Receding shoreline of Lake Dillon reveals part of Summit County’s railroad history
October 11, 2018
The receding shoreline of Lake Dillon uncovered an important part of Summit County's railroad history: the remains of the railroad facilities at Dickey, located at the southern end of the reservoir.
In the early 1880s, two railroads fought for the mining business of the county. The Denver, Rio Grande, under the leadership of William Jackson Palmer, entered the county from Leadville, traversed the Tenmile Canyon, passed through Frisco and headed to Dillon. The Denver, South Park & Pacific, with Sidney Dillon as president, crossed South Park to Como, climbed to Boreas Pass (11,481 feet), descended to Breckenridge by September 1882, and followed the Blue River north to Dillon, by December 1882. (Yes, the town of Dillon was named for Sidney Dillon.) At Dillon, the DSP&P intended to turn west toward Frisco and follow the Tenmile Creek through the canyon, eventually tapping the mines of Leadville.
Those designing the route revised the plans so that the main and branch lines would meet at a place about three miles south of Dillon and two miles east of Frisco called Placer Junction, but later renamed Dickey (9004 feet). By doing so, the railroad saved four miles of track and shortened the distance to Leadville. The main line returned to the original survey in the Tenmile Canyon.
Dickey became an important coal and water supply station for the engines. By stopping at Dickey for fuel and water, the trains could carry a maximum of goods/ore rather than carrying the coal and water needed to reach a distant fueling station. Dickey had a well and huge water tank with a 47,500-gallon capacity. The railroad constructed a depot, an engine house to repair engines and rolling stock, a section house where train maintenance crews lived, a tool house, a water pumping station and well house, several homes and cabins for railroad employees and their families, and a wye. The wye, used most often by helper engines, allowed trains to change directions. Those returning to Como or Leadville used the wye extensively.
The unique double-sided coal docks, built in 1902 at a cost of $4,397.82, replaced the older style docks that required shoveling the coal twice — from the gondola cars into the coal bins and again into the engine tender. With the newer-style coal docks, the men shoveled only once — from the gondola cars into the bins. The coal dropped by gravity into the tender.
The last scheduled train passed through Dicky in 1937, when the railroad discontinued service. A few remained living in Dickey until the mid-1960s when the water from the reservoir forced them to leave. Since then, the town of Dickey has been covered by water. But in 2003, in the midst of a drought, members of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Historical Society had the opportunity to explore the town site.
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Members commented that they first saw few remainders of the town. Later, as they walked "the ground, the foundations of all the major structures began to emerge," wrote Bob Schoppe, long-time president of the DSP&P Historical Society. He continued: "We decided to visit the site a week later better prepared with maps and photos, and thus were able to document the locations of nearly every structure on the ICC map. The wye was very much in evidence, as were the foundations of the depot, engine house, water tank, pump house, well, section house, tool house and some of the surrounding cabins. Less in evidence were the coal bins and coal dock, but there were large amounts of coal fragments and residue right where they should be. One surprise was a wooden culvert on the main (line) to Frisco beyond the wye that was not only still in place but once again (temporarily) functioning! Since no one had been to Dickey since the '60s, metal was everywhere. (One member) found a journal box cover with the retaining chain still attached. While (the group) thoroughly enjoyed this first-time-in-45-years chance to visit Dickey, we didn't realize at the time just how special this window of opportunity was."
Two weeks later, water covered the site.
In October and November 2012, drought again exposed the Dickey site. Bill Fountain visited the site and found the same things as in 2003.
This year's dry summer has uncovered the site once more. When Fountain explored the site, he found things much as they had been in 2012. He and Rich Skovlin, an expert on the history of the county, brought photographs to compare "then" and "now." They found footprints of buildings, pieces of bottles, rail spikes and connectors, coal chunks and the cement foundation of the water tower.
To visit the Dickey town site, park in the lot at the southern end of Lake Dillon at Farmer's Korner. Do not follow the old roadbed but follow the trail to the right of the sign, through grass to the dry lake bed. At that location, you will see what those who, like Fountain, live in Hawaii call a "black sand beach." Of course, here it is tiny bits of coal that came from the locomotives' smoke stacks.
Do not remove any of the artifacts. Take photographs only. Leave the artifacts for others to see and enjoy.
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