COBWEB CORNERS: The pie lady
By Mel McFarland
This is one of those tales I found hard to believe, I heard so many versions of it! Some of the men I interviewed could point to the spot where it happened, but that never really convinced me. I have repeated stories of how the engineers would use the locomotive whistles for signals to their wives, but this one has another twist.
The story goes back to the 1920s, but I heard it even happened right up to the end of the Midland Terminal's ore trains from Cripple Creek in 1949. Just to tell a good story, I will smooth out some of its variations. It seems there was a little cabin on the edge of Woodland Park, near the tracks. The ore trains, as well as other heavy freight trains had to stop in Woodland to let their brakes cool before going on down the pass. The fun part of this story happened on the way up, as the train slowly worked through town.
As the tales all tell, there was a lady in this little cabin who would hand up a pie to the conductor or engineer as the train crept by. In return, the firemen, as they shoveled coal into the locomotive's fire box, would shovel some onto an area beside the track. I even heard some would drop off a bucket full of coal. Now I'm not sure which happened first, leaving the coal as thanks for the pie, or the pie as thanks for the coal, but it was a regular thing. The trains had several engines and there might have been as many as eight or ten men on the train. I understand the engineers and the conductor got the first slices and the firemen next, and anything left over went to the brakemen. The pie was guarded until late that night when the crew members had their break at Bull Hill (near Cripple Creek). Here they picked up the cars of ore bound for the mill in Colorado City. Once the work was done, they had pie and coffee before heading down the pass. As the train passed through Woodland Park, the pie pan was left on a tree stump near the cabin, clean and ready to be refilled!
According to the stories, this mainly happened in the fall and early winter. The number of times I heard versions of it sure made it believable. As I understand, more than one family walked the tracks gathering coal lost from the trains. I even used to walk the tracks near Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs to have coal to burn in the stove in my caboose!