Westside Pioneer Home Page

COBWEB CORNERS: Rail safety much improved since early Midland

By Mel McFarland

Jan. 14, 2019
       Over the years railroad safety has increased amazingly. On the old Colorado Midland, the number of even minor incidents was quite lengthy. I have seen a book of accidents from 1912 until 1918, and something happened almost every day. Today's standards are excellent by comparison.
       I have talked here before about some pretty spectacular incidents. Today I would like to talk about one spot in Manitou that saw any number of problems. Between Manitou station and Cascade were eight tunnels. The first two were built south of Manitou, but today are almost hidden. They were cut through the gravelly slopes of Red Mountain.
       Tunnel 2 was the problem. It sat above Ruxton at Spring Street, near Indian Head Rock. Both tunnels required a timber lining, which is now long gone. It was supposed to kept the gravel from sliding down onto the track.
       In 1891 a freight train crew coming down the track was surprised when, as they crossed over Engelmann trestle, they saw that a rock had rolled down onto the track. They could not stop in time. Even going at 20 miles an hour, it took almost 100 yards for a train to stop!
       The rock being 100 feet ahead, it was struck by the wooden pilot of the engine (cowcatcher to some), splintering it, tearing up the railroad ties and spreading the rails. The train dropped to the ground almost out the other side of the tunnel! It took half a day to sort out the situation.
       A month later, a rock slide sent gravel down onto the cab of a freight-train locomotive, pushing it into the timbers inside the tunnel. The wreck killed the engineer and badly injured the fireman, who died soon after. Funerals were held in Colorado City, and both men are buried at Evergreen Cemetery.
       Quite a few others at Evergreen were also casualties of accidents on the Midland. The funerals at that time included a train ride, as the Denver and New Orleans railway ran right through the cemetery.
       I have heard of many more accidents at Tunnel 2 and Engelmann Trestle, but only in the early days. It has been quite a long time since there was a spectacular accident on the main line through town, fortunately.

(Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

       Would you like to respond to this column? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)