Sunday, October 18, 2009

Visit to Georgetown.

"The beauty of the rugged Rocky Mountains surrounds you as an old-time steam locomotive chugs it way up the canyon..."


Oh, there was plenty of beauty surrounding us, but it seems the challenges of maintaining an old-time steam locomotive have caught up with this restoration project as well, a sleek diesel-electric now "...hauling your train past the remains of several gold and silver mines."

This was quite a disappointment for me in my anticipation of seeing a narrow-gauge steam locomotive. I was impressed--shocked, actually--to see what narrow means in narrow-gauge. I can see why turns at tight radius are possible. Little surprise there were tipovers--it's a wonder there weren't more. That's a very narrow base, with a tremendous mass above and beyond the wheels.

I did enjoy seeing the layout of the ROW, and I for sure wasn't disappointed in learning about that. Even before I'd seen this plaque I'd put together a mental map from riding the distance, and really enjoyed seeing how the engineers/surveyors solved the various problems of terrain.

So this is how engineer Jacob Blickensderfer doubled the 2-mile distance, and it's not only ingenious, it's daring. I can only imagine the courage it took to build a bridge this high in the 1880's. If he's like other engineers I know and work with, he approached it pretty darned cautiously and likely with quite a bit of pressure from the folks he was working for. For this bridge at Devil's Gate--on an 18-degree curve no less--the locomotive engineer really slows down, moving gingerly across.

Here's the story behind its creation, from the full plaque at the site:

The loop is a major tourist venue. Every ticket for the 12:30 trip was sold, as they were for every other trip planned yesterday. A fair number of the folks on board were much like the woman from Texas who shared our booth, far more interested in collecting another scalp on her belt of places she's visited--chattering incessantly the entire hour about other places she's been, stopping to look out only to find a pretty backdrop for a snapshot of herself proving her attendance.

Much to my surprise, despite the presence of a PA system and a generous, well-costumed staff, there was no narration offered during the trip. There were lots of fancy brochures and a gift shop with plenty of t-shirts, but in the two hours we were there we heard no conversation and no discussion of the historical nature of the afternoon's "entertainment." We might as well have been at Disneyland or Water World.

I paid 69c for a postcard showing a vintage photograph.The road shown paralleling the ROW is now Interstate 70.


Shane Schabow said...

I do hope that the lack of narration wasn't a reason for you not to come and visit again next season, when steam will return to the Loop (although the diesel will still be used as well). It seems that you visited one of the days that our PA was on the fritz, and we were unable to provide the usual historical speech collectively to the entire train. Although I was only on the train on Saturdays, my conductor and I did try to walk through the cars and give some information personally, but it was hard to yell over a full coach of talking passengers. If you would like any of the historical information that we normally give along the way, shoot me an e-mail at the following address:

The crew is also looking forward to having steam power on the train again, as hearing a diesel horn in the canyon doesn't have the same presence as a steam whistle echoing up the valley!

BTW, nice article and photographs of the Switzerland Trail grade!

Kind Regards,

Shane Schabow
Brakeman, Georgetown Loop RR

Michael O'Neill said...

Great followup, Shane, and I very much appreciate it.

I will get in touch with you and feature your historical information in a posting.

We'll be back next season.