” according to the story in Life.
Reporter George McWilliams from the Denver Post, who had christened the shaggy equine Elijah, offered daily updates, often dominating the front page and all sorts of complex plans to rescue the poor bugger were contemplated.
“Officers at the U.S. army’s Mountain Cold Weather Training Command at Camp Hale, Colorado, began studying the idea of using infantry troops to rescue the hapless horse. An American Airlines pilot bound from New York to Los Angeles asked for Elijah’s precise location so that he could point out the animal to his passengers. Officials at the Centennial Race Track on the outskirts of Denver started a fund with which to feed Elijah and kicked in the first $100 themselves. They also offered to feed and stable the horse if no one claimed him after his rescue, but dozens of children clamored for the chance to keep him too,” wrote Gayle C. Shirley in Amazing Animals of Colorado: Incredible True Stories.
“On the morning of April, 11, a five-person Post rescue team led by Bill and Art Turner donned snowshoes and made the 7-mile climb to Elijah’s windswept hermitage. Although they were able to return with the horse in tow, they did bring back two important bits of information: Elijah was ‘fat and sassy’ and he was most definitely Bugs,” Shirley wrote.
According to the Denver Post, “the Turners … called the horse to them, put a rope halter on him and fed him a bag of oats. Bill Turner said he not only recognized Elijah as his horse, but found his brand — Heart Two Bar — on the horse’s left shoulder.”
But because of the drifts this rescue party was still unable to retrieve the horse and the haylift continued for nearly another month.
Finally, in late May, armed with snow shovels and prepared to dig through 20 feet drifts, Turners were able to retrieve the horse after two days of slow-going, back-breaking, path clearing to a high mountain road.
The horse was welcomed into Buena Vista by hundreds with an impromptu parade in his honor, but that was just a start. Thousands paid tribute at Centennial Race Track that afternoon as he was whisked up there for a ceremony, more parades in Denver, visits to Denver Post, and few days later he was briefly checked in to the Brown Palace Hotel.
“Elijah was given a small stall that had been specially prepared for him in one corner of the lobby. The management had taken the preparation of laying a piece of canvas under his bead of straw,” according to a report in the Denver Post.
“It was first planned to have the horse on view in the lobby all day. But he seemed so anxious to get away from it all that the Turner brothers led him back to the trailer and returned him to the track.”
A Reader’s Digest story, written by Bill Hosokawa, executive news director for the Denver Post, telling the tale of Elijah further fanned the flames of fame for Bugs but the humble packhorse was eventually able to return to a rather simple life.
“During his last years, Elijah was free to roam in his chosen pastures during the winter months, high above the hustle-bustle of humans,” wrote Kenneth Jessen in “Bizarre Colorado: A Legacy of Unusual Events & People.”
“In March, 1971, Bill Turner came across Elijah, crippled and in poor condition. The 27-year-old horse was suffering from a broken leg and could not be moved from his high mountain pasture. Bill Turner did the humane thing and put a bullet into the indomitable old horse. He didn’t notify the media at first because he figured Elijah had already had his share of publicity. Elijah’s carcass was left in a cluster of rocks among the tall, majestic peaks,” wrote Jessen.
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