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Season 1 Episode 5



Steph: Hi! It’s Steph & Mike from This Is, season 1 episode 5. Welcome to our podcast.

Mike: Howdy ya’ll!

Steph: Mike, how ya doin?

Mike: Pretty good. Had 9 days off of work for vacation and the weather would not cooperate one bit. So I did absolutely nothing for 9 days and it kills me when I have to do that.

Steph: Yep. Yikes, yeah that sounds not fun.

Mike: Yeah, I only put I think 20 miles on my car in 9 days cause I just didn’t leave my house.

Steph: The weather was so crappy the whole time. It’s cloudy, overcast, it’s cold, it’s snowing, it’s kind of raining, so maybe it’s slain-ing?

Mike: Yeah, and then I even had to cancel my golf tournament because of the stupid weather, when last year we played in worse!

Steph: That’s a bummer.

Mike: Yeah, total bummer.

Steph: Did you get lots of sleep?

Mike: No, Morty doesn’t let me sleep.

Steph: Oh. What about Netflix? Did you Netflix?

Mike: I sure did. Watched all kinds of new stuff that was on there. How about you?
Steph: Um, not a whole lot. Went to a concert recently, had a good time.

Mike: Did you mosh pit?
Steph: I did mosh pit. I got my rear end handed to me though. Some days, you take more bruises than you give in the mosh pit.

Mike: Yes.

Steph: It’s allright, gotta have fun.

Mike: God, always!

Steph: Cool. So anyways, today we’re going to talk about the rail roads.

Mike: We have information all about the rail roads and how it came to be here in the middle of the high plains desert. Kinda fitting considering how much new rails & trains are happening now in the metroburbs. Hang out with us for a bit and find out what the heck starvation trail is. We have some Wild West Justice that involves some flanges, and a rail road that goes from nowhere to nowhere in a high mountain valley.

Steph: Fantastic. On April 22nd of this year, 2016, the A-line opened. It’s 23 miles of rail making it easier to get in and out of DIA. Eventually I believe the plan is to have these train lines extend all the way up to the ski resorts for a super easy commute.


Mike: With this and the express lane we talked about a few episodes ago, the traffic up I-70 won’t suck as bad. It’s less than $10 to take the A-line from Union Station. If you call an Uber (for a free ride use code Stephanie5091ue as a first time user) or Lyft it’s $50-$60, depending on travel time. And about $12 per person on a multi-passenger vehicle. Any bus in the metro will get you to the airport for about $10 bucks or so, with a tip for the driver. So it’s comparable to all these other options.


Steph: Nice. In our research for this article, we came across a really interesting web site, that we thought anyway, it’s called and they spoke of an adventure where you get to camp out in a box car that’s toted to and from your campsite by an actual train. But it’s real remote and you can stay there for a couple days.


Mike: So they basically, what, have an engine pulling a couple box cars and they just drop them off and you basically camp inside of the box car?

Steph: Yep, it’s home base so it’s got propane for cooking. It has heat. It has water, so it’s a camp, but it’s like setting up without actually setting up. Everything is done for you. It sounds pretty nice.

Mike: It sounds awesome.


Steph: Especially if you’re going to go camp somewhere remote. It’s really hard to trek in all your stuff by yourself.


Mike: Right? In those locations, yeah. Having a train just drop your box car off, like super deep in the mountains, in the woods. Like, to me that’s pretty awesome.


Steph: Sign me up.


Mike: Yeah, I love that idea.


Steph: Me too. So anyway if you want to check that out, the links will be in our show notes. So now we’re going to talk about the history of the rail road and how it came to Colorado. So Napoleon Bonaparte, who sold it, nor Thomas Jefferson, who bought it, knew exactly where the Western border of the Louisiana purchase lay.TJ and NB were both unsure of the borders of their land but it didn’t really matter becauseColorado came into the Union after the conclusion of the war with Mexico in 1848.


Mike: Native Americans, Spanish explorers, fur trappers and scouts traveled Colorado territory on foot and on horseback, blazing trails through the mountains and plains, long before railroad engineers began surveying. Many of the routes forged by these early explorers were used as later railroad routes as they generally followed the path of least resistance.


