Colorado history: A town called Dickey |

Colorado history: A town called Dickey

Near the southern end of Lake Dillon, the faint outline of the foundation stones from one of the railroad buildings can be seen during a time of drought. Broken bottles, rusted pieces of iron, and other debris dating from the 1882-1930s time period litter the ground.
Courtesy Rick Hague |


The books are available from Summit Historical Society in Dillon at the Dillon Schoolhouse, in Frisco at the Frisco Historic Park and Museum, and in Breckenridge through the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance at the Welcome Center, Edwin Carter Museum, Barney Ford House Museum and the Gaymon Cabin. It’s also available at the Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco. Or purchase directly from Hague at (970) 409-7937.

Over the past few years, dry conditions in Summit County, meaning below normal rainfall and/or snowfall, offered history lovers a once-in-a-generation viewing of times past: the railroad town of Dickey. Located just north of Farmers Korner and the Blue River sanitation plant, the faint foundations and the physical bits of life of the once-important coaling and switching station can be seen on the mud flats normally covered with water. In a normal winter, snowboard “sailors” whisk lightly over the core of the long-departed town and, during the summer, fishermen float above the old foundations.

Dickey came to life in the early 1880s when two separate and highly competitive railroads entered Summit County. The Denver & Rio Grande came from Leadville, through Frisco, and on to old Dillon, whose location lies now deep beneath Lake Dillon. The Denver, South Park & Pacific came over Boreas Pass, through Breckenridge in 1882, and on through Dickey to Leadville in 1884 as well as Dillon (1882) and Keystone (1883). This so-called High Line, because it crossed the Continental Divide twice on its way to Leadville from Como in South Park, carried fresh produce, supplies and people into the county and enabled ore and lumber to be “exported” to Denver and points beyond.

At Dickey, the Denver, South Park trains continued on to either Dillon-Keystone or Leadville. Perhaps more importantly, the town served as a major coal and water resupply station for narrow-gauge trains passing through in either direction. Since any given steam engine could pull only so much tonnage over the passes, the provision of 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 topping-off function, workers built a large wooden, elevated coaling station. Trains would carry just enough coal, mined primarily near Como in South Park, to get over Boreas Pass to Dickey, where they would be filled with enough coal to make it to Leadville. Dickey had a high-capacity water well and huge water tank, with a 47,500 gallon capacity, to replenish vital water supplies for trains going in both directions. The town also had a freight depot, an engine house to facilitate indoor repairs, a section house where track maintenance crews lived, a water pumping station and well house, and several homes and cabins for the railroad staff and their families. Children went to school in old Dillon, catching the train home after school.

According to the Summit County Journal, in December 1887, six fully loaded ore cars broke loose in Breckenridge and rolled along the track toward Dickey. Because of the 60-foot-drop in elevation per mile between Breckenridge and Dickey, six miles away, the cars, moving too rapidly to negotiate the switch set for Frisco, jumped the track and flew through the air, destroying part of the depot.

The last train passed through Dickey in 1937. After rail service discontinued on the line, a few “hangers-on” lived in the isolated town until the 1950s or early 1960s when reservoir water covered the town forever, except for the occasional drought years when the sun once again shines on Dickey. Today, only fishermen and sail boarders unknowingly visit the old town.

This article is part of a book that was written for the Summit Historical Society’s 50th anniversary, “Windows to the Past” by Rick Hague and Sandie Mather.

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