Elvas Tower: History of the Moffat Road - Denver Northwesetern & Pacific RR - Elvas Tower

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History of the Moffat Road - Denver Northwesetern & Pacific RR Rate Topic: -----

#1 User is offline   CrisGer 

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Posted 12 July 2015 - 04:22 PM

Here is a summary of the Railroad created by David Moffat to connect Denver and Colorado with the western part of the United States, hopefully with a tunnel to bypass the high climb over the Rollins Pass which was a feature of the early years of the railroad and which is the focus of this Restoration project.

this summary is courtesy of the DRGW Net

In 1902, the city of Denver was well connected into the rail network, with one exception. Any westbound traffic either went north via the Union Pacific to Wyoming and then over the Continental Divide, or went south via the Denver & Rio Grande to Pueblo, where it passed west either via Marshall Pass and the narrow gauge, or up and over Tennessee Pass on the standard gauge. The missing link was a line straight west from Denver and over the Divide to the communities of the western slope of the Rockies. In a way, the Denver, South Park, & Pacific had almost achieved this, passing west along the South Platte and reaching the west side at points such as Dillon, but the DSP&P wasn't exactly a serious competitor. First, it was narrow gauge, never designed for heavy tonnage nor to connect into the standard gauge network. Secondly, it crossed no less than three high mountain passes on its trip west - east to west: Kenosha, Boreas, Fremont, and then through the Collegiate Range via the Alpine Tunnel. It could barely be kept open in the winter, and terminated in the middle of nowhere - northwest of Gunnison, CO. Standard gauge traffic going via the Rio Grande had to travel at least 200 miles further than necessary as it was routed down to Pueblo and then via the Royal Gorge and Leadville (and Tennessee Pass, with its 10,500 ft. Divide crossing, was no joy to keep open in the winter, either). A better solution was needed.

Ever the Colorado railroad visionary, David Moffat proposed a Denver-Salt Lake mainline in 1902 that would pass directly west from Denver, through the main range of the Rockies in a great tunnel, and then west through Bond, Steamboat Springs, and Craig before heading through barren northeastern Utah into Salt Lake City. The road would be founded as the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad. The real challenge with this was how to get through the backbone of the mountains. West of Denver (elevation 5280 ft., roughly), the base of the main range was only 45 miles west and over 4000 feet higher. Assuming a straight shot, that's still a 1.7 percent grade, nearing the 2.0-2.2 percent considered a reasonable maximum for any mainline standard gauge railway. However, the rise along the line's path was far from linear.

The Flatirons - massive near-vertical, upthrust plates of rock forming the front of the Front Range - marked a significant challenge in maintaining the desired grade. Following the Leyden mesa up from downtown Denver, a reasonable grade could be maintained as far as the Flatirons (near what today is Rocky siding). At that point, two large, tight curves were needed to bring the line up out of the draw it had followed to the base of the great front of the Rockies. These, both being 10 degree curves, eventually became known as the Big 10 Curves that continue in service to this day.

From there, it was a battle for every vertical foot, and two different engineers came up with two different proposals. The original proposal, put together by Moffat's chief engineer from his narrow guage electric railroad TJ Milner, was to run up to the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon (probably somewhere around the current Colorado 72 bridge) and then bore a tunnel slightly over a mile long into South Boulder Canyon, bypassing the worst part of both canyons. Shortly afterwords, H.A. Sumner stepped in with a competing proposal - build up the Flatirons and follow Boulder Canyon the entire way. The route would provide the coveted 2 percent maximum grade, but would require around 30 small or medium-sized tunnels to bore through ridges in both the Flatirons and in South Boulder Canyon.

Sumner's route was eventually chosen due to its better grade as well as its less severe curvature. Ridgway, Moffat's chosen General Manager, apparently preferred Sumner's route because he felt that operations would be easier on a long, steady, mostly open grade rather than trying to run up an opposing grade and probably needing to use pushers out of Denver. In the age of steam, being in a tunnel was bad enough. Being in a pusher inside a lengthy bore was intolerable at best and potentially deadly if the train stalled out for any reason. The 6000 ft. bore proposed by Milner was patently impractical for the era.

Once the route was surveyed, grading, boring, and tracklaying proceeded quite quickly considering the terrain. At that point, the foot of the main range of mountains lay only a few miles to the west. At this point, the greatest challenge of them all sat ahead - how to breach the main range. Moffat's railroad had no real source of income in its current form - only the tourists who would pay for day trips out and back, which clearly would fall off in short order. It needed through the range, but due to sources of investment capital being turned off back east of Harriman's interests (in order kill off a potential competitor to his Union Pacific), Moffat had only enough money left to either complete the tunnel or to possibly (with a great amount of stretching) get the rails to a potential source of paying carloads - the resort at Hot Sulphur Springs and the coal mines near Phippsburg. Without additional investment, one or the other could be completed, but not both.

Even if the so-called Main Range Tunnel was not prohibitively expensive, it would take at least several years to complete. For a railroad with no real revenue source, a couple of years is a very long time to be drilling an incredibly expensive tunnel. Even the shortest (and by Moffat's surveys, the only seriously considered) proposed Main Range bore was still 2.6 miles, and that was at an elevation just a hair under 10,000 ft - starting just west of Ladora. The decision was made to build a cheap and quick branch from Ladora over Rollins Pass, cresting at 11,660 feet. The line would not be built to DNW&P mainline standards, because it wasn't the mainline and it was only temporary. Four percent grades and sharp curvature were not only allowed, but in fact the norm on this temporary diversion.

