The area around Fraser is also known as Middle Park. French hunters, who first discovered this forested area, rich with game, were reminded of the hunting grounds back home. These grounds were called "parks" and thus the name – "Middle Park".
The area reminds Europeans of the Swiss Alps. It is a beautiful valley with lots of forests and skiing resorts. The area was in fact vital for the development of the skiing sport in the U.S.A. A couple of Norwegians started the first competitions skiing down to Fraser from Corona and later they built the first ski jumps in the United States. With the development of Berthoud Pass (originally an old Indian trail) into a year round auto route, skiing in Winter Park began to boom.
Today Winter Park is seasonally served by the Ski Train - the last train completely in the Orange/Silver livery of the Denver & Rio Grande passenger trains of days gone by. The vintage heavy weight cars have long been replaced by modern day Canadian equipment. Since 2001 the train is drawn by a set of three ex-Amtrak F40 diesels in Rio Grande colours.
Outside of the skiing season Ski Train can be chartered for private use. Summer specials are also operated, notably the annual Jazz festival at Winter Park.
After our excursion over Rollins Pass, we return to the railroad grade still in use today by Union Pacific and Amtrak.
MP 056.39 West Portal
West Portal is accessible via the station of Winter Park Ski Resort. This should not be mixed up with Winter Park/Fraser Station as only the Ski Train will stop here.
To get a slightly obstructed (by telephone cables) view from above, you can stop at the official view point, located along Highway 6.
Alternatively you can enter the Winter Park Resort car park, which offers plenty of space and walk up to the station. There used to be a caboose parked here that housed a museum about skiing. If you are there with wife and children, you can send them on the summer sleigh ride down a chute whilst you enjoy the trains.
The station itself is just a stretch of gravel. Stay well clear of the tracks ! Do not walk onto the railroad bridge or close to the tunnel portal ! There is a curve inside the tunnel so you will be unable to see an approaching train. If enough people infringe on this railroad property, nobody will be allowed near the tracks anymore.
Facing the portal you will have a signal behind you (in the westbound direction). Several minutes before a train is expected out of the tunnel this signal will be switched on amber. About 5 to 10 minutes before the arrival of the train, it will turn green. With about 15 seconds to go a deep thundering noise will sound out of the tunnel. That will give you enough time to grab your camera. Don’t drop your camera when the train blows its horn coming out of the bore.
MP 056.90 Winter Park Resort Station, Siding Length: 7100ft
The siding begins at the Winter Park Resort station and curves along the mainline. Often trains wait here for opposite traffic, usually out of sight around the curve. Only the Ski Train uses this Station for boarding passengers.
MP 062.20 Fraser Station, Siding, Junction Length: 4830ft
Fraser is another ski resort closely connected to Winter Park. The village grew around the Eastom Lumber Company which was founded with the intention to produce railroad ties.
From 1906 a standard gauge branchline of the Colorado Utah & Southwestern Railway interlocked with the Moffat Road at this location. This line served the Middle Park Lumber Co. about 5 miles up the south-western slope. Despite the name (which leads to expect another transcontinental line), the railroad was operated by a single Climax logging locomotive. The line was dismantled in 1919 and the old Climax locomotive was "parked" where it was, at Fraser Station until 1939 when it was sold for scrap.
During World War II, German prisoners of war worked the lumber mills, producing telephone poles and fences.
This is the station where Amtrak's California Zephyr stops daily.
MP 066.00 Tabernash Station, Siding Length: 9820ft
Tabernash marks the railroad’s eastern entry into scenic Fraser River Canyon which cannot be accessed by foot. Basically, the town consists of a few houses, a speed trap and a few motels. There is an old orange Rio Grande boxcar sitting trackside used as a tool shed.
It is also a staging point for coal trains before they start their journey through the tunnel and down to Denver. Helper units are added and taken off in Tabernash. Coal trains will perform their brake tests here. Do not get too excited when you see the headlights of a train standing here, as it may be quite a while before it will move.
If you are into sunset/night photography, try the stretch between Tabernash and Fraser. In the summer months you may want to take along a good supply of bug repellent for the evening hours.
MP 069.10 Tunnel 34 Length: 372 ft
MP 075.80 Granby Station, Siding, Junction Length: 9360ft
This place is very similar to Tabernash. Long trains will occasionally wait here for traffic coming from the opposite direction. The valley is very beautiful, with a river running through it and willow trees on its banks. High mountains surround the valley.
