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Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railway Trip 10/4/2021

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I woke up at the Branding Iron Motel in Chama and after our usual morning preparations and breakfast, we checked out with me driving. We took Highway 17 to Antonito and US Highway 285 to Alamosa, stopping at Reed Tire to replace our leaking tire. They provided excellent service and soon the two of us were back on the road, driving Colorado Highway 17 to US Highway 285. We stopped in Buena Vista so I could show Elizabeth the station here.

St. Louis, Keokuk & Northwestern caboose 157 built in 1890 which became Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 14634 in 1904 then Burlington Northern 11086 in 1970. The current rendition is in honor of a local railroad, the Colorado Midland, although they never owned it.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 14634 on the non street side of the caboose.

Denver, Leadville and Gunnison station, which became Denver, South Park and Pacific and was moved to this location in 2003. From here we took US Highway 24 to Leadville.

The former Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad at Kobe, Colorado. We made our way to Leadville and parked at the station's parking lot.

Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad History

Originating in "the highest incorporated city in North America", the LC&S takes passengers along the old Denver, South Park & Pacific and Colorado & Southern lines to the Continental Divide. But, as the old adage states, "It's not the destination, but the journey that's important." This journey is full of breath-taking panoramas across the Arkansas River Valley and humorous narratives about Leadville's colorful past. Mining and railroading were a large part of the local history, and today's passengers will find it easy to step back in time on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern. So, just sit back and enjoy a trip through our website, then join us this summer to live the REAL life...ride the train!

Adventure, relaxation and sightseeing cannot be topped when riding in the Rocky Mountains on board the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. This 2 and 1/2 hour adventure through the untamed wilderness of the San Isabel National Forest is not to be forgotten. Family and friends of all ages have a chance to engage in learning about the historic Leadville, Colorado home to legends like Molly Brown and Horace, Augusta and Baby Doe Tabor, Guggenheims and at one time Doc Holiday.

The Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad travels north along the Arkansas River Valley, it raises up 1,000 feet off the valley floor so that you will have some spectacular views of Freemont Pass and the two tallest peaks in Colorado, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert. Also, take time to hear about the fascinating history of the railroads, ghost stories and tales of the wild from the conductor on board the trip.

Other highlights include a chance to meet the engineer, take a tour of the caboose and engine. If you come in July and August warm weather exceeds expectations at 75 degrees, it is not surprising to find snow through June and in late September. Although cool, the fall colors are not to be missed with amazing displays of gold, red and orange Aspen trees lighting up the mountain side. Bring a picnic lunch and eat on the train if you wish, but be sure to not forget your cameras and jackets.


The Colorado and Southern Railway (reporting marks C&S, CS) was an American Class I railroad in the western United States that operated independently from 1898 to 1908, then as part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad until it was absorbed into the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1981.

The railway began as the consolidation of bankrupt railroads on 1898. The Colorado Central Railroad and Cheyenne and Northern Railway were brought together to form the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railway in 1890. When Union Pacific went bankrupt in 1893 they were separated from the Union Pacific and united with the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Railway and others, by Frank Trumbull to form the Colorado and Southern Railroad in 1898. In 1908 the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad bought control of the C&S. It would later merge into the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1981.

At the end of 1970 it operated 692 miles of road on 1116 miles of track; that year it reported 1365 million ton-miles of revenue freight. In 1980 route-miles had dropped to 678 but ton-miles had ballooned to 7230 million: Powder River coal had arrived.

C&S was also the parent company of the Fort Worth and Denver Railway, which ran from a connection at Texline south and east into Texas. The FW&D was established as a separate company because Texas law required that railroads operating within its borders must be incorporated within that state.

