Cripple Creek & Victor number 2 returns to Cripple Creek - 5 Oct 2014 William Slim.
Cripple Creek is a city in Teller County, Colorado, named after, you guessed it, a creek. The area was virtually ignored until 1890 when gold was discovered in the area starting the Colorado Gold Rush. The tiny and scenic Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (CC&VNG) is actually 600 millimetre narrow gauge (23.62 inches) or more commonly known as 2 foot gauge in America. The right-of-way extends approximately a mile and a half (2.4 kilometres) from Cripple Creek to end-of-track with a wye located at each end. Two steam locomotives were in service on this particular October day providing departures about every 45 minutes. One train would travel from Cripple Creek to the end of track, reverse on the wye there, then return to wait on the Cripple Creek wye while the other train departed, and so on, all day long. With the exception of engine number 3 the locomotives appear to be "kit bashed", European engines made to look American. The locomotive engineer also serves as a tour guide pointing out the sights enroute over the public address speakers, actually more tour guide than engineer as he didn't know the difference between a slide or piston cylinder valve.
A Very Brief History
As far as history is concerned the CC&VNG is a very young pup as it only opened for business as a tourist attraction in 1967.
Previous to the present Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad several companies built into the area attracted by the 1890 Colorado gold rush. The first being the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad (F&CC) which arrived at Cripple Creek in 1894. This 3 foot narrow gauge, known as "The Gold Belt Line", twisted, turned, tunnelled, and climbed nearly 5,000 feet from Florence through Phantom Canyon to Victor, the first main destination in the gold field.
The Florence & Cripple Creek transported gold ore from the gold fields south to Florence for processing at works such as the American Reduction Company or interchanged it there with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
With the area's gold acting as a magnet other railroads became interested so the F&CC was soon followed by several railways offering competition.
The standard gauge Colorado Midland Railroad connecting Colorado Springs to Leadville, another mining region, passed through the town of Divide on its east-west route.
From a junction at Divide the Midland Terminal Railway, originally constructed as 3 foot gauge but rebuilt to standard gauge by 1894, ran south to reach Cripple Creek and Victor.
In addition to these railroads the area mines joined together to form the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway, known as The Short Line in an effort to control costs. The Short Line only lasted until 1911 when it was leased by the F&CC.
Suffering from floods and washouts in Phantom Canyon the F&CC went out of business in 1915.
By 1917 this left the Midland Terminal Railway with the lion's share of traffic into the gold fields but by 1919 it went bankrupt and was sold for scrap in 1920.
The Midland Terminal Railway depot at Cripple Creek, built in 1895, still stands there today but it is now the Cripple Creek District Museum. Our tiny, comparatively new, CC&VNG railroad passes right by the museum on its way south to end-of-track.
And, on one last note about the district's history, there were electric street cars running between Cripple Creek and Victor on a daily basis, 24-hours-a-day. There were two lines named the High Line and the Low Line. The High Line connected downtown Cripple Creek via Midway (elevation 10,487 feet) to downtown Victor. The Low Line joined the same two cities via Elkton and Anaconda with a trolly car every thirty minutes. The fare was five cents.
A Two Foot Trip
Arrival at the Cripple Creek depot does not leave a favourable first impression. One immediately notices an 0-4-4-0 Mallet locomotive up on blocks, apparently "under restoration" since 2005, and several worn out pieces of standard gauge rolling stock, containers, and rag tag sheds. The wood frame depot is interesting. Built in 1894 it originally served as the Midland Terminal depot at Anaconda then was moved to Bull Hill after the 1904 Anaconda fire, and finally to Cripple Creek in 1968 for use by the present day 2 foot gauge CC&VNG.
After purchasing a ticket in the depot, which also contains a gift shop, the train is boarded. Open air coaches are pulled by the small steam locomotives. One version has a roof with open sides while the other is completely open. A wooden bench runs down the center of each so that riders face outwards when sitting. Although not the most comfortable the trip is short and there was plenty of room to stand and move about safely with lots of hand holds. Train speed is slow along a very well maintained track with fresh creosoted ties in evidence. A small operation using substantially heavy rail with a surprisingly well maintained right-of-way.
Immediately after leaving the Cripple Creek depot the train passes over a spring switch at a wye enroute southbound. On a high embankment the train next reaches Irene Street, really just a short dirt road, passing over it on a bridge that was obviously once a steel turntable. From this point there is a expansive view of the entire historic town of Cripple Creek to the northwest.
As the train progresses south the buildings and shacks disappear as the clean, clear, high altitude air covers the pine forests, Aspens, and open grass lands. Although there is a printed warning on the back of the ticket, "This train is coal-fired and cinders are prevalent", the wind must be blowing in the proper direction as locomotive smoke isn't a problem. The route twists and turns passing the remains of various mining operations, a pond here, a dilapidated head frame there, dumps of mine tailings.
Farther along the tracks run deep into the bush with glimpses of a broad valley falling away below. The route lies at about 10,000 feet elevation. There are several rock cuttings as the track cuts through ridge lines along its route.
Upon reaching the end-of-track the train stops momentarily while the engineer explains the workings of the huge open pit Victor gold mine visible way up on a hill to the south. Large dump trucks dump ore over a slope in a process called "heap leaching" where some nasty chemical separates the gold from the ore. Below the train Highway 67 winds around a valley which trails off into distant hills of Aspen and pine trees. The huge mine is one ugly beast on top of this gorgeous view down the valley.
The train then backs up to the wye a few hundred feet behind. Another spring switch lead the train into the tail-end of the wye, which is interesting, because this end lies on an embankment of tailings from an abandoned mine. Two ties stuck into the track in a "V" pattern act as an emergency bumping post. Not particularly reassuring as you look over the edge to the drop below.
The engineer, however, had a deft hand on the brake this time so we were spared any danger. He opens the throttle, tosses a couple of scoops of coal into the firebox and the train departs the wye through two more spring switches heading back to Cripple Creek.
Inoperative. Acquired from a South Africa sugar plantation.
Locomotive numbers 1 and 2, both built in Germany, were most likely originally constructed as tank engines. They have been modified with the addition of tenders, cabs, headlights, and cow catchers (pilots) to make them appear more American.
Photographs Along the Line
A total of 18 photos were taken during a ride from Cripple Creek to end of track and back on 5 Oct 2014. The railway's route is paralleled by Highway 67 from Cripple Creek. The the right-of-way lies up the hill from the highway on private property, apparently, although there are no signs posted to advise an individual. Click on the camera to view the photos.