Between 1907 and 1917, a standard gauge line of the Rocky Mountain Railway interlocked with the Rio Grande at this place. The line led from Granby via Lehman to Monarch, a distance of about 14 miles. Several lumber mills were located along the line. The Moffat Road aided the Rocky Mountain Railway by tending them with grading engineers and eventually they loaned them locomotive # 391. In 1908 the main lumber mill burned down after which the railroad was sold to the Omaha Lumber. It was planned to extend the railroad to Grand Lake, which is the entry point to Rocky Mountain National Park in order to serve the tourist business. This never became a reality and the railroad was dismantled in 1917.
Today Highway 34 closely follows the original grade of the railroad.
MP 080.00 Willows
MP 086.20 Sulphur Station, Siding Length: 7830ft
This is last station before Byers Canyon. The name stems from the hot springs which are located here, a consequence of volcanic action in prehistoric times.
About a mile before the town, the road crosses over the railroad via a bridge. On the right hand side is the entrance to a ranch which is on private property. However, from the bridge you will have a nice photo view of eastbound trains.
MP 087.50 Byers Canyon
One of the highlights of the Moffat Road is Byers Canyon. Whilst the railroad clings to one side of the deep canyon, the road is directly on the other. There are several spaces where you can stop your car allowing for the best of photos.
From here you will be able to follow a train in either direction by car and take lots of photographs before reaching Moffat Tunnel in one direction or Gore Canyon in the other.
In February 1941 an accident occurred inside Byers Canyon when a Mallet locomotive met a 20 ton rock that had fallen onto the tracks. The locomotive fell into the river, killing the engineer.
On a luckier occasion, rocks fell down the mountain into a passing empty coal train. When the train arrived, the loadmaster asked the engineer why he had taken several full cars along. It was then that the engineer realized where the load had come from.
MP 093.00 Flat Siding Length: 7050ft
Flat is located a mile west of Byers Canyon, just above the road.
MP 098.00 Troublesome Station, Siding Length: 5570ft
Because of continuous problems during grading inside of Gore Canyon, serious consideration was given to building the line alongside Troublesome Creek extending from here over Gore Pass.
Considering geography, this would have been the natural route anyways involving only a 2% grade.
Historians today like to believe that David Moffat must have known right then, that a connection with the Rio Grande via a “Dotsero Cutoff” would be the solution to his problems and thus ordered the much more difficult route through the canyon. This grade lead the railroad much closer to the (then) rival in the south.
MP 102.00 Amax
MP 103.50 Kremmling Station, Siding Length: 5990ft
Gore Canyon is inaccessible by road. If you like to get a good view of the canyon, you have to leave Highway 40 in Kremmling and turn left onto Highway 9. After a S-curve through the village Highway 9 crosses a small bridge over a creek. About 250 yards after the bridge a dirt road will branch off to the right.
Follow this dirt road which is called Colorado 1 in direction of Azure/Yarmony/State Bridge. The road is well built (apart from the fact it is not paved) and there even is a school at some point. After a while the road will go slightly up and down past some settlements and then turn into a paved road. On the right hand side Gore Canyon will appear down below and there is a large car park with a view point of the canyon. Most of the well known railroad photos from Gore Canyon were shot right here.
If you like adventures, you can walk down a small unpaved road that branches off about 200 yards down the road. It is in very poor condition so driving is not an option but it leads down to the bottom of the canyon all the way.
From here you can take pictures at track level of the railroad on the other side of the river. Quite often, rafting tours will pass through the canyon, however this is rated as for advanced rafters only.
In prehistoric times, Gore Canyon was a lake. At one point, the eastern end broke, the water drained out and what remained was Gore Canyon.
In 1860, the Union Pacific railroad first considered grading through Gore Canyon. However, they decided against it and built around Colorado to the north.
Twenty years later in 1880, the Denver, Utah & Pacific (remember Rollins Pass) started work on a railroad grade through the canyon but soon they gave up.
Another group of engineers appeared on the scene in 1886 planning to build a railroad to south west Colorado but gave up because of the unstable nature of the rocks.
After all these failures one would think that the railroads would have lost interest in the canyon but in 1907 a fierce railroad war broke out between the Union Pacific and the fledgling Moffat Road.
Ed Harriman of the Union Pacific had watched David Moffat’s progress and was not too pleased about another competitor in the central Rocky Mountains (the Santa Fe already was transcontinental in the south). He felt that if he could block the canyon for the Moffat Road, they would have to give up.
