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Leadville High Line to Climax RR

Adventurers in the Rockies

Chapter Twenty-four

Leadville to Climax on the

 Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad

July 23, 2016



Robin Bowers

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated


    After breakfast in my motel dining room, I walked next door to the Holiday Inn and waited for our buses to load and leave. We will be be traveling west out of Denver on I-70 through the mountains, mining locations and winter sports recreation areas. Then after two hours and 103 miles we will exit at Minturn CO at exit 171. Then we will be south bound on US 24 for 55 minutes and 30 miles, arriving at Leadville.

   Shortly after 9 AM we were boarded and leaving the hotel in the Stapleton area.  About twenty minutes after leaving the city, we saw our first look at open pit mining.




ARGO Gold Mine & Mill near Idaho Springs, CO.


A quick peek at Colorado and Southern Railroad loco 60 in the downtown Idaho Springs business district.






Part of Dillon Reservoir's 25-mile shoreline.

    East of Dillon on I-70, the 1.5 mile Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel Complex burrows through the heart of Mount Trelease. Besides being a milestone in highway engineering, the tunnel bypasses US 6 and the 11,992-foot Loveland Pass, which is often hazardous in winter.





Residential housing in the Vail area.

The resort was founded in 1962 by members of the 10th Mountain Division who trained near Vail at Camp Hale.





Traffic on I-70.


The first two of our buses exiting I-70 for south bound US 24.


The start of our southbound trip on US 24.


The  DRG&W yard in Minturn.


A festival was happening in Minturn.

It was decided to take US 24 over Tennessee Pass as it is the historic route of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.


Several times while on US 24, we saw groups of bicyclists riding alone the road. The Leadville Trail 100 Bike race is held each summer.








The bridge and railroad below at Red Cliff.



The railroad at Pando which once served Camp Hale. We will now start to cross the Tennessee Pass.







Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad 

    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.

    Adventure, relaxation and sightseeing cannot be topped when riding in the Rocky Mountains on board the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. This 2.5 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, Guggenheim 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 Fremont Pass and the two tallest peaks in Colorado, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.

    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

    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 Fremont 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.


Colorado Southern 2-8-0 641 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.




  Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad GP-9 1918.




MP 151.2  Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad Depot.
    The red brick depot, located at the corner of 7th and Hazel Streets, was completed in January 1893 during the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) ownership of the Denver, South Park & Pacific  Railroad. It replaced a small frame passenger built soon after the DSP&P reached the Leadville in September 1884. The ground elevation at the depot is 10,208 ft.
    The numbers on the mileposts indicate the distance by rail from Denver, where the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad started.  Thus the Leadville depot is 151.2 miles by rail from Denver.




    Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad GP-9 1918. The consist was LCS GP-9 1918, LCS 1001 open air car, LCS 1002 covered open air car, LCS 1003 concession. LCS 1005 open air car, LCS 1006 covered open air car, LCS 1007 covered open air car and LCS 1008 caboose.





Mt. Elbert, el. 14,433 ft., the highest peak in Colorado.


Leadville neighborhood.



MP 151.0  North side of 11th Street.

The abandoned three-story red brick building in the west is St Vincent's hospital. This second St. Vincent's was built in 1901 by the Sisters of Charity to replace their first hospital built in 1879. This building was used until 1954; a new St Vincent's opened in 1958.


    Miners were frequently hurt or killed in falls, fires, rockfalls, cave-ins and explosions during blasting. They were also prone to respiratory problems because of poor ventilation in the mines and the huge quantities of rock dust from the primitive drills ("widow makers") that did not use water to keep the dust down. Pneumonia and "miner's consumption" were common cause of death in the early years before any sort of worker protection. St Vincent's and other early hospitals were very important to all citizens of Leadville.


MP 150.6  Spur track to LC&S Roundhouse on left.

The roundhouse was originally an eight-stall building, covered with sheet-iron. By 1936 two stalls had been removed. After narrow gauge operations ceased in 1943, three more stalls were removed and the doors were enlarged to handle the larger standard gauge steam engines. The turntable was also removed at that time. After steam operations ceased in September 1962, the 50,000-gallon water tank was removed.


LCS GP-9  1714.



The caboose is on point and leading.










