Dear Sir:

I beg to hand you herewith a report from the auditor of the earnings of the Silverton Railroad for the years 1889, 1890 and 1891, showing also the mileage and bonded debt.

I may add for your information that this road is built through the famous Red Mountain district of the San Juan Country, in which are located the well-known Yankee Girl and Guston mines, besides many other producing properties.

This is the only road that can be built through this district because of lack of room. The mines mentioned are large producers, and there are many more which are being developed rapidly. This is one of the best known mining districts in Colorado. From Ironton to the town of Ouray, which is reached by another branch of the Denver & Rio Grande, the distance is seven miles over very precipitous country.

The reason the road has not been extended to Ouray is because of the excessive cost, but capitalists are now engaged in making estimates and plans for an electric road to cover this distance to follow the line of the Mears toll road as indicated on the map. (No map accompanies this material.) A line of this kind can be built to operate much more cheaply than a railway line, and we have good reason to expect that this gap may be so filled during this year. At the present time stages make daily trips each way over the toll road, and the trip from Silverton to Ouray is a favorite one with the tourists on account of the beauty and grandeur of the scenery on the toll road.

There is every reason to expect that the earnings for the year 1892 will increase in the same proportion as in the past, and will continue for a great many years. The Silverton Railroad is also authorized to build up the Animas River. We would like very much this year to extend the road in that direction some 12 or 15 miles in order to reach a very rich and valuable mining district. There are a great many very extensive mines of low grade material lying between Silverton and the summit of the range towards the northeast, and our object in offering to you the bonds of the present line of the railroad is to obtain funds to extend the line up the Animas River.

We can offer you at the present time $400,000 out of a total of $425,000. These bonds are issued in denominations of $1,000 each. The interest is payable semi-annually on the first of April and the first of October at the rate of six per cent per annum in U. S. gold coin.

Yours very truly,John L. McNeil,[3] Treasurer.


NOTE.—This Society is not responsible, as a body, for the facts and opinions advanced in any of its publications.

Vol. XXIII.—September, 1890.


By C. W. Gibbs, M. Am. Soc. C. E.


The Silverton Railroad is a short line but 17.5 miles long, and has the reputation of being the steepest (5 per cent. grade), the crookedest (30 degree curves) and the best paying road in Colorado; and is owned by one man, Otto Mears. It also has a turn-table on its main track, and it is the purpose of this paper to describe it and explain why it was so placed.

This road leaves the Denver and Rio Grande at Silverton, and runs over a divide 11 113 feet above sea level, then down into the rich mining country beyond. The country is very rough and rugged, and in order to reach the town of Red Mountain it was necessary to run up on a switchback, as no room for a loop could be found. A wye was, therefore, built, and the engine could be turned while the train stood on the main track. The engine was thus placed ahead of the train, only the train is pulled out of the station rear end ahead. It runs thus till the turn-table is reached. The train is stopped at a point marked A, Plate XXII; the engine uncoupled, run on to the table, is turned and pulled up to a point near B, where it is stopped. The train is then allowed to drop down to the turn-table and the engine backed on to it. In coming up from Albany the train is stopped on the down grade between the summit at B and the table; the engine is taken off, turned on the table and run up to about A; the train is then allowed to drop to the table as before and the engine backed up and coupled on, taking not over five minutes in going either way.

The reason of putting the table in was that there were no mines to the east of Ironton as shown on Plate XXI, but between the turn-table and the loop there were 13several that it was very desireable to reach, and the side hill is so steep that it is impossible to make a loop on it.

This table is the source of a great deal of comment from tourists, of whom there are many during the summer months, as it is on the line known as the “circle,” so extensively advertised by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.

The road is used both for a freight and passenger road, and as before mentioned, is the best paying road in Colorado, two engines being kept busy hauling ore to Silverton from the Red Mountain district.

The object of writing this paper was to describe what the author thinks is quite a novelty, being the only turn-table that he has ever heard of which is used upon a switchback in this manner, and where the grades are adjusted as they are to let the train run by gravity on the table from both ways.

Plate XXI is a print from a photograph of the map filed in Washington, and is about 9 000 feet to the inch.

Plate XXII is an enlarged sketch of the line near the turn-table.


J. Foster Cromwell, M. Am. Soc. C. E.—It occurs to me that the use of this turn-table being simply to turn the engine during transit, while the train waits, and, moreover, as the service is a special one on a spur line, it would have been better to obtain an engine capable of running in either direction and not requiring to be turned, rather than resort to a turn-table in the main track which contains an element of danger as well as of delay to the traffic. The device, however, is an ingenious one to meet the peculiar conditions of line; and if experience with it proves satisfactory, there are other problems on a larger scale relating to change of direction in mountain location that it may help to solve.