Steph: That’s the general path most people take. Every surveyor public or private could not find an easy path anywhere in Colorado and had lots of difficulties. It started in 1840 when explorer John Fremont tried to find a route for the transcontinental railroad. He tried 5 different times. John Gunnison also tried to find a route, but ended up leaving both his name and his scalp here instead.

Mike: His scalp!

Steph: His scalp, western. The wild west!

Mike: The wild west.

Steph: What they did provide was information on the area’s topography, wild life, and Native American people. None of that was of any interest to anyone else until gold was found here.

Mike: You mean no one cared about the Pocket Gophers, jumping mice or free-tailed bats? (nope) What about the cougars, gray wolfs or black bears? (not even!) Rude. Several routes were used in 1859 to get here when the gold rush started. People only came here in big numbers from the east. Two thirds of them left when they didn’t find the untold riches they were seeking and this entry and exit solidified the trails that would later become railroad routes.

Steph: Trails along the Kansas River and Smoky Hill River, in Kansas demanded that one strike out and head straight out towards the Eastern Plains to Denver. This was the shortest route, but also the most dangerous, most difficult and one with the scarcest water supply. It was later called “Starvation Trail”.

Mike: And for good reason. (Yikes!) The other options were the Overland trail along the Platte River, and then South on the old Cherokee or Trapper Trail. There was also the Sante Fe Trail up the Arkansas River and then North on the Old Cherokee Trail.  The least popular route was from Leavenworth along the Platte River Route, bearing West along the Republican River and then across the plains to Denver. So all in all there were 4 main routes to get here on foot or horseback mostly. From Topeka Kansas to Denver is 538 miles, the shortest route. Not very short. From Kansas City to the Sante Fe Trail was 788 miles.

Steph: Yikes! Could you imagine riding a horse or walking that far? Average walking for me takes about 15-20 minutes per mile. That would take at least 134 hours to walk from Topeka and 197 hours from Kansas City. That’s like 6-8 days of walking just to get here if you didn’t sleep, or stop to eat or pee, in today’s time on paved walkways. We don’t ever have to contend with unpaved road ways, and weather issues like I’m sure they faced.

Mike: Oh and I’m sure they faced many. We take everything for granted today.

Steph: A lot of it for granted. Cause if you think like gold was discovered in January, I’m sure by the time word got out, people were itchin to get here, thinking, “Oh well we’ll just head out in spring.” And you know how spring is here.

Mike: It’d be July or August before you got here. Unpaved roads, I mean they had to blaze their own trail.

Steph: They had to move things, or go around things.

Mike: It wasn’t like, oh there’s a tree, lets cut it down. It would take a few hours to cut down the tree with an axe or this or that, and they’d do that constantly. So that was pretty rough.

Steph: I imagine.

Mike: There are 311 cities/towns currently in Colorado, only 604 remaining ghost towns. There are twice as many ghost towns now as real towns, but at their most popular there were an estimated 1500 mining camps turned ghost towns but legend became fact so that is the best the records could prove.

Steph: Yeah I can imagine a bunch of little places aren’t going to keep record of when they set up camp and when they left, and who was there.

Mike: Nah, there getting gold out of the mountain. They don’t want to keep records of this stuff.

Steph: Right, they’re busy.

Mike: Yeah, they want to get the gold and get the hell out of there.

Steph: Right. There was a definite need for a railroad once the gold rush started in Jan 5,1859. Mountain lines were needed especially considering all the mining camps up yonder. So how hard was it to get supplies up there with pack animals if you were lucky but hauling everything must have taken so much effort.

Mike: I mean you could have a pack animal like a mule or a horse.

Steph: Still you’re walking up hill, all day long.

Mike: Exactly, and it’s gotta be slow going carrying all that.

Steph: Yeah, espically a lot of the canyons up are just rock faces. Like, how do you get past that if no tools or limited tools at least.

