THE PRESERVATION WORLD learned in March that the Georgetown Loop Railroad and the Colorado Historical Society (CHS) are parting ways after 30 years. One of Colorado's most impressive railroad attractions, the narrow gauge steam trains of the Georgetown Loop have been operating since 1974 over a rebuilt remnant of the historic Colorado & Southern line between Silver Plume and Georgetown. The Colorado Historical Society owns the entire 979-acre historic mining park, including the railroad right of way, track and buildings, and also has in its collection a few pieces of historic C&S rolling stock that are currently displayed at Silver Plume. Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc., headed by Lindsey Ashby, which up to now has been the concessionaire, owns nearly all the passenger equipment, steam locomotives and tools, and also has been responsible for all advertising, sales and maintenance of the locomotives and tracks. A March 17, 2004, press release from the Georgetown Loop Railroad stated: "After reaching an impasse with the Colorado Historical Society, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc. will end operations at the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park at the end of the 2004 season."
Why the impasse? The Colorado Historical Society has cited several issues, including the need for more parking, maintenance issues regarding buildings owned by the CHS that the Loop uses, and a need (in the eyes of the historical society) for more liability insurance.
The current operators, Lindsey and Rosa Ashby, came to Silver Plume in 1974 with one locomotive and a few pieces of rolling stock from their Central City Narrow Gauge Railroad (now defunct). Nearly everything you see today at the Loop is the result of years of efforts by the Ashbys and their crew. They, more than anyone else, are the ones who have made the Georgetown Loop the profitable tourist attraction it has be come in the past 30 years. In addition, it was the Ashbys who supplied all the locomotive and equipment to start the operation in the 1970s, built the water tank at Silver Plume laid most of the track, restored the cars anc organized the grant with which the Devil Gate Viaduct was built. Unfortunately, unless the CHS or the Ashbys decide to renegotiate, at the end of the 2004 season the Ashbys will depart, and all of the Loop' rolling stock and locomotives will be move elsewhere.
Will steam trains run in 2005? The CHS which has been publicly chastised by local newspapers and television stations for not renewing the Loop's contract, is making an attempt to keep the trains running, and has promised the citizens of Georgetown and Silver Plume, whose livelihood relies heavily on tourism, that there will be a 2005 season.
Of course there are naysayers, but to the credit of the CHS they've formed the Loop Park Communications Committee, which has been keeping the citizens of Clear Creek County informed on its progress, and hired Stone Consulting and Design to help find a new operator to take over train operations for the 2005 season. In mid-March the CHS issued a Request for Information (RFI) to obtain information from operators who believe they have the qualifications, knowledge and experience to run an operation like the Loop. According to the RFI, the new operator will be responsible for all facets of the operation - some say so much so that it will be nearly impossible to turn a profit. Ten responses were obtained, ranging from an already established tourist railroad operator to a development company with no previous railroad experience. A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued soon.
One of the biggest hurdles is finding motive power. The CHS owns but two steam locomotives, one of which, former D&RGW 2-8-2 K37 No.491 (currently displayed at the Colorado Railroad Museum) is far too large to run on the Loop. The other is well-worn former Colorado & Southern class B-3c 2-6-0 No.9, which they plan to offer to potential operators after the Ashbys have departed.
Built in 1884 by Cooke, No.9 was originally Denver, South Park & Pacific No.72, then became Denver, Leadville & Gunnison No.114 in 1889, and finally Colorado & Southern No.9 in 1899. No.9 was saved by the C&S at the close of the steam era and was last run during the 1949 Chicago Railroad Fair. After that it was leased to the Black Hills Central tourist railroad of Hill City, South Dakota, which never operated it (they did, however, for special runs burn tires in its firebox and tow it around behind ex-White Pass & Yukon Route 2-8-0 No. 69). Following a court battle in the mid 1980s between the BHC and Burlington Northern to determine ownership, the Mogul was donated to the CHS and returned to Colorado in 1988. It has been stored near Silver Plume at Morningstar Siding ever since, where it could be seen from Loop trains descending the mountain into Georgetown. A few years back, the right side of the engine was repainted by Georgetown Loop volunteers and relettered Colorado & Southern, but other than that little has been done to it since its last days on the C&S.
No.9 is likely to be an expensive engine to restore. In late April the CHS stated in the Clear Creek Courant that it has budgeted $200,000 for its rebuilding, which will take place away from the historical society's Silver Plume property. In early May the engine was moved from Morningstar Siding to Silver Plume and was prepared for shipment by truck to Antonito, Colorado, where it was supposed to have been evaluated by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Before departing, the cab was boarded up, the stack was removed, and several holes in the boiler jacket were patched with duct tape.
No.9's tender was delivered to Antonito first, but following the discovery of some asbestos pipe wrap the C&TS refused to accept the locomotive itself until the asbestos issue had been dealt with. Thus, instead of continuing to Antonito, the 2-6-0 wound up going to Strasburg, Colorado, and is now on the back lot of the Urich Locomotive Works where it is currently undergoing evaluation. The results from Urich are due early this summer; it appears that C&TS will not be involved in the restoration. As of this writing, No.9's tender is still in Antonito.
