COBWEB CORNERS: A winter trip on the old Midland
By Mel McFarland
Before winter has gone, I'd like to give you a look at riding through the mountains on a train a century ago. It definitely is not the same as driving in the mountains today. I would say the winter is one of my favorite times, even today, to ride a train. Except for having to get out in the cold white when it is storming I even enjoy running the red Swiss train up Pike's Peak in the snow.
At the depot we board the evening train from the Colorado Midland's depot at Colorado City. After a short wait, we see our train working through the railroad yards. Today this is where Highway 24 runs. After it stops, we get upon the train going west to Leadville. A big steam engine works up Ute Pass in the dark. The train consists of six cars, including the Pullman sleeper. The headlight darts across the tracks, turning the trees into strange figures. As some sleep, the train makes its way through the mountains.
It stops here and there, picking up and leaving passengers. The curious look into the night, rubbing clear spots on frosty windows. The coaches are heated by little stoves, barely able to keep up. In the plusher Pullman car, the passengers snuggle up in extra blankets. Every one is happy once the doors close and the train is moving. The train stops at Manitou, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls, Woodland Park and so on. The sound sleepers do not notice many of the stations.
Out across South Park, occasionally the headlight shines on cows huddled near the tracks. The cold crisp sky is lighted by the stars. In the distance, the white mountains glow from the moonlight. Early in the morning, long before the first rays of the sun, the train arrives at the Leadville station. The snow is around three feet deep. Up the street is the heart of town. The morning sun first lights up the mountains west of Leadville. It is the Continental Divide. In the winter of 1899 there was so much snow in January, February and March that not even the trains could get through the snow.
Leadville once built a huge castle out of ice. People traveled from all over the country to see this Ice Palace. Inside there were rooms of displays, food and entertainment. Outside there was a huge skating area. Skiing? no, that would not come along for about 50 years!