Narrow gauge

The Colorado and Southern narrow gauge lines were formed in 1898 from the Colorado Central and the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroads. The narrow gauge had four distinct lines: the Platte Canyon Line from Denver, Colorado to Como, Colorado, the Gunnison Line from Como to Gunnison, Colorado via Alpine Tunnel, Highline between Como and Leadville, Colorado, and the Clear Creek line from Denver to Silver Plume, Colorado. Major Branch lines were the Baldwin branch between Gunnison and Baldwin; the Keystone from Dickey, Colorado to Keystone, Colorado; the Blackhawk branch between Forks Creek and Central City, Colorado; the Alma Branch from Como to Alma, Colorado; and the Morrison Branch from Denver to Morrison, Colorado. The Colorado and Southern narrow never owned a new engine, all motive power coming from the former companies.

Downfall of the narrow gauge

The Colorado and Southern narrow gauge was slowly abandoned piece by piece for 33 years between 1910 and 1943. The first line to close was part of the Gunnison Line between Hancock and Quartz. This included Alpine Tunnel, rail was not removed until the 1940s though. The isolated track between Quartz and Gunnison and Gunnison to Baldwin was leased and later sold to the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Quartz to Gunnison survived until 1936 and the Baldwin Branch lasted until 1954. The next line to be ripped up was between Garos and Buena Vista, Colorado. This left another isolated line between Buena Vista and Hancock which was abandoned four years later. Also in 1926 the Morrison Branch was removed. In 1931 part of the Blackhawk branch between Central City, Colorado and Blackhawk, Colorado was removed. Times were tough during the Great depression and by the end the narrow gauge was worn out. What was left of the former Denver South Park & Pacific between Denver and Leadville including the Alma branch and Keystone branch was removed in the Summer of 1938 excluding a short 14 mile segment between Leadville and Climax, Colorado and Denver and Waterton, Colorado. The next line to fall was between Silver Plume and Idaho Springs, Colorado in 1939. This included the famous Georgetown Loop. In 1941 the last of the Clear Creek lines began being torn up in May of that year between Golden, Colorado and Idaho Springs. This included the Blackhawk branch. The dual gauge third rail that allowed narrow gauge trains to run between Denver and Golden was also removed. The segment between Denver and Golden still exists today to serve the Coors Brewery. Most of the track was removed from Waterton to Chatfield, Colorado in 1942 and the rest was converted to standard gauge, ending all narrow gauge service out of Denver. The last narrow gauge operation between Leadville and the Climax mines was converted to standard gauge due to heavy traffic from World War II. The last Colorado and Southern narrow gauge train, pulled by engine 76, ran the 28 mile roundtrip on August 25, 1943. The next day standard gauge trains began hauling the load. The C&S narrow gauge was now part of history.

Narrow gauge today

In contrast to the preserved D&RGW narrow gauge equipment and infrastructure, few traces of the Colorado & Southern remain. Today there are five surviving Locomotives: C&S 31 is at the Colorado Railroad Museum painted as Denver Leadville and Gunnison 191, C&S 71 is on display in Central City, Colorado, C&S #9 is on display in Breckenridge, Colorado, C&S 60 is on display in Idaho Springs, Colorado, and C&S #74 is currently on display at the Colorado Railroad Museam in Golden, Colorado. Two roundhouses survive in Como, Colorado and Leadville, Colorado. Rolling stock has been scattered across the US. Some are on display in Colorado, One mail car found its way to Nebraska, and some boxcars are on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in Alaska. Remaining Water towers are the French Gulch tank near Leadville, Bakers tank near Breckenridge, and Halfway tank near Alpine Tunnel. The Georgetown Loop was rebuilt in the 1980s and is active in the summer months.

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad is another of Colorado's many tourist railroads operating over lines that once sought the riches the region had to offer, and just like the others operates through the spectacular Rocky Mountain Range, departing each trip from the historic mining town of Leadville at the former Colorado & Southern restored depot. The LC&S operates on trackage that was once part of the Colorado & Southern's vast narrow-gauge lines in the area and while it is the only tourist railroad not to offer steam locomotives powering its trains it does offer very reasonable prices for its trips (which is one reason folks continue to return). So, if you are in the area vacationing or visiting nearby Denver considering swinging by to see this railroad, which provides unparalleled views of the Rocky Mountains.

