Trains coming west |

Trains coming west

Dan Olsen

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The Museum of Northwest Colorado, 590 Yampa Ave., in Craig, is creating a new railroad display depicting changes brought about by the arrival of trains to Northwest Colorado. For more information, call the museum at 824-6360.

— It rained two inches in the days before railroad cars jumped the tracks in Craig in 1914, putting a halt to passenger traffic that had started only the previous year.

On July 12,1914, only about a mile out of the Craig Depot, an engineer named Ginter hit the brakes as his coal tender and baggage cars leaned to the right. They were stopped from tipping over only by dirt plowed up by the wayward cars.

The first train wreck in Northwest Colorado was big news, with the public turning out to watch the spectacle.

It would not be the last misadventure for the railroad either.

Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, researched the history of the railroad coming to Craig.

The railroad’s arrival was greatly anticipated in Craig, as the Moffat Road made its way west in 1913.

David Moffat’s plan to link Denver with Salt Lake City by rail took the line through Craig.

The Moffat County Courier reported on Nov. 13, 1913, that crews had crossed into Moffat County laying the first steel rails ever within the county’s borders. A Christmas 1913 article promised “low rates for shipping potatoes” east to Denver on the new railroad.

Mr. Paul, a freight and passenger agent, said the railroad would also benefit sheep and cattle ranchers looking to ship east to Denver and beyond.

Hoping to outdo a party Hayden had thrown that included an elk barbecue, celebrations were planned for the arrival of rail service to Craig.

Town residents argued beef should be the main coarse, but snow canceled many activities on the day of the celebration.

The first Denver Northwest and Pacific train arrived in Craig on Nov. 21, 1913.

Dorothy Spencer recalled riding into Craig on the first train when the engineer stopped to pick up her and her brother, John, outside of town.

In town, kids were dressed as Indians to meet the train.

The fare on the railroad from Craig to Hayden was 85 cents in 1914. A ticket to Steamboat Springs cost $2.05, and a trip Denver would set a passenger back $12.75.

In January 1914, special show trains were scheduled to take passengers to a stock show in Denver.

Seventeen tank cars hauling crude oil from the Craig Fields derailed and burned 2,000 feet of snowsheds near Corona in September 1926 causing $30,000 damage.

The engineer acted quickly, saving railroad cars loaded with cattle.

A wreck at the Cary Ranch in April 1927 left 800 feet of track torn-up with the tender and coaches jumping the tracks at a switch. One coach was tipped onto its side.

Craig postmaster Loyd Failing drove to Hayden to retrieve the first-class mail and deliver it to his customers.

By May of 1947, Craig was the largest wool-shipping railhead in the United States. Two and a half million pounds of wool had already been shipped, with another 2 million pounds sitting in “great bags” and in the counties sheering pens.

In January 1953, the Denver and Rio Grande built stockyards in Craig at a cost of $65,000.

A few years later, automobiles would make people less enthusiastic about rail travel.

The railroad began to petition to end rail service to Northwest Colorado in 1957, saying it was not a profitable route.

A 1961, notice of “discontinued service” was met with great objections from Craig and Steamboat Springs residents.

In 1963, the Interstate Commerce Commission denied the railroad permission to end service, saying residents had paid for part of the construction of the Moffat Tunnel.

The train served a population in Moffat, Grand and Routt counties of 16,500 people.

Chuck Mack noted in his newspaper column that the Moffat Tunnel was a 12-minute ride, compared to crossing Corona and Rollins passes in a blizzard.

Scenic dome cars were added to the Craig passenger route in January 1965.

Passenger rail traffic ended in Northwest Colorado with the final run on April 7, 1968.

A 10-coach train, along with a Railroad Historical Society car and 10 Rio Grande chair cars made the last trip.

Arrival of the final run train was delayed three hours due a to a derailment of the engine’s front truck wheels.

Engineer Al Johnson, a 44-year veteran of D&RG railroad, walked to the front of the train and laid his coveralls on the drawbar saying, “Well, that’s it.”

And he walked off to be driven back to Denver.

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