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In 1868, Colorado was a territory inside whose mountain vastness lay uncountable riches–gold, silver, coal, zinc, lead, molybdenum and about every other mineral known to mankind. But there was not a mile of railroad to speed the extraction of these minerals or to move people to and from the interior. 150 years ago, the biggest settlement, Denver, had a population less than half that of present-day Edwards. The First Transcontinental Railroad, from the Missouri River to Sacramento, was missing the state in favor of the gentler mountain grades of Wyoming. Said the territorial governor, John Evans, to an early railway builder: “Colorado without railroads is comparatively worthless.”
The next two decades would see a frenzy of railroad construction in Colorado. Pitched battles would be fought for possession of narrow mountain passes. Desperate railroad builders ignored the law and the courts to have their way. Above the day to day fights for corporate survival in the mountains, railroad speculators in New York City played one railroad against the other, buying and selling them to each other on a whim. Fortunes were made, and more fortunes lost, in the quest to control Colorado’s railroad network. Yet so impenetrable were those mountains that not until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt could it be said that a railroad went through the Colorado Rockies rather than around them.
Our own Eagle County is part of this story, starting with the Denver & Rio Grande narrow-gauge railroad that poked its way over Tennessee Pass from Leadville and built into the tiny mining community of Red Cliff in 1881. During this panoramic presentation, join the nation’s foremost railroad writer Fred Frailey to learn why that railroad, which was soon extended to the Colorado River and then into Utah Territory and Salt Lake City, sits idle today, not used by a train for the past 21 years. Why is it rusting away? And do railroads even matter in Colorado today? Put on your boots, bring your Stetsons and prepare to learn about the real Wild West.
This program is generously underwritten by Martha Head.