C. W. Gibbs, M. Am. Soc. C. E.—If a special engine had been procured, as Mr. Crowell suggests, it would have been at an extra expense, owing to the limited number wanted; and even with a special design, it might have been difficult for any engine to have backed its load over so steep a grade and such sharp curves without more danger than was suggested there might be at the turn-table. The delay to traffic amounts to nothing, for there are no competing lines, nor do I expect there ever will be. The turn-table has now been in actual operation every day since June, 1889, and no accident has ever occurred.

VOL. XXIII. No. 450.

C.W. GIBBS, Chief Engineer.

YEARS 1889, 1890 AND 1891

Gross earnings from Frt. Psngr. Exp. Etc. $ 80,881.66
Operating and all other expenses 34,285.04
Interest on first mortgage bonds 1 year 25,500.00
Gross earnings from Frt. Psngr. Exp. Etc. $105,673.39
Operating and all other expenses 51,127.22
Interest on first mortgage bonds 1 year 25,500.00
Gross earnings from Frt. Psngr. Exp. Etc. $121,611.38
Operating and all other expenses 57,548.37
Interest on first mortgage bonds 1 year 25,500.00
Length of line 17 miles
Length of side tracks 8 miles
25 miles
Floating debt Nil
Bonded debt $425,000.00

Alex Anderson, Auditor

At the time the foregoing statement was made, the Company owned the following equipment:

3 locomotives

2 coaches

1 baggage and express car

In addition to the above, the company now owns 50 freight cars, which it has since purchased, and it also has a floating debt of $32,502.76.

Alex Anderson, Auditor

As has already been noted Engine 100 was purchased and put into service as soon as the railroad started operating.

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad bought a number of engines in both 1890 and ’91 and, as it was not yet in operation and did not need so many, it kept its sister railroad in supply. A record of those it loaned to the S. R. in 1892 is as follows:

No. 8—January 1 to April 12

No. 5—July 7 to November 19

No. 7—August 14 to September 2

No. 6—September 2 to October 10

No. 34—November 27 to December 31

A picture of No. 5 with a train at Summit may be found herein.

It has always been supposed that the Shay engine belonged originally to the Silverton Railroad but the Lima Locomotive Works’ records reveal that Mears bought it under his own name in the spring of 1890. It, as No. 269, was used on construction of the Rio Grande Southern throughout that year and the next.

It isn’t known how or when it got into the possession of the S. R. but it was with that company in the summer of 1892 and a picture of it on the lower leg of the turntable track exists. It seems to have been called both “Ironton” and “Guston” during this period. It was traded to the R. G. S. for the latter’s Engine 34 on November 27, 1892. (Note that the table above shows the 34 merely on loan. The trade date, however, is correct.)

Locomotive 34 was a Baldwin of the 56 class which had, before going to the R. G. S., belonged to both the D. & R. G. and the R. G. W. The S. R. numbered it “101” but several years later changed it to a mere “1”.

Red Mountain and Ironton became two flourishing towns with plenty of stores and all the appurtenances of civilization. In the eighties and early nineties Red Mountain had three newspapers. In 1890 it had a population of 598 while Ironton had 322. Even Chattanooga had a mill, some stores and 51 people. The locality was a beehive of activity as mines and mills were working 17every place. The hills were liberally sprinkled with houses, stores, mills, boarding houses, barns and mine buildings. An incendiary fire at Red Mountain on August 20, 1892 destroyed practically the whole town causing property damage estimated at $259,000. But nothing daunted these optimists. They immediately went about rebuilding it.

The transportation of supplies to the district—machinery, timbers for mines, lumber, living necessities, coal and feed for animals—must have been terrific for such little trains to handle. Return trains carried ore bound for the smelters at Silverton and Durango. A company in which Mears was interested built a smelter, the Standard, at Durango in 1889, to handle copper ore from the Red Mountain area but it did not prove a success. Eventually, in 1897, the property was sold and rased. The slag pile may still be seen just south of town.

Operation, not counting sharp curves and steep grades, was complicated. Turning facilities were numerous for such a short piece of railroad—Silverton, Sheridan Junction, Red Mountain, Corkscrew Gulch, Ironton and Albany. The Operation of the turntable has already been exhibited. It, very soon after completion, began having trouble with snow, and a long entrance shed was built to alleviate the condition. Each leg of the wye at Red Mountain would accommodate only two cars, and so the engine and baggage car went around it and hooked onto the other end of the coaches.

