Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rail thoughts...

 passing the place of the old accident
A hundred years ago this was the way of traveling in style, but also out of necessity. Instead of bumping along in a stage coach over rocky roads, up and down for days at end, you could have a (rather) smooth ride in a railroad car - what a treat! Today we drive in our air conditioned or heated cars, up and down mountain passes, across deserts, through mountains, and over gulches on steel bridges and take it all for granted.  Only the weather can stop us, but rarely does.

million dollar highway
I wonder how many of us could survive if we suddenly were dumped back in the late 1800s - when basic things like hot showers, shampoo, clean clothes, edible food, and lice-free beds were scarce, non-existent, or only for the really rich. But the really rich would have had to take the stage coaches or steam trains into the mountains as well; when it came to transportation people became more equal.

Silver Plume station, 9178 feet above sea level
Riding the narrow gauge steam train on the "high line" over Cascade Canyon and Animas River might have been the thing to do back then as a tourist, just as today some people bungee jump, swim with sharks, and go whale watching. But the railroads, at least in the Rockies, were not built for tourists even if they filled that role later.  The railroads were built for financial reasons, and out of necessity.  The silver, gold, and iron needed to get out of the mountains to fill the pockets of the rich, and the food and supplies needed to get into the mountains to feed the miners. The rich tourists followed the iron tracks, up into new exciting territories.

leaving Osier with lots of smoke

An iron horse with many cars behind it was far more dependable and could pull so much more weight than stage coaches and mule trains (large packs of mules carrying supplies). Pork (bacon!), whiskey, flour, shovels, and hay were pulled into the high valleys to feed everybody, mostly men and mules. Before the railroads came, towns like Silverton were often isolated from the rest of the world for many months during the harsh winters.  What a life, and what a difference the steam trains must have made.

(written during our Colorado-New Mexico trip this past summer)

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