Along the Colorado Pass, Scenes of a Railroad Like No Other | To travel


BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – To find out how this place came to be, take the long, winding road up.

Take Boreas Pass, just south of the city. Follow the sidewalk until it turns to dirt and the luxury mountain homes disappear. The rugged past is revealed along the steep and steep slope through aspen tunnels and rocky bowels. The road is the abandoned bed of what has become the High Line, the railroad like no other America has ever seen.

It was the highest narrow gauge in the country, connecting Denver to the Leadville mines via Boreas Pass above 11,400 feet, crossing Breckenridge on the way down. At least 150 souls lived around the summit of Boreas, determined to serve the railroad that would transform the dusty and isolated mining camp into what it is today: a bustling center of skiing, commerce and culture.

These workers left a cemetery of bristlecone stumps; rigid lumber was cut for the sleepers and log structures, some of which are still standing today. There is the old house of the section chief and his workers. It stands in front of the collapsed foundations of the Engineer’s House, next to a collapsed fence built to block the monstrous snow drifts.

Starting in November, the Summit Huts Association reserves the Section House at the top of Boreas Pass for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who travel 10 km on a moderately steep road. For more information, visit

The summit meadow is strewn with splintered wood and rusted steel, today’s drivers still have to imagine times hard to imagine. From 1882 to 1937, the train operated through thick and thin.

“While you’re driving, you just can’t believe it,” says Sherrie Calderini, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s historic performer.

Grainy photographs will make you believe. They flash in a video broadcast in the reception center of the city. These are scenes of men and trains battling the winter extremes of Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind. Here is a picture of “coupage”, the term for locomotives loading and overturning and loading and so on in walls of snow. Here is the rotary, the 100-ton giant with blades to cut daggerboards as high as 30 feet. Here are men who dig where machines have failed.

Here are the trains overturned one after the other, victims of ice or avalanches in winter, stone or rain in other seasons. In the worst case, the workers on board had their say.

“What they said was they joined the birds. They jumped, ”says a narrator in the video, Margaret Coel, daughter and granddaughter of railway workers.

Another descendant, Ray Perschbacher, testifies: “There was no John Wayne. They were just ordinary people. They saw a job that needed to be done, and they went out and did it.

Their job was to maintain at all costs the High Line and ferry supplies that would build Breckenridge, which would later make it the perfect location for a world-class seaside resort. The perseverance of the train meant the prosperity of Breckenridge.

The train rolled “over mountains with shafts and tunnels from which flowed an uninterrupted flow of minerals,” wrote the authors of the 1958 classic, “Narrow Gauge in the Rockies.” But it was not only the mining equipment that was economically transported. These were other things that the wagons could not haul over unforgiving ground. Things like furniture and food from far beyond. It was oysters. Oysters for Barney Ford’s restaurant in Breckenridge.

The born slave who became a leading entrepreneur and civil rights pioneer in Denver started his business in Breckenridge just as the train arrived. Beyond the oysters, he could have taken the train back to his interests in Denver, Calderini says, and it’s possible his elegant house turned into a museum was furnished thanks to the train. “Barney definitely used the train,” Calderini says.

As were some 1,600 and more people living in Breckenridge at the height of the High Line in the 1880s. The population had exploded since the start of the previous decade, when the census showed 51. The importance of the train has been highlighted during the winter of 1898-99. The city was reportedly buried under 20 feet of snow, leaving no chance of passage to higher elevations.

“Breckenridge was cut off from civilization,” Calderini says. “There were people who were hungry.

It was 11 difficult weeks. But as he always had, the train would run again. People flocked to the depot or post office again, the social events of the day. The train whistling through the mountains was “the most welcoming sound in the world,” Coel recalls, having told him an elder.

But after a 55-year race, the decline of mining and the rise of automobiles spelled the end of the train. “It was a difficult time,” Coel said in the reception center video. “It was the end of an era.

From now on, the cabins at the top of Boreas Pass are part of this era of leisure. The non-profit Summit Huts rents them out to cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who stay overnight after a 10 km hike. The road can be driven until it is covered with snow. When the convenience of driving is taken away, it’s time to visit the abandoned settlement, says Rich Rowley, president of the Summit Huts Association.

“You really have to go in winter to appreciate the place,” he says.

Those who venture into the cabins do not always know or appreciate the history therein. That’s until darkness sets in and the cold wind blows, Rowley says.

“Very windy nights,” he says, “they say they can still hear the trains up there.”


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