For the first time in more than 35 years, Colorado and Southern Coach #70 has left the station — or rather, its spot behind Idaho Springs City Hall — and is once again connecting two Clear Creek communities.
Crews moved the coach on Dec. 8 to the Silver Plume workshop of Historic Rail Adventures, which operates the Georgetown Loop Railroad. The process took about eight to nine hours across two days, officials stated, and the coach will remain in Silver Plume through at least the winter.
The coach, which once ran on the Colorado and Southern Railroad in Clear Creek, is the last of its kind in existence today. City officials said it’s an important community asset that needs to be preserved.
Starting in January, railroad staffers will assess how much damage the coach has sustained since it was last restored in 1983, and give the city an estimate on restoration work.
Assistant City Administrator Jonathan Cain said once he has the estimate he will apply for grants in March to help fund the restoration.
The work ahead
Before it was transported to Silver Plume, Cain pointed out visible damage on the coach, particularly on the side that’s been south-facing for more than 30 years. There’s some graffiti; part of the wood exterior is starting to chip and break off; there are holes and cracks along the windows; and the side appears to be bowing out, Cain described.
The assessment is costing Idaho Springs $15,000, about a third of which went for transportation, Mark Graybill, president and general manager of Historic Rail Adventures, said.
He added that his staff has the expertise to restore the coach once the city secures funding, but that would be Idaho Springs’ decision.
Along with a historic move for Coach #70, this project is the first time the company has worked on a train car other than its own, Graybill said, clarifying that his staff did similar work at previous jobs. In fact, Mike Horner, the railroad’s project manager, helped restore Coach #70 in 1983.
“We’re extremely excited to be able to do this work to preserve the car for our community,” Graybill continued. “ … We appreciate the trust that they’re giving to us to do the work and keeping it in the county. Only a handful of people in the country have the expertise that (Horner) has.”
Connecting Springs, Plume once again
This isn’t the first time Coach #70 has made the trek from Idaho Springs to Silver Plume.
The coach ran on the Colorado and Southern Railroad, which ran from Denver, up Clear Creek Canyon, through Idaho Springs, and ended in Silver Plume, Graybill described.
Thus, it has great significance to the county as a whole, but to those two communities specifically.
Coach #70 was built in 1896 for the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railroad by the St. Charles Coach Company of St. Charles, Missouri, according to Graybill and information provided by the city. It was ordered along with three other narrow-gauge coaches that also operated in Colorado. These four were built at the same time and cost $3,000 each.
It was rebuilt in 1915, but the extent of that work is unknown.
Idaho Springs’ coach is the only one of the four that’s survived as the other three were dismantled in 1939.
In 1941, the rail line through Idaho Springs was abandoned and dismantled. So, Coach #70 and Locomotive #60 — which is still in its usual spot behind Idaho Springs City Hall — were gifted to the county by the railway. The coach was restored in 1983 and given to Idaho Springs, along with the locomotive, shortly thereafter.
Graybill added that, as his staff conducts the assessment, they will suggest retaining as many historic components as possible.
“The coach is an important artifact,” he continued. “It ties our past to our present.”