Old railroad town resurfaces
December 6, 2012
When the snow falls, covering the ruins, or Dillon Reservoir fills to its normal level again, residents and visitors to Summit County will lose a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view times past: the remains of the railroad town of Dickey. Located just north of Farmer’s Korner and the wastewater treatment facility, the faint foundations and physical bits of life of the once-important coal and switching station are currently visible on the mudflats, which are normally underwater. During most winters, kiteboarders whisk over the long-departed town. In summer, fishermen float above the old foundations.Dickey was built in the early 1880s when two separate and competing railroads entered Summit County. The Denver & Rio Grande railroad came from Leadville, through Frisco and on to Old Dillon (the location of which is now deep beneath the reservoir) and Keystone. The Denver, South Park & Pacific (DSP&P) railroad came over Boreas Pass, through Breckenridge (1882) and Dickey (1884). Dickey was the point at which DSP&P trains were switched to either Dillon/Keystone or Leadville. The town was also a major coal and water resupply station for narrow-gauge trains passing through in either direction. Since a steam engine could pull only so much tonnage over the passes, too much coal or water to power the engine would shut out freight, and therefore revenue. Dickey represented a topping-off point to maximize freight tonnage and revenue.To perform this function, Dickey hosted a large, wooden, elevated structure that served as a coaling station. Trains would carry enough coal – mined primarily near Como in South Park – to get them over Boreas Pass to Dickey, where they would be replenished with sufficient coal to make it to Leadville. The same was true with water: Dickey had a high-capacity water well and huge, 47,500-gallon water tank to replenish vital water supplies for trains going in both directions. The town also hosted a freight depot, an engine house (to facilitate indoor repairs), a section house for track maintenance crews, a water-pumping station, well house and several homes and cabins for railroad staff and families. Children went to school in Old Dillon and caught the train home after school.In “Summit: A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” Mary Ellen Gilliland cites an interesting tale about Dickey’s freight depot. On December 11, 1897, six railcars filled with ore broke loose from their moorings in Breckenridge six miles away. The cars careened, unfettered by curves or brakes for six miles, finally crashing on the curve at the Dickey switch, which was set for Leadville. The derailment destroyed the ticket office, a waiting room and a bedroom in the station’s living quarters.The last train passed through Dickey in 1937, when rail service was discontinued on the line. A few hangers-on lived in the isolated town until the 1950s or early 1960s, when the reservoir was built and its waters covered the town forever (except, of course, for right now, when the sun once again shines on Dickey). On a normal year, however, only fishermen and kiteboarders visit the old town – but unbeknownst to them.