Looking south on US 24.


Looking north on US 24.


  Equipment for zip line rides.





MP 142.3  French Gulch Water Tank elev 10840 ft.  cap 47,500 gal.




View of Climax Molybdenum Mine and East Fork Arkansas River.


Above, MP 138.06 Wortman Mine el. 11,240 ft.
A four car-spur connected with the Wortman mine, started by G.C. Wortman, whose mine was near the John Reed mine. Some high-grade ore was produced, but the mine closed in the late 1880s. A Post Office served the area from Sept 25, 1900 to Aug. 31, 1908 and again from May 25, 1916 to Jan 15, 1919.

Out of track, End of the line.

MP 137.46  Climax, at Summit of Fremont Pass el. 11,318ft.

    Even though the D&RG crossed Fremont Pass in 1880, no station or facilities were built at the summit until mining started at the Climax mine. In 1884, when the DSP&P finally reached the top of Fremont Pass, they built a covered turntable and other facilities and named the station Climax. Rails of the two companies were the minimum distance apart, and yet there was no interchange track! After all, these two railroads were in fierce competition with each other.

    Fremont Pass was named for explorer Lt. John C. Fremont, who wandered through much of Colorado on several expeditions searching for a suitable railroad route across the Continental Divide. Even though both the D&RG and DSP&P finally conquered Fremont Pass, Lt. Fremont never crossed it.

    Water in the Arkansas River eventually reaches the Mississippi River and flows int the Gulf of Mexico, whereas water on the eastern side of the divide in Tenmile Creek flows into the Colorado River on its long journey to the Pacific Ocean.

  The train has reached our farthest point from Leadville, only fourth time that a train has traveled this far on the railroad since 1984. After a short rest we began our return trip to Leadville and on the way back we will stop at the water tower for our photo run by. We are also 1,110 feet above the Leadville Depot. It's all down hill from here.




Riding through Spruce Forest.




Much timber was cut on the hillsides of this area. A view down the valley in which the Arkansas River meanders back and forth.




    At the water tower our train stopped and the photographers who wanted to climb the hill to take photos of our train as it travels by were allowed leave the train at this time. I decided to remain on the train for this run by as I wasn't wearing my mountain hiking boots and I wanted to see the view from this point of view.


Hill climbing conventioneers taking photos as we pass by.


And more on the next hill.


Hill people returning to the train.


MP 142.3  French Gulch Water Tank.

    The vegetation here is different from that found around Leadville and is typical of that found in the upper sub-alpine life zone. Summer wildflowers include yellow alpine paintbrushes, sulfur flowers, black-tipped senecios, golden asters avens, several species of buckwheat, little red elephants, kings crowns, rose crowns, lavender lupines, harebells, purple fringes, columbines any tiny fleabanes.

    The 47,500-gallon wooden tank has had an interesting history. The tank originally stood on the opposite side of the track but in 1943 when the High Line was converted to standard gauge, it was moved and raised so the spout would fit over the taller standard gauge engine tenders. Water for the tank came from a small reservoir on the hill above the track.



Happy and excited riders on the zip line.




Looking south on US 24.


Old St. Vincent's hospital.

    Past St. Vincent's it was just a short hop to the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad Depot. After arriving, the conventioneers left the train and then boarded their buses. We left around 5:45pm via a different route to I-70. Route US 91 would be shorter to I-70 than going back on US 24. Minutes after leaving Leadville, US 91 was close to the mine buildings for us to get a good look.


Buildings part of the world's largest molybdenum mine.



Our return took us through the I-70, 1.5 mile Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel Complex with several rain showers along the way. Forecast for tonight is for intermittent rain.


Dillon Reservoir next to I-70.



Georgetown Loop Railroad's Silver Plume area.



One last mine site before entering the city.


Denver skyline.


A rainbow ending over our hotel.

After leaving the bus at the Holiday Inn I walked over to my motel room and began packing to leave in the morning as this would be my last night in Denver and Colorado. The 2016 NRHS convention has come to a end. Tomorrow Chris and I will be heading west and on to familiar pastures. Tomorrow night will find my head resting somewhere in the wilds of New Mexico.

Thanks for reading.

Next: Heading south and then west to home.

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Text and Photos by Author

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