Four regular freights and probably an extra one or two operated. The company did not have enough engines or anything else for such traffic and so must have borrowed from the R. G. S. and the D. & R. G. Passenger business was only a sideline but Mears maintained the dignity of his little railroad by running daily, each way, two passenger trains, each with two or three coaches and baggage car. He charged 20c per mile straight and had all the riders he could handle.

Business had been very good, so good, in fact, that the Silverton Railroad had the reputation of being the best-paying for its size in the state. Mears even used profit from it to assist the R. G. S. which was not doing as well as had been expected.

An extension of the Silverton Railroad up the Animas River Valley had been considered for several years. It became a reality in 1893 when the two miles from Silverton to the Silver Lake mill at Waldheim were built. It was considered a part of the S. R. system, not a separate line.

The San Juan’s most common precious metal was silver. Others were gold, lead, zinc and copper. Trouble had been brewing for some time but when the government repealed the Sherman Silver Purchasing Act in 1893 a panic descended not only on the San Juan but on all of the United States.

All mining towns had, of course, boomed and were replete with hordes of promoters, prospectors, miners and hangers-on. Saloons, gambling joints and brothels flourished. Now, mines closed by the dozens and the populace departed. Many towns, especially the small ones, were practically deserted. Train operation came down to a mixed freight and passenger.

As some of Mears’ letters indicate, he was, after the panic, having a most difficult time in making ends meet. He gave up the Rio Grande Southern almost immediately and allowed it to go into receivership on the 2nd of August, 1893. He tried, however, to hang on to the Silverton Railroad but, as some of the letters reveal, he had to do a good deal of juggling with bonds, stocks and notes to stave off creditors.

In 1896 the company claimed 18.25 miles of track from Silverton to Albany, 3.75 miles of branches and .48 miles of spurs. In the same year it listed two locomotives, three combination cars, 36 box cars, one caboose and one “other”.

Even with the hard times Mears managed by borrowing to extend the railroad in 1896 from Waldheim to the Sunnyside mine at Eureka, another 6½ miles. This entire piece, Silverton to Eureka, he incorporated as the Silverton Northern. This railroad was justified as both the Silver Lake and Sunnyside mines carried a good deal of gold.

At the turn of the century the most talked of and anticipated event in the mining country was the Meldrum Tunnel which was to bore through the range west of Red Mountain town and connect with mines at Pandora near Telluride on the other side.

The tunnel was to be large enough to contain a railroad which was to connect the Silverton Railroad with the Rio Grande Southern at Pandora. This would have saved much mileage and would, except at the ends, have been free from snow.

Andrew Meldrum, a Scotchman, the originator of the project, raised money and started work in 1898. He left a point on the west side one and a half miles south of Pandora and drilled eastward until he had reached a depth of 1400 feet. Except for one joggle it was quite straight. At the same time he ran another tunnel westward from a point about one-half of a mile north of Joker Tunnel to a depth of 600 feet or more. Altogether he drilled about 1.6 miles on the west side and .6 mile on the east side. Finally, in 1900, with 3.4 miles yet to go, he ran out of money and had to abandon the project.

However, Meldrum’s dream did materialize in 1946 during World War II when the government loaned the Idarado Mining Company, which had bought the old Treasury Tunnel workings at Red Mountain, the money to complete a tunnel through the mountain to the Pandora side. It takes several drops and rises and goes in various directions in order to contact the ore veins, so that the total length is 7½ miles. This amount does not include some tail tunnels.

The Idarado property is now considered one of the richest in the world for hardrock ores—silver, gold, lead, zinc, copper and manganese.

Meldrum lived out his life in Ouray and died in a cabin there all alone, a few years too soon to see his dream come true.

Everybody hoped and expected that mining would soon revive but the time dragged on and it did not. William Jennings Bryan ran for president of the United States in 1896 on a “free coinage of silver” platform and the “Silver San Juan”, Mears especially, ardently campaigned for him. When Bryan was defeated, Mears gave up on a mining revival and early in 1897 moved to the East. There he took up several business enterprises and stayed for ten years. However, he retained a general supervision over his railroads and made numberless trips back to the San Juan.

Revenues had decreased so greatly that the railroad was finally, in 1898, 20forced into receivership. Alex Anderson, a Scotchman and a former auditor, was made the receiver.

The Crawford interests who were promoting the Joker Tunnel (a drainage operation) got control of the railroad in a foreclosure sale in 1904. On November 3 of that year it was incorporated by Otto Mears, Alex Anderson, John Ewing, George Crawford and Harry Riddell as the Silverton Railway, with Mears as president. The new company replaced the old 30-lb. steel with 45-lb. Mr. Ridgway, as superintendent at this time, 1904 and 1905, had to keep three sets of books—one for the S. R., one for the S. Ry. and one for the S.N.

