I’m convinced in his next life (should that be an option) that Jimmy will return, preferably one hundred years earlier than his first go around if he has anything to say about the matter, to spend his second chance as an engineer blazing a trail across the wild, Wild West with his own steam locomotive pulling a long line of rail cars.
For now, the little boy likes tinkering with trains, and riding trains, the older the better. I’m definitely beginning to appreciate antiques more and more, train or otherwise, as I find myself getting closer and closer to the station.
Maybe it’s the rhythm of those wheels running over those tracks; maybe it’s the scenery, or simply the fact it’s a piece of the past I’ll never really know firsthand. On one occasion, while riding Georgetown’s Historic Loop Railroad, the Silver Queen, it was the First Class Parlor Car that brought out the best in this early staple of mass transit.
Whatever it is, each ride makes me (and apparently my brother Chris) feel sentimental for a time and place when romance and adventure ruled the road of rails.
Trains helped transport America from a civilized wilderness during the 1800’s to an emerging economic powerhouse in the 20th century. Where those iron horses roamed, people followed, feeding wanderlust and Manifest Destiny. Sometimes the trains followed the people, especially in the case of Colorado’s Gold Rush.
The mule pack trains that initially carried the heavy bullion of those Gold Rush days across the mountains and through the canyons to the plains and eastern markets involved slow, labor intensive trips back and forth on narrow, rutted roads.
The summer day Jimmy and I, along with my brother Chris, spent two hours riding the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad with about seventy other enthusiasts, we became part of the fascinating history of this boom town that went bust during the feverish Gold Rush years of the mid-1800’s. Those Gold Rush years played a key role in the establishment of the state of Colorado.
That history, according to our amicable and knowledgeable conductor,
For a time, this historic mining town, tucked away in a magnificent alpine valley at the base of Colorado’s highest mountain, Mt. Elbert, was the second most populous city in the Colorado Territory, right behind the city of Denver. Today, the highest incorporated city in the U.S. has a population of approximately 2,600.
#3. THE VIEWS
Like a giant red ribbon the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad (an 1898 consolidation of the Colorado Central and the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad) winds through the colorful tapestry of the majestic San Isabel National Forest right up to the Continental Divide.
The views were as stunning as they were plentiful. No tiny airplane windows, clouds and 25,000 feet obscuring the best this green earth had to offer that day.
I love old buildings, especially ones that have been lovingly cared for or restored. They often exude warmth and character, pinpoint a time and place when the history in which these old relics are steeped is beautifully preserved. Leadville’s century old C&S Depot was all that and then some.
It still had the charm of those early days when Colorado’s “Cloud City” represented a dream come true for so many hoping to strike it rich on their wits and determination. Apparently Ken and Stephanie’s children, Kirsten and Derrick, run the family business now, Kirsten handling the marketing and sales, Derrick now the Road Master, managing all the mechanical and structural responsibilities involved in maintaining rail cars and line having passed the century mile marker a number of years back.
#5. BECAUSE JIMMY LOVES OLD TRAINS
Look at Jimmy’s smile! I don’t see that kind of smile when we’re flying, from Jimmy or from most other passengers, although I could really care less about the other passengers aside from the hope we can all get along while our luggage and bodies are crammed and sealed tight like sardines for a minimum of several hours at best. That smile was contagious!
#6. THE INCREDIBLY MASSIVE LOCOMOTIVES
This mixture of menace and mystery, like the bad-boy I went out with just once as an inexperienced sixteen-year-old before realizing I was in over my head, always leaves we slightly breathless and frightened of this truly macho machine when it comes to all that steam driving the engine.
Needless to say, riding the rails with my Jimmy is always pure joy.
#7 IT’S POETRY IN MOTION