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Fort Collins Municipal Railway 7/4/2021

by Chris Guenzler

The two travellers awoke at the Clarion Inn and went next door to the Waffle House for breakfast. We did our usual things on the Internet before checking out and I drove us to the Union Pacific station in Fort Collins.

The Fort Collins Union Pacific station built in 1911 which now is home to the Brazilian Rodizio Grill. Next I took Elizabeth to the Colorado and Southern freight house.

The Fort Collins Colorado and Southern freight house, built in 1906, and houses the bus station.

Our next stop was the Fort Collins Municipal Railway car shop built in 1919. From here, we drove to Fort Collins City Park and parked in the shade as we knew it would be a very hot day. We walked from the car to the car barn where the current trolleys operate from.

The sign for Fort Collins Municipal Railway.

Fort Collins Municiapl Railway (FCMR) History: The Early Years

The Denver and Interurban Railroad (D&I), a subsidiary of the Colorado and Southern (C&S), built a three-legged streetcar line in Fort Collins in 1907 as part of their expansion along Colorado's Front Range. The plan was to develop electric feeder or "collector" lines to connect with the C&S, the major transportation artery up and down the Front Range.

The first line to open was on West Mountain Avenue and served the annual Race Meet and Stock Show at the county fairgrounds, now part of the City Park complex. Because the power plant was not yet in operation, the C&S used a small steam switcher and old coaches to provide service from downtown to the fairgrounds. The fare for this three-day operation was five cents per ride, the same basic fare that would stick with the system throughout its life.

Four new Woeber double-truck streetcars arrived from Denver in the fall and begain operating on all three lines on December 29, 1907. The cars were numbered 101-104. Two additional pair of Jewett motors and trailers were added later.

Daily operation consisted of three cars running on the three lines. Each car had a two-man crew. All cars meet at the wye at Mountain and College every 20 minutes, then departed in a different direction. Cars ran from 5 AM through midnight, serving most of the businesses in the City, plus students at the high school on Pitkin and Colorado A&M College along College Avenue.

After only a few years of operation, the D&I cut back on service by eliminating the conductor on each car. From then until the end in 1951, the motorman assumed the additional task of collecting fares and issuing transfers. Over the years, other economies were made to improve operation or save money, including dropping the stub line from Mountain and College to the C&S depot, and extending the College Avenue line East to Remington and Whedbee to form a loop though that southeastern residental area.

The D&I also built an interurban line between Denver and Boulder, and planned to extend the interurban north through Longmont and Loveland to the Fort. By 1918, however, the automobile had made a permanent dent in interurban and streetcar revenues. The D&I was loosing money on all its operations and fell into recievership. The Fort Collins system stopped running without warning on July 10, 1918.

The FCMR Society

A small group of volunteers began restoring Car 21 in 1977. They first moved the car to the old barn on North Howes Street and carefully dismantled it. While the restoration was taking place, the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society organized in 1980 to complete the restoration and rebuild part of the original Mountain Avenue line to run Car 21. With help from many members and organizations, plus generous support from local businesses, we built a new two-stall barn on West Mountain Avenue and rebuilt most of the west Mountain Avenue line.

Dedicating the rail in 1986. The first part of rebuilding was complete by the end of 1984, allowing restored Car 21 to run once again to City Park. The rest of the line was completed over the following two summers and turned over to the City in August 1986. As long-time fan and Society member, Jim Stitzel, said at the dedication ceremony: "The Society restored a 1.5 mile-long railway and historic streetcar valued at $2.5 million, and turned it all over to the City at no cost to the City or County." Since then, we've operated the car and maintained the railway at no cost to the City.

Car 21

Car 21 has since carried over 200,000 riders. The restoration work has won both local and national recognition. The Society remains an all-volunteer effort maintaining the line and operating the car on summer weekends and holidays.

Car 25

This is the second Fort Collins car to carry the number 25. It was purchased from Richmond, Virginia in 1946 and sold to James Stitzel in 1953 and resided next to the former Midland Terminal depot in Victor, Colorado until sold to the South Carolina Power Company about 1990, where it was cosmetically restored as Charleston, South Carolina car 407. After a celebration, it was sold to Charlotte Trolley, Inc. in 1998. Plans were to restore it to operation as original Richmond Car 1520. We purchased Car 25 in 2007 and restored it.

Our Visit

We walked into the car barn, introduced ourselves and passed out cards then started to take pictures.

J.G. Brill Car 25 which would be the car Elizabeth and I would ride today. This car is in the World War II-era paint scheme.

Great Western Railroad speeder and a Canadian National gang car built in 1981.

