McFarland evokes train memories for History Center crowd
Mel McFarland took a standing-room-only crowd of close to 100 people at the Old Colorado City History Center down the
tracks of time Feb. 26, to the days when the Midland trains were rumbling through the Westside and up Ute Pass.
He used about 100 photos/slides as he described aspects ranging from the technical (the different widths of train tracks) to the romantic (the special whistles that train engineers created so their wives would know it was them).
There were actually two railroads with “Midland” in their names, with both running simultaneously for a number of years. The Colorado Midland Railway line started in 1887, followed by the Colo-rado Midland Terminal in 1894. The former shut down during World War I, and the latter ceased operations in 1949 - at the same time that gold-milling operations ended on the Westside.
For nearly every slide, McFarland had a story. One picture showed the former Midland Terminal Office Building, a large two- story structure (next to the present Ghost Town west of 21st Street), which burned down in a “spectacular fire” in 1953, he reported.
McFarland talked about two Westside depots for the Midland that both burned down in the winter of 1931. Evidently, it was a cold winter, because both fires started for the same reason: workers adding too much fuel for heat, he said.
Another slide showed the “very last Cripple Creek passenger train,” making a stop in Old Colorado City February 10, 1949. It was one of two special passenger trains that ran prior to the Midland line shutting down that year. Regularly scheduled passenger trains had stopped running in 1931, McFarland said.
At one point, while displaying a slide of the former Midland railroad bridge over Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs, McFarland asked if anyone knew the name of the large boulder nearby. There was a pause, and then a woman said, “Indian Head Rock.” Recognizing the respondent as Manitou Springs author Deborah Harrison, McFar-land laughed, “You wrote the book.”
In a question-answer session after his talk, McFarland was asked about trains that ran into Red Rock Canyon around the turn of the last century. He said it was called the Quarry Branch (off the Midland), which went into the canyon to bring back the sandstone that was widely used for construction in those days.
McFarland himself has written two books on Midland railroading. He is an engineer/conductor on the cog railway and writes columns for several local newspapers, including the Westside Pioneer.
Westside Pioneer article