COBWEB CORNERS: High ball, Johnny!
By Mel McFarland
To a railroader the term “high ball” means to GO, Well, we are losing one of our long-time railroaders. Johnny Taggart is heading for Utah. He is quite a gentleman, and those of us who know him a bit respect him for his deeds.
Johnny sometimes tells people he was born on Pike's Peak. He really was not, but just the same he might have been. His family goes back at least three generations of local railroad men. Most of his working days were spent with the cog railway. He will always be welcome, and when he visits many turn to him for his knowledge of the railway and the mountain. In his 90s, he is pretty sharp about some things, and we always want to hear what he has to say.
His grandfather worked on the Colorado Midland too, as did his father and uncle. There were Taggarts in Cascade for as long ago as I can find. This is also true of the cog road. Johnny is about the only one who knows how to get a steam cog engine up Pike's Peak. Back for the 1976 Bicenten-nial, the cog road got one of its old steamers out of a museum to run a few trips. There was Johnny, coaxed out of retirement to show the boys how it was done. He tried, but most figured out it was a skill beyond them. A couple made some progress, but they spent lots of time at the knee of the master.
Johnny is not a big man in size, and as I often told the old steam engineers I met, they must have been giants and the job wore them down. It was a tough job, starting as a fireman and learning how to keep the steam boiler hot enough to go up over 7,000 feet. Once they passed their engineer's test, the job really did not get much easier. Then after World War II, they had to learn how to get those new-style diesels up the mountain. Johnny even helped build a big steam snow plow. The cog ran steam until 1955, and in 1964 started to use Swiss trains.
There is a building at Windy Point on the cog road. If you ride the train up there, you will see a stone building where Johnny's folks lived in the summer with the section crew. In the window you might see the image of "Little Johnny Taggart" looking out to see all the trains go by.
You might be in Salt Lake City, Johnny, but we know where your heart is.