For an engine in as bad shape as No.9, the $200,000 budgeted for restoration is barely enough to scratch the surface. Estimates for a complete overhaul have ranged from $500,000 to over $1 million. The 2-6-0 has not fared well over the years; it has sat outdoors, first in South Dakota and now in Colorado, for over five decades. And just before it left the Black Hills Central in the late 1980s, several parts were torched off that will have to be replaced, including the throttle and Johnson bar, bell hanger, boiler check valves, both injectors and many additional items. The cab is gutted; new parts such as a hydrostatic lubricator will have to be obtained and reinstalled (the cab itself is rotted and needs to be completely replaced). Major boiler and running gear work will be necessary, and it's questionable if the original boiler can even be used. The CHS plans to convert No.9 to burn oil, and to that end its tender, which is in very poor shape since it was never sealed properly against snow and rain, will need to be modified to carry an oil tank. Building an entirely new tender tank is not out of the question.
If it can be fully restored, there is the question of whether No.9 can handle a train the size the Loop normally operates (eight cars). The C&S B3c's were rebuilt with new boilers that boosted their tractive effort to a bit over 16,000 lbs. Theoretically, No.9 should be able to pull four cars up the hill between Georgetown and Silver Plume, but little more. (By contrast, Georgetown Loop's ex-IRCA 2-8-0 No.40, which is considerably heavier than No.9, develops 20,600 lbs. of tractive effort, and the two operable West Side Shays each develop 25,830 ibs).
Age is another factor. No.9 is now 120 years old and a historic relic. Some in the preservation community have expressed concern about using such an important artifact on a daily basis. There is no question that during restoration, much of the "historic fabric" that makes up the 2-6-0 will need to be replaced with new materials. Some railfans have suggested that instead of restoring No.9, it should be used as a pattern for constructing a new locomotive.
To complement No.9, the CHS has been in talks with the city of Idaho Springs for the use of former Colorado & Southern 2-8-0 No.60, currently displayed next to the county courthouse there. While in immaculate cosmetic condition, No.60 is unfortunately in poor mechanical shape, perhaps worse even than No.9. No.60 was built for the Utah & Northern by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in 1886; it was acquired by the Denver, Leadville & Gunnison in 1890, and became C&S No.60 in 1899. On its last run, No.60 stalled at Idaho Springs because of a still-unknown mechanical problem. It was donated in 1941 to the city of Idaho Springs, sitting near where it had stalled on a section of the C&S main line. In the 1950s a gift shop was built next to the engine, and for
many years the owner burned tires in the 2-8-0's firebox to draw tourists to the shop, which had the unfortunate effect of rippling No.60s crown sheet. Like No.9, No.60 will require substantial repairs before it can operate again. An engineering assessment to determine its condition has been scheduled.
Obtaining passenger equipment is another issue. The CHS has acquired five passenger coaches (rumored to be converted Rio Grande boxcars from the C&TS) and also has some rolling stock at Silver Plume, including three original C&S passenger cars that aren't roadworthy. Two flat cars, a gondola, and a caboose are also listed in the CHS inventory. A diesel in the 40-50 ton range is being sought, but it is unclear if the CHS would use the diesel to pull daily tourist trains.
The prospect of seeing original Colorado & Southern equipment operating over the Loop is exciting, but there are several obstacles to overcome before this can happen. According to a reliable source, the current staff of the Georgetown Loop has no interest in working for a new operator, so experienced employees will have to be found. Mountain railroading can be dangerous; a paid staff of seasoned railroaders will be an absolute necessity if the Loop is to reopen in 2005.
Regardless of what happens next year, this year the Georgetown Loop will be in full operation as the Ashbys gear up for their final season. All three operable steam locomotives (West Side Lumber Company Shays Nos.12 and 14, and IRCA 2-8-0 No.40) will be in service, and extra trains (consisting of Shay 14 pulling a stock car, gondola, D&RGW long caboose, and Lake Tahoe Railway coach No.4) will run on the weekends or as necessary. West Side Shay No.8 has been repainted and moved to Georgetown, where it's on display in front of the depot. Reportedly, after the last run in October the Ashby's equipment will be temporarily moved to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden until a permanent home can be found. Channel 9 news, the NBC affiliate in Denver, reported on April 27 that some of the equipment may go to the Ashby's Ca–on City & Royal Gorge Scenic Railway at Ca–on City, Colorado where a third rail would be laid to accommodate the narrow gauge trains.
Georgetown Loop trains will depart daily May 29th through October 3rd from two departure points at Silver Plume and Devil's Gate (Georgetown). An optional mine tour with an additional fee operates through Labor Day. The combination train and mine tour takes 21/2 hours to complete. Train reservations are taken for Devil's Gate departures only. Train tickets are $16.50 for adults and $11.25 for children ages 3-15. Children under 3 are free when sitting on a parent's lap. Call 800/691-4FUN for more information.