Just before and after the reorganization, business revived until it was nearly as good as in the beginning though only one passenger train ever ran again and then only as far as Joker Tunnel. The train consisted of two coaches and a baggage car to Red Mountain where one coach was set out and the rest went on to Joker. In 1912 a daily passenger was running only as far as Red Mountain. In 1919 and ’20 a passenger was still going to the same destination. During this period about two freights operated though the number depended on the amount of business. A little engine could haul three loads up to Red Mountain and a big one could haul five. Both handled ten loads down. In the winter operation was suspended either for short periods or for the season because of snow blockades.

The turntable was still standing in early 1906 for John Crum who that spring drove a logging team from Albany Gulch to the Gold Lion mine, at night turned his horses loose on a flat nearby and in the morning had to play tag with them around the table to catch them.

Mears, who was expecting great things of the Cold Prince mine and mill at Animas Forks on the Silverton Northern, decided he needed a turntable worse there than at Corkscrew. So, in the summer of 1906, Edward Meyer, an engineer, took a train to the gulch to retrieve all essential and removable parts along with other appurtenances. These were then transported to and installed at Animas Forks.

Joe Dresbach, the general manager of the time, has also stated that essential and removable parts of the turntable at Corkscrew were retrieved 21and installed at Animas Forks.

Charles Decker, an engineer, says that the housing and operating parts of the turntable at Corkscrew were gone when he went there for the first time in 1907. The train merely ran over the stationary table onto a switchback that had been extended to hold several cars, and then backed out.

After the turntable was abandoned a train leaving Red Mountain headed into Corkscrew Gulch, backed down to Joker Tunnel, headed into Corkscrew again and finally backed to Red Mountain. Or the operation was reversed by backing out of Red Mountain to begin with. As trains will not back through much snow downhill and practically none uphill this railroad got into trouble in the winter no matter how it started out or what it did.

Mears was employed by the D. & R. G. to reconstruct the railroad in the Animas canyon after the disastrous flood of October 5, 1911. He used S. Ry., S. G. & N. and S. N. engines and crews to work from the north end. Trains went to Joker Tunnel to pick up rails that had been brought that far by freight teams from Ouray. Silverton ran out of coal, and some that had already been hauled to the Treasury Tunnel at Red Mountain was brought back to town. In about 60 days the line was open and the first two freight cars to arrive in Silverton were one of caskets and one of beer.

Many derailments and minor accidents occurred but in its 39 years of operation only one fatality. In 1902 or ’03 an engine ran off a short rail at Sheridan Junction causing it to overturn. The engineer, Bally Thompson, was caught and crushed under the boiler. The whole top of his head and jaw were torn off and his skin was cooked like that of a roasted turkey.

The year ending June 30, 1911 showed a cash balance of $9 while the year ending December 31, 1917 turned up with a deficit of $25,241. Regular operation ceased in 1921 and abandonment proceedings were held in the early fall of 1922. All rolling stock, including Engines 100 and 101 (1) were turned over to the S. N.

Below is the last station list ever published:

.00 Silverton 9,300
5.30 Burro Bridge 10,236
7.23 Chattanooga 10,400
10.64 Summit 11,235
11.97 Red Mountain 11,025
12.66 Vanderbilt
12.85 Yankee Girl
13.26 Robinson
13.46 Guston
13.93 Paymaster Coal Track
14.38 Corkscrew Gulch
14.81 Paymaster Ore Track
15.03 Silver Belle
16.06 Joker

As the track was not immediately removed an occasional train was run to Red Mountain or even to the mines beyond. With the salvaging of the rails in 1926 the Silverton Railroad made its last run.

The original Red Mountain Town was on the east side of the small hill called the Knob. The place began declining about 1907 and the time came when it was deserted and all structures were in a state of near or complete collapse. The Idarado, the old Treasury Tunnel, to the north side of the Knob, with all its prosperous looking mine and mill buildings and its nice dwellings, most of which were moved there from Eureka, now constitutes the town of Red Mountain. This Tunnel is a World War II development and is famous because it bores through the mountain to the mines on the Telluride side.

The new highway has almost obliterated the old railroad grade. It may be seen crawling along on the sidehill up to Burro Bridge, and again at Chattanooga Loop and overhead as it climbs to the summit. It also may be seen curving around the Knob to old Red Mountain town, crawling along the mountain to Corkscrew Gulch and dropping down to Joker Tunnel. Then all traces of it are gone except some old grade at Albany. First a road, then a railroad and again a road!

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