Mike: Well say they have a nice trail on one side of the river but that trail comes to an end, and now it’s on the other side of the river.

Steph: Right. How do you get across the river?

Mike: I mean just walk your animal across, but it’s dangerous.

Steph: So these people really fought hard to get up there. Like not only to take that trek all across the plains, but then to haul all of their stuff up the mountains.

Mike: Right?

Steph: That’s crazy.

Mike: Say their burro or their donkey or whatever, say it slips on a rock.

Steph: Or your horse throws a shoe or..

Mike: Or any of these scenarios, you’re kind of screwed at that point.

Steph: Yeah, seriously perilous hard, work. People that did this were hard core.

Mike: Yeah, and we’ve got millennials today. But I digress… Despite private citizens’ best efforts, the booster club, and the local government’s best effort, we could not get Union Pacific to bring the transcontinental to Colorado. Not to be deterred… Two separate railroad companies started, one in Golden and one in Denver, with the goal of connecting to the Southern Wyoming location of Cheyenne. The Denver group made headway first and laid their first track on May 18, 1868, ten years after the gold rush started. Interesting to note the first town in Colorado to get a train to it was tiny, remote Julesburg in 1867.

Steph: So in looking into Julesburg, we thought we’d see if there was anything interesting about it around this time and we found that there was a horse thief that when almost caught, Joseph “Jack” Slade was shot five times. Jack had been chasing him, knowing he was a horse thief. Jack survived, five shots and wanted vengeance, so when he caught the horse thief, instead of handing him to authorities, he decided to carry out his own form of justice. He instead… “shot him dead while he was tied to a fence post. He shot off each of his fingers, and then put the gun in Beni's mouth and pulled the trigger. Afterward, he severed Beni's ears as trophies.” Um. Ew. Well you know, it’s the Wild West.

Mike: Um, back then you could get away with doing such things to people. For something so little as horse thief.

Steph: I imagine. So little. It was a big crime back then.

Mike: Today it’s not that big of a crime, but back then it was a huge crime.

Steph: Right.

Mike: Cause horses were everybody’s livelihood.

Steph: So you do all these horrific things to this person and get a town named after you.

Mike: Right on.

Steph: Going down in history.

Mike: Denver finally got it’s link to the continental railroad when the DP and KP rail crews met at “Jersey Junction” in 1870. Later that same year, DP built a line from Brighton (then called Hughes) toward the coal fields at Erie. We looked all over the internets and couldn’t find this famed “Jersey Junction” so if any of our Colorado lovers know where this is at, let us know please! We’re very interested.

Steph: So Golden finally caught up with the Denver group when it completed it’s line in 1877. During the 1870’s it’s estimated that the rail lines brought 100 new residents to Denver each day. Denver's population soared from 4,759 in 1870 to over 35,000 by 1880. That’s crazy amount of growth. So it’s not the first time we have grown so much so quickly. You know, it’s happened in the past here. Denver had had large influxes of people several times for various reasons.

Mike: I was going to say, sounds kind of familiar with what’s happening in the last couple of years here in Colorado.

Steph: Right?

Mike: Denver on the map as a tourist destination brought 1,067 visitors in its first month of operation. That first month also brought 13,000,000 pounds (5,900,000 kg) of freight.

Steph: Wow, so they were going like all the time.

Mike: Yeah, non-stop. In 1868 a new smelting process that had been developed by Brown University professor Nathaniel Hill, resulted ultimately in a successful “Boston and Colorado Smelting Company” opening in Blackhawk. Additionally in 1869 there was a large deposit of silver discovered high up in Boulder Canyon at Caribou.

Steph: So gold and silver was just a-poppin out of everywhere, at this point.

Mike: Colorado baby.

Steph: Nice. In 1870 another railroad company, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway Company formed near Colorado Springs. The money for this came from private Brittan’s because the government granting land had gone out of fashion, thus some of the earliest European settlers in Colorado Springs were British.

Mike: Makes sense. The Golden group finally made it up the hill to Blackhawk in 1872 up Clear Creek canyon. With this development it was easier to get everything up to the mines, so the prices for everything, including wages, dropped.