Birney safety car 21 which Robin Bowers and I rode in 2016. This car is in the original Fort Collins Municipal Railway colors.

Car 25 coming out of the car barn.

Bob Browning, the motorman, filling up the tank underneath the car with water that they use to reduce the squealing noise on the curve at the switch to city park.

Car 25 on a beautiful summer's day.

Car 21 inside the car barn.

Car 25 waiting for its departure this morning.

The patriotic speeders had the railroad to themselves and we would wait for them to return before we could start our trip. On the flat car were track equipment tools used by the railroad but have display signs on them.

Birney Car 21 after it took on water. We were invited into Car 25 to wait for the speeders to return.

Two views of the interior of Car 25.

My lovely wife Elizabeth waiting but enjoying her time aboard Car 25. This is her first time here. Sit back and enjoy this historic trip when we have Car 21 following us down Mountain Avenue which has only occurred once before.

The trip south down Mountain Avenue. We would spend twenty-five minutes here.

Car 25 with both poles up.

Car 21 on temporary display.

Here you can see both liveries that these cars have.

Both cars have patriotic bunting on each end since it is Independence Day in America.

The hard-working volunteer train crew that would the trolleys today.

The end of the track, looking toward downtown. Then they gave Car 21 five minutes lead time to get ahead of us.

We then left, following Car 21 to the switch to city park.

Coming west on Mountain Avenue.

The switch that we took to get to city park where the public rides would officially start.

Curving onto Jackson Avenue.

The trip to the City Park stop. This ends our on-board coverage of the Fort Collins Municipal Railway.

Car 25 at the south end of the run.

The history of the city park station. We visited the gift shop inside the station where Elizabeth purchased a T-shirt, two mugs (one for each car) and two lapel pins.

My two last pictures of Car 25 at the city park stop. Elizabeth and I walked back to the car, two very happy railfans who enjoyed their trip. A special thank you to the Fort Collins Municipal Railway for having us here today and allowing us to ride before the general public rides.

The Rest of the Day

At the car, I drove us south to Loveland to our first stop on the way to Castle Rock.

The Loveland Colorado and Southern station built in 1902. From here I drove us to Berthoud.

There is an image of a train on the Berthoud station.

The Berthoud Colorado and Southern station which is now a Lions Club building.

BNSF local 9621 northbound train at Berthoud. Next I drove us to Longmont.

The Longmont Chicago, Burlington and Quincy wooden station.

The Longmont Colorado and Southern station built in 1898.

Beside the station was BNSF GP39-2 2712 and BNSF GP35u 2618. Our next stop would be in Boulder.

The Boulder Colorado and Southern station built in 1894 which now houses a restaurant. I drove us down to Castle Rock, avoiding Denver. On the way there, we passed a slow-moving southbound BNSF coal train. We found a bridge from which to photograph it. This would be Elizabeth's first Joint Line train.

The slow-moving coal train had BNSF SD70ACe 9315 and BNSF SD60M 9203 with DPUs AC44CW 5660 and SD70MAC 8948. From here we went to Jersey Mike's for an early dinner before driving to our final photo location of the day.

Of the fifteen towns in the United States named Elizabeth, there was one very close to Castle Rock.

The City Limit sign of Elizabeth, Colorado, incorporated in 1890.

Elizabeth and her sign.

Happy Independence Day Elizabeth and the USA! Now, the main reason for coming to Elizabeth will become apparent in a moment.

The Elizabeth Section House historical marker which reads "The Denver & New Orleans Railroad was established in 1881. It was intended that the railroad would extend south from Denver, ultimately connecting with other railroads in Texas to establish a connection to New Orleans. Construction of the line reached Elizabeth in 1882, and shortly thereafter, this Section House was built to house railroad employees. Then, it faced the railroad tracks to the east (as shown), with the area now known as Main Street passing by its back door. The Elizabeth Section house is representative of the design used by the D&NO Railroad at other locations, including Parker, Elbert and Eastonville. This Section House is the sole remaining section house from this line. After the demise of the railroad, the building was used as a private residence for many years. The Prairie Development Corporation purchased the building in 2002, and with the help of a Colorado State Historical Fund grant, restored the Section House to its original appearance (while stabilizing it on a new foundation) with the goal of selling it for commercial use. Its original structural integrity is protected by an historic easement.

The Elizabeth section house in all of its glory. We drove back to Castle Rock and filled the car with petrol before checking in to the Best Western Plus. The two of us did our Internet routines before I wrote this story. Later, we would drive over to see the fireworks over the golf course.