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad has its beginnings dating back to 1980 when the Burlington Northern, successor to C&S parent Chicago, Burlington & Quincy sold off its depot, branch line, and all local rolling stock around Leadville, which was purchased by interests that would go on to form the LC&S. The earliest history of C&S's silver mining branches dated back to the Colorado & Clear Creek Railroad chartered in 1865 (later renamed the Colorado Central Railway). At the time the region was becoming a major producer of silver (and to a lesser extent, gold) and the Union Pacific, which originally owned these mining branches, looked to exploit it. The Colorado Central later incorporated the Georgetown, Breckenridge & Leadville Railway to continue marching southwest in an attempt to reach additional mines and the towns they created.

By 1898 the Colorado & Southern Railway was created to takeover bankrupt properties operated by Union Pacific, which included all of its mining branches. By this time the lines were operated primarily by two companies the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway and the Denver, Leadville & Gunnison Railway (which the LC&S now operates). Unfortunately, the properties were no longer as profitable as they had once been due to the passage of the Sherman Act in 1890 that looked to regulate the silver mining industry (there was too much being produced). While the C&S worked to standard gauge much of these mining branches, by the 1940s most had been abandoned or sold.

Today, when riding the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad it operates on a route that rises over 1,000 feet from the Arkansas River Valley, travels through Freemont Pass and provides for views of Colorado's two largest mountain peaks, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert. Overall the line operates through the San Isabel National Forest and lasts for more than 2 hours covering about 21 miles round-trip. Aside from the Georgetown Loop Railroad, it is the last remaining section of the Colorado & Southern's mining branches still in operation.

For power the LC&S uses a single Electro-Motive Division Geep diesel locomotive with trains departing the restored Leadville depot (a D&RGW freight depot also remains in the town). If the organization could ever resurrect or purchase a steam locomotive to run on the property they could likely draw in even more visitors. Despite this, however, it is still an excellent attraction and worth the visit. Also, if you the time and chance check out the other similar excursions in the region such as the Georgetown Loop, Durango & Silverton, and/or Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. Currently, the LC&S operates a schedule that runs between late May and early October. They also offer extras such as riding in the locomotive and caboose (for a small additional fee), as well as special events throughout the year including photo ops, wildflower trains, a rare night ride, and river rafting packages.

Our Trip

We picked up our tickets and bought some souveniors for our collection. I then started taking some pictures.

Colorado Southern 2-8-0 641 built in 1960 and was last run on September 12, 1962, before it was put on display near the Leadville station. 78 1/2 years of steam on the high line came to the end.

Our train waits for our 1:00 PM departure.

Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad GP9 1918, originally Northern Pacific 333, was the power for our train today.

Colorado and Southern Leadville station built in 1893. We then boarded the train and took seats in the open air car.

A pre-trip picture with us on the train. Now sit back, relax and enjoy a ride aboard the Leadville, Colorado and Southern train through more autumn colors on a beautiful afternoon in Colorado.

That was your trip from Leadville to the viewpoint past the French Gulch water tower. Now just a few pictures on the return trip.

At the French Gulch water tower, passengers were allowed off the train for a few minutes and that is the information about the water tower here.

My most beautiful wife Elizabeth enjoying the open air car aboard this train.

The train on one of the curves where you can see both ends of the train. It had been another wonderful fall colors adventure aboard the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad. Elizabeth loved seeing all the autumn colors as did I. We detrained and had a linner at Subway in Leadviile. I then drove us up US Highway 24.

The former Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad tracks near Tennessee Pass.

The sign at the summit of Tennessee Pass.

The bridge at Eagle that is high above the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad tracks. I then drove us west on Interstate 70 to the rest area at Rifle before Elizabeth drove us to the Clarion Inn in Grand Junction where we checked in and then I wrote the Cumbres Story before we called it a night.