Reliving Teller County’s Railroads of the Past

Mountain Trains Became Best Way to Travel and Haul Gold

Trevor Phipps

When settlers first started coming to the Rocky Mountain West region, the main means of transportation occurred by stagecoach or horseback.

To get to the high mountain country of the Ute Pass region, many would rig their wagons with horse or oxen and head up steep trails through the mountainous terrain.

But then once gold and silver started to get found in the mountains of Colorado and other states in the west, it became clear that a better way to remove heavy minerals from the mines for processing was needed. Every time a town sprang up that focused on mining, such as Cripple Creek or Leadville, it became crucial to develop a solid way to transport heavy building materials to the mines. Plus, transporting the minerals back from the towns became equally as important.

Therefore, once mining became successful, it made it worthwhile for railroad tycoons to start building tracks in the high mountains. Trains that ran through the tall Rocky Mountains not only carried freight, but railroads became an easier way for people to travel.

With a number of railroads running through Teller County during the mining era, many get confused regarding our colorful rail legacy, and what roads now were frequented by the railroads in the good old days. The following is a short history and description of all of the railroads that once ran through the county.

Colorado Midland Railway 

In 1883, the Colorado Midland Railway incorporated, and it would become the first standard gauge railroad built over the Continental Divide in Colorado. John Hagerman took over the company in 1885 and continued the goal of running railroad lines through the Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado Midland ran from Colorado Springs to Leadville to help facilitate the booming silver mining town. The rail line then went further west from Leadville over Hagerman Pass to Glenwood Springs and then to Grand Junction.

But after the price of silver drastically declined in 1893, the railroad started to see trouble as many of the towns it served stopped booming. In 1918, the Midland ceased operations and sections of the railroad were then sold to the Midland Terminal Railway that ran from Divide to Cripple Creek.

Today, Hwy. 24 exists on most of the route through the Ute Pass where the Colorado Midland used to run. However, part of the old railroad is located at the Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area, where visitors can now drive through the old railroad tunnels.

Cripple Creek and Florence Railroad

After gold was discovered in the area surrounding Cripple Creek and Victor in 1890, a rush to build the first rail lines to the mining district ensued. The Cripple Creek and Florence Railroad won the race and was the first to reach Victor from Florence.

The railroad was first put to work transferring ore from the mining district to mills in Florence and Pueblo. The railroad was a three-foot narrow-gauge setup, making it tough to compete with the other railroads that would soon make their way to the mining district.

In the early 1900s, once mining activity started to slow down, the railroad experienced serious financial trouble. The railroad eventually went out of business in 1915.

Today, motorists can travel on the same route the rail lines once took by taking the trip on Phantom Canyon Road from Victor to Florence. Although the route isn’t the exact same and has fewer river crossings, it is a beautiful drive that is part of the Gold Belt Byway.

Midland Terminal Railway 

As Cripple Creek started to boom in the early 1890s, one group of businessmen thought the best route to the mining district could be developed by building rail lines off of the Colorado Midland, which traveled from Divide to Cripple Creek. The railway opened up just after the Florence and Cripple Creek and became the first to make it to the high country. But being a standard gauge line, it proved itself more useful for hauling freight.

The Midland Terminal remained running into the 20th Century after all of the other railroad companies in the area ceased operations. Mining activity kept the lines running from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek until the late 1940s.

South Hwy. 67 now runs on the route that was once the Midland Terminal. But the railroad used to go from Gillette to Victor, rather than going over Tenderfoot Pass directly to Cripple Creek. This is the current route of the highway today.

Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway

After both the Cripple Creek and Florence Railroad and the Midland Terminal had been operating, some wanted a more direct route from Colorado Springs to the Cripple Creek mining district. The company started by building a route between Victor and Cripple Creek in 1897, and then a route from Victor to Colorado Springs on Pikes Peak’s southern slope. This rail project had a finished completion date of 1901.

But the life of the railroad would also be short lived, as the company was sold to the Midland Terminal in 1915. Unfortunately, all operations ceased on the railroad in 1920 when the lines were sold for scrap.

Today, travelers can visit the old railroad route by driving on Gold Camp Road, west of Colorado Springs, and by taking Old Stage Road from Colorado Springs to Victor.

This year the Ute Pass Historical Society plans on debuting their latest documentary film. “The Mighty Midland and the Towns It Built.” The film, which will be shown at a local venue, explores the Midland Railroad and the history of the towns along this route.