Steph: The next year brought the coal to the smelter from Boulder Valley to Blackhawk creating a direct connection. So really hearing trains up and down the front range has been happening for 144 years so if you’re affected by that…it’s not your favorite thing…you feel the need to complain loudly…um they were here first.

Mike: So just shut up. All of this crazy rail road building ended up with a line going from “nowhere to nowhere” in the San Juans. In 1881 the Union Depot and Railroad Company build the city’s first Union Station to accommodate multiple trains. It burned down in March of 1894 and the building’s wooden tower was destroyed. It was replaced with a stone clock tower.

Steph: Sounds to me like building with wood back in the old west was probably not a good idea.

Mike: Yeah, but it was probably the easiest way they could go because they didn’t have all these masons.

Steph: Yeah, that’s true. Because building railroads was so expensive, corners and costs were cut whenever possible. So yay, shotty construction. This led to damaged freights, injured passengers and broken rail equipment. Many steep grades and sharp turns resulted in a distressing number of derailments and train wrecks. So hey if you’re listening, we’d like to know if you know of any of these locations where these derailments or train wrecks happened.  We did a pretty cursory search but we’d like to see it in person, so if you know of any of those places, let us know, we’d love to hear it.

Mike: The 1920’s and 30’s were the glory days of Denver Union Station. During that time, the station operated nearly 80 trains a day. Many trains served soldiers fighting in both World War I & World War II.  Up until 1958, Denver Union Station had more travelers than the Stapleton Airport. At that point, train travel drastically declined as air travel grew and became more popular, reflecting a nationwide trend.

Steph: In the late 1980’s a mix of public and private groups worked out improvements to the area. This same time the viaducts over the Platte River and I-25 were being removed. This coupled with new development of fast tracks increased the popularity of the location.

Mike: If you’re looking for a tour, we found the Crawford Hotel can take you if you call ahead and pay $20 per person.  The tour lasts an hour and you get a drink included at The Terminal Bar to be enjoyed the same day. Call ahead, as walk in’s are not permitted. Want to do a self-guided tour?  You are encouraged to tour all of the public areas of Denver Union Station free of charge

Steph: I like free! So we were talking about what kind of stuff to be aware of when you’re around trains. We’ve not had a whole lot of experience between the two of us with them, but what we do know is that you really need to be cautious around trains. They are a lot bigger than you and they will hurt. They can’t stop as quickly as you, so you need to get out of the way and just not mess with that. Some dude actually just found that out when he thought he could beat the train and the A-line smashed into him on their opening day.

Mike: What a nightmare.

Steph: Good times.

Mike: Two hour delay.

Steph: They are kind of expensive, so plan ahead. I mean, you get a lot out of it. They do take longer to get from A to B, but it’s a lot prettier, so it’s totally worth it. Espically if you’re going up to Glenwood Springs or something. Take the train and look at all of the untouched beauty. There’s a lot of places you weve in and out of, that you can’t see form the highway.

Mike: Exactly. I was going to say there’s parts, if you’re driving I-70, that you don’t get to see the train, but it will come around another bend or something, it’s like where did that train just come from?

Steph: Yeah, it’s a peek-a-boo.

Mike: Yeah so, and there’s tunnels and all kinds of stuff up in the mountians so that’s fun as well.

Steph: Yeah, that’s fun actually. But yeah, they do take a long time and another thing to think about is if you want to take it up to one of the mountain destinations, it’s a great alternative to driving in the crap-tacular weather. So if you’d rather just relax and not worry about it.

Mike: So say you wanted to go to Glenwood Springs in the winter, well, getting there through the mountains in the winter would take longer than normal but on the train it would take just as long and it’s safer. You don’t have to drive. You don’t have to worry about other drivers, you’re on a track so… it goes from point A…

Steph: You’re on the tracks, so relax. Relax on the tracks.

Mike: Yeah, find a bar car, and sit back and have a cocktail.

Sources: (Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3) (Source 4) (Source 5) (Source 6)