Without any warning, during construction work in Middle Park, David Moffat received a court injunction to stop all work immediately. A power company had secured all rights to Gore Canyon to build a dam in order to build a hydroelectric power station. At the same time the California Chamber of Commerce had reserved rights to Gore Canyon for another dam to provide drinking water for Arizona and California. At the same time the Union Pacific itself announced plans to build a water reservoir in Yampa River Canyon. Other companies filed similar requests.
Had David Moffat come too late ? The answer is “no”, as he had all rights secured to Gore Canyon. But for some reason, those documents had disappeared in Washington.
It may be of interest to know that the California Chamber of Commerce was under the direct financial influence by Ed Harriman. Suspiciously enough, when asked to present any construction plans for the dams, none of the companies were able to present any. When asked about the unstable rock formation and the fact that any water held back by any dam inside the canyon would sift through the rock, there was no answer.
Both sides started work on their projects in an effort to convince a court of law that they were the „owners“ of the canyon.
n the process quite a number of atrocities occurred. When railroad workers constructed walkways along the bottom of the canyon, they found that on their way back the walkways had been sabotaged leaving only a violent unswimmable river and a rock face.
When workers of the Harriman companies started their grading they were not warned about any blasting work being done by the Moffat people, working just a few yards above them.
But things started to look bleak for the Moffat Road when landowners in Middle Park suddenly complained that due to flaws in the survey, the railroad grade led over their property. They wanted it instantly removed. Was this another ploy of Harriman ? When questioned by the grade workers as to where exactly the railroad infringed on their property they were unable to say !
The Moffat had found a powerful enemy in Harriman. But it also had a powerful friend. President Theodore Roosevelt who loved Colorado and loved to hunt for bears (see Glenwood Springs anecdote: The Teddy Bear) had heard about the stalemate in Gore Canyon. He ordered the governor of Colorado to Washington and made it clear to him, that any further obstruction to the Moffat Road would have grave consequences.
By 1907, the rails finally emerged from the other end of Gore Canyon – one of the few victories for the Moffat Road. I wonder what Harriman, Moffat or Roosevelt would have said, would they have known that in 1995, as a result of a merger, Gore Canyon became property of the Union Pacific.
MP 106.00 Gore Siding Length: 6730ft
Due to the unstable nature of the rock inside the canyon, landslides are a common hazard here. To give engineers ample warning, alarm fences have been mounted trackside almost everywhere. Should any object hit one of the electrical wires, an alarm is set off stopping all traffic. In addition trains run at speeds of 20 – 25 miles per hour inside the canyon.
MP 108.60 Tunnel 35 Length: 0230ft
MP 108.79 Tunnel 36 Length: 0230ft
MP 108.98 Tunnel 37 Length: 0134ft
MP 110.05 Tunnel 38 Length: 0100ft
On April 23rd 1942, Mallet #3600 ran into a tree that had fallen onto the tracks. The locomotive derailed and ran into one of the supporting pillars of Tunnel 38 collapsing the tunnel and burying the train inside.
MP 111.30 Azure Siding Length: 4920ft
MP 113.49 Tunnel 39 Length: 0293ft
MP 113.79 Tunnel 40 Length: 0063ft
This is the shortest tunnel on the Moffat Road.
MP 114.00 Tunnel 41 (day lighted) Length: 0066ft
The second to last tunnel inside Gore Canyon was a continuous cause of concern due to the unstable rock located above. Time and time again, rocks would fall out of its ceiling onto the tracks causing derailments.
In 1952, shortly after the California Zephyr had passed through, the tunnel was blasted. Thus do not count this tunnel when sitting inside the train as it exists no more.
MP 115.78 Tunnel 42 Length: 0463ft
MP 116.40 Radium Siding Length: 8540ft
MP 123.00 Yarmony Station, Siding Length: 4560ft
This is where Colorado 1 ends. Going by car, take a right turn onto Highway 131 towards McCoy.
MP 128.80 Orestod
The name Orestod is a play with words.
When grading of the Dotsero Cutoff began (after a fierce fight between the Moffat Road and the Rio Grande), surveyors of the Rio Grande started work at the approaches to Glenwood Canyon working their way north. The staring point was named “Dot Zero” which railroaders quickly turned into “Dotsero”.
When the Dotsero Cutoff reached the northern end, the final survey point was called “Orestod” which is the word “Dotsero” spelled backwards.
Last Update: Mar 1st 2008
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