|Shay #3 at the enginehouse. BLE magazine 1903|
Keith Pashina - And in the blink of an eye, The Gilpin Railroad was gone!
100 years ago this week, the Colorado & Southern Railroad sent a dispatch to the Gilpin Railroad on January 12, 1917, and the Register-Call newspaper reported that it was
“ordering all the tram cars, engines, and the other equipment, to be in the roundhouse of the company, by Monday, the 15th… That date ends the control of the line by that company (the C&S), and the transfer of the line to Denver parties, who have bought the road, will be made later. Reports have bee in circulation that the new owners intend to operate the line if then can make it a paying proposition, and if the find to be a white elephant on their hands, the line will be scrapped, and sold as junk.”
Unfortunately, the tramway could not be run profitably, and the Register-Call reported the $67,000 of company bonds had been sold to Radetsky Brothers of the Colorado Iron and Metal Company of Denver.
After various legal proceedings, the final sale was made on June 2, 1917, to the Radetsky Brothers. Thereafter, scrapping of the line proceeded. By October of that year, trackage had been ripped up back to Chase Gulch, and the final removals to the enginehouse completed a few weeks afterward.
Only a few remnants of the Gilpin Tram survived. The three shays, numbers 3, 4, and 5, were sent to Radetsky’s Denver scrap yard potential sale. There they sat for many years, with no buyers, and were scrapped in 1938.
Twenty of the Tram’s unique ore cars were purchased by the Iron City Mill, and used to transfer ore from a nearby loading point to the mill. Initially, these cars were hauled by horses, and later an internal combustion engine.
Everything else – rolling stock, rail, and machinery were scrapped.
The Gilpin Tram originally had a bright and prosperous start, when, on December 11, 1887, the first ore shipments were made. The Gilpin Tram was a technological marvel in its day, efficiently reaching many of the major producing mines and reducing shipping costs. The tramway allowed lower-grade ores, formerly not economical to mine, to now be extracted for their ore.
This prosperous little railroad did not go unnoticed. The Colorado & Southern Railroad recognized the traffic that the tramway could feed them outbound ore and concentrates, and inbound coal and other supplies. Also, new railroad construction to the north (the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific) was threateningly close, and there was talk of building feeder lines north from Central City to reach this standard gauge line. This could not be allowed, and so on June 27, 1906, the Gilpin Tramway Company became wholly owned by the Colorado and Southern.
But, the mining industry did not stand still. As the mines grew deeper, removal of subsurface water became more of a problem. Innovations in drilling appeared, too, and soon, haulage tunnels from Idaho Springs could be built to reach to bottom levels of many Gilpin County mines, draining the troublesome water, and hauling out the ore. Although many tunnels were started, it was the Newhouse Tunnel from Idaho Springs that reached the mines. Ongoing expansion by the Newhouse Tunnel was now taking over more and more ore haulage from the producing mines in the district. Already, the tunnel had tapped former major shippers on the tramway, such as the Frontenac, Aduddell, Saratoga, Old Town, and others, with more mines being reached each year.
As more mine shafts were linked up, less and less ore was hauled by the tramway. By 1914, former operating surpluses turned into losses. 1915 was no better, and 1916 even worse!
The prospects for any future increase in traffic were none too good, either. By 1916, only the Polar Star Mill in Black Hawk was custom treating ores on a regular basis. What had started out as a European war in 1914 had ominously grown, and now seemingly engulfed the whole world. This impacted mining operations, too, and precious metal mining had dropped off precipitously in 1914.
The handwriting was on the wall – the outlook was poor, and it was time to end operations. So, with very little notice, the Gilpin Tram faded away into history.