Engine No. 9 returns to Breckenridge after 73 years
March 20, 2016
Engine No. 9 pulled the last train out of Breckenridge in 1937, after which the so-called High Line narrow-gauge railroad was shut down. The tracks were eventually ripped up to make way, in the 1950s, for Boreas Pass Road which, today, enables automobiles to travel on the railroad's old roadbed. After 1937, the engine played a number of roles including a stint at the New York World's Fair in 1939, hauling tourists in the Black Hills of South Dakota and on the Georgetown Loop in Colorado and just plain sitting unused in old rail yards rusting away.
Beginning in about 2008, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance led an effort to return the engine to its "roots" in Breckenridge. The engine was then — and still is — owned by History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society) and was being restored and repaired in a Grand Junction restoration facility after a period of service on the Georgetown Loop. The efforts of the Alliance, and of then-president Wendy Wolfe, were finally rewarded with a long-term leasing arrangement between History Colorado and the town of Breckenridge. As a part of the arrangement, the town agreed to build a shelter for the engine to protect it from the elements.
On Dec. 13, 2010, Engine No. 9 came home via Interstate 70 from Grand Junction where the engine had been restored and refurbished for display purposes. The following day, Dec. 14, the engine was unloaded from its transport vehicle onto its present location in the High Line Railroad Park, less than 100 feet from the location of the original tracks that it traversed from 1884 until 1937. The engine came separately from the tender that, in its operating days, had been mounted behind the engine to carry coal and water for the engine. The tender arrived on July 29, 2011, but in similar fashion.
The trucking company — and the flatbed truck — that was used for this final journey was specialized in moving very large, heavy objects over the nation's roadways — things like airplane fuselages and wings, missiles, heavy boilers and furnaces, and similar large, heavy pieces of equipment. For this move, railroad tracks were welded onto the bed of the truck trailer, and the engine was pulled onto the tracks and heavily chained down to the truck bed. The engine weighed about 37 tons.
On Dec. 14, the huge truck and trailer combination were maneuvered very, very carefully into a position exactly aligned with the tracks on the ground in Railroad Park onto which the engine would be off-loaded. It was essential that the alignment be exact, since the engine would roll off the tracks welded to the truck bed and directly onto the tracks on the ground.
Once the truck was suitably aligned, with the engine facing forward toward its new home, a commercial heavy-duty, truck-towing wrecker was positioned directly behind the engine and its winch cable attached to the rear of the engine. Since the engine would roll off the trailer by gravity, the wrecker was necessary to control and stop the engine once it started rolling down the inclined track. A stout metal blocking bar was also welded across the track on the ground at the point where the engine was to be stopped — just in case the engine got away from the wrecker.
With the engine safely held in place by the wrecker, the front end of the specially-designed trailer was then lowered to rest on the ground, producing an inclined surface down which the engine would roll. The truck tractor and the front end of the trailer were then removed and pulled away from the site. A short inclined track segment — roughly 20-25 feet long — was then constructed to connect the rails on the truck bed with the rails on the ground.
Once all was in place, Engine No. 9 rolled — by gravity — down the inclined track and onto the track on the ground. Since the ground track was relatively flat, a backhoe (heavy tractor) was attached by cable to the front of the engine to pull the engine into place where it now resides in the shelter constructed by the town of Breckenridge to house both the engine and tender.
So now Engine No. 9 is home in Breckenridge and may be visited year-round in the High Line Railroad Park on Boreas Pass Road between Highway 9 and French Street. The site is open for self-guided tours 24/7 through a set of interpretative signs, and, during the summer season, guided tours are offered six days per week by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Call (970) 453-9767 x 103 for more information.
The High Line Railroad Park exhibit also includes a narrow-gauge box car with an interior exhibit, a flat car loaded with typical early 20th century heavy cargo, a caboose, a rotary snowplow nearly identical to the plow that kept the High Line open during the winter from 1882 until 1937, a small railroad museum, and a themed playground for youngsters.
Rick Hague is a local mining historian and member of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Summit Historical Society boards. This article is part of a book currently being written for the Summit Historical Society's 50th anniversary. "Windows to the Past" by Hague and Sandie Mather, president of the Society, is expected to be published in July or August 2016.