Westside Pioneer Home Page

COBWEB CORNERS: How Jim quit the Midland (and other stories)

By Mel McFarland

       More than 30 years ago, I was introduced to Jim Reilly, a well-known character in Old Colorado City. I learned about him while I was working on my Midland Terminal book, "The Cripple Creek Road."
       I called him and later stopped in to talk to him directly. From that time on, every time I came to see him, he'd ask me, "You related to Packy McFarland?" (a popular boxer some 90 years ago). Well, as far as I know, the answer is no.
       Jim told me some good stories.
       In 1902 when he was right out of school, he got hired by the Colorado Midland Railway. His brother and at least an aunt and uncle already worked for the Midland. Assigned to the roundhouse shops, he was given a pretty important job. He would measure the distance between the wheels when an axle had been repaired. For this measurement, he was given a bar, calibrated to the correct distance, and told how to care for it. This was a unique tool and he closely guarded it, packing it away after each day's work to keep it from being bumped in any way. A few months later, he was given a different bar, not quite the same size. He checked it over, and put it in a cabinet. He kept using his "old" bar.
       One day he was called into the superintendent's office and told to bring his bar. The railroad had been having a few derailments caused by bad wheels. When the superintendent checked his bar, he proclaimed, "This is wrong." Jim had been suspicious, so he replied,"I thought so, so I have never used it!" He then produced the original bar, which was correct, and said, "I know you are trying to blame me for those accidents, so I quit!"
       He went on to work for the Colorado Springs Fire Department and served in World War I. After the war, he rejoined the department and stayed until his retirement. Even then, he could be found on a fire wagon, usually from Station 5. As the oldest surviving fireman, he often rode a fire truck in parades.
       He also ran the Colorado Motel on West Colorado Avenue until he could do so no longer. He lived into his 90s.
       Another favorite story of Jim's was about him as a little guy. He was staying with his aunt and uncle at a Colorado Midland station out near South Park. When a slow- moving freight train rolled by, he would grab onto the ladder on the end of a boxcar and ride from there to the station. This was only a short distance. On one such trip, before he could jump down, he was grabbed from the rear! It was a railroad worker. He carried Jim to his uncle's house and told him,"If you expect this young man to live to be an adult, he'd better stop riding trains!"
       I suppose he did. Jim Reilly was a great guy to talk to. I have tapes of some of our chats and still enjoy listening to them. His daughter asked me to make her copies. She wanted to hear his voice again too.

(Posted 8/31/17; 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.)