Even while the problems with the Main Range bore and the diversion over Rollins were being decided, surveying was continuing along the proposed route further west. Sumner and crew were working through the next major challenge along the route - Gore Canyon, between Kremmling and what is now Bond. Steep, unstable, and unforgiving terrain was surveyed in the Winter of 1903 - a nearly insane feat, but a testiment to the devotion to get the line pushed through to a stable source of freight.

UP's Harriman, unable to keep Moffat from building by denying him investors, took to a new tactic. The entire Gore Canyon area was claimed by the New Century Light and Power Company (a shill company of Harriman's), which intended to dam it for hydroelectric purposes. This would submerge the proposed right of way under potentially a hundred feet of water or more, leaving Moffat's road to either throw in the towel or build over yet another summit in the Gore Mountains on the north side of the canyon. Fortunately, the Burlington had surveyed a potential route through the canyon years earlier in the 1880s as part of the Colorado Railroad project, and still had the deed from that experiment. Even this did not solve the issue, and the matter dragged on through the courts.

On 23-Jun-1904, a little under two years after the incorporation of the DNW&P, rails had reached a point designated as Mammoth, where modern day Tolland sits. By 2-Sep-1904, locomotive 300 and three passenger coaches crested the Divide on the Rollins Pass diversion to a location now known as Corona, aka "Top of the World". By 28-Sep-1904, the rails had reached Arrowhead on the west side of the Divide, and with it the first regular revenue freight trains were run. Reports are that 185 cars of cattle and six cars of lumber came out of Arrowhead, partially helped by a road the railroad had built from Arrow down into settlements in the Fraser Valley below.

Only a month later, the DNW&P got its first taste of what winter could do on Rollins. On 19-Oct-1904, a passenger train became stuck in a 20 ft. drift for over a full day. Snowsheds were under construction, but they were not completed in time for the early arrival of winter at these elevations. The DNW&P didn't even have a snowplow yet in 1904 - a borrowed Colorado Midland plow was used to reopen the line during that first winter of operations. Their first plow, a 36-ft rotary built by ALCO, arrived in early January of 1905. Even it could not deal with the severity of the Pass, though, as its mechanism was torn to shreds upon hitting a rocky avalanche on its first trip up the hill. It was hauled back to Denver and rebuilt with a stronger mechanism and heavier blades, but winter continued to plague the new railroad, shutting down the Rollins Pass line at every possible opportunity.

By August of 1905, rails had reached Hot Sulphur Springs, CO, 110 miles from Denver proper. On the twenty first of that month, Moffat himself rolled into town on board a special train, along with a few prominent guests. Winter hit the pass in September, but due to luck and better preparedness, the DNW&P kept the line open. It was reliable enough that by November, they had tri-weekly trains running from Denver to Hot Sulphur Springs.

The resolution to the Gore Canyon issue started to take hold over a year later, in April of 1905 when Pres. Teddy Roosevelt, on a hunting trip to Colorado, was informed of the problem. Moffat and most of the backers of the Moffat Road were prominent Republicans, and let it be known at a Denver fundraiser that they'd like the Department of the Interior to back off on the dam issue. With this pressure from his Republican base, the President put an end to the problem for good on 9-October-1905, when the Dept. of the Interior was told in no uncertain terms to drop the proposal. Thus Moffat had won the battle, and it was said he kept a statue of Roosevelt on his desk from that day forward. With the rails already pushing through Byers Canyon west of Hot Sulphur, Gore Canyon was quickly becoming an issue. With the rights resolved, the grade was complete partway through Gore by the close of 1905.

By the close of 1906, the Moffat Road had only a bit over 100 miles of trackage to show for its four years of existance, pathetically little business, and was financially destitute. In addition, while it had many miles of quality mainline, it had the hideously expensive Rollins Pass to operate, which regularly drained off any meager profits that the railroad might accumulate during the more temperate months. Moffat himself, having pumped his personal fortune into the line upon being unable to find investors, was nearly broke as well. By 1907, the rails had only reached Yarmony, far short of any of the natural resources (coal, oil, gilsonite) that were projected as stable revenue sources.

Thanks in no small part to a group of investors, lead by David Dodge, finances were provided to continue the line. In September of 1908, rails finally reached the first online resource - the coal fields near Oak Creek and Yampa. By January 1909, the railway had progressed to Steamboat Springs, but shortly after that, the line was once again out of money.

Little more of note happened on the DNW&P until one fateful day in 1911. On 18-Mar-1911, David Moffat unexpectedly passed on, leaving the railroad without its visionary. His vice president, William Evans, quickly stepped forth into the leadership role, but one of Colorado's railroading leaders was gone regardless. Despite the dark hour, an odd stroke of fortune landed in the railroad's direction when Colorado Rep. Gaines Allen proposed a bill to have the State of Colorado construct a five mile Main Range tunnel, on the condition that the railroad sign a long term lease. Unfortunately, the governor at the time, a gentleman named Shafroth, failed to sign the bill, which automatically made the issue a public referendum. In the election of September 1912, the bill failed miserably, and the railroad's hopes of eliminating Rollins Pass were dashed.

Earlier that year, on 1-May-1912, another horrible blow befell the line. Unable to service its debt, the line was thrown into receivership under David Dodge, and Pres. Evans was replaced with Newman Erb from Minnesota. The investors realized that the only way to possibly salvage their investment was to continue Moffat's vision. In early December 1912, a contract was let to extend the railroad from Steamboat to Craig in order to tap many of the coal fields along the route. However, in January 1913, the railroad underwent yet another reorganization, at least on paper, due to the more delinquent debt payments. By April 30, 1913, the reorganization had completed, and the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific lapsed into history. From that point forward, the line would be the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, reflecting the original ambitions of David Moffat carried forward.

By the end of 1913, trains were arriving at Craig, CO, over a recently completed extension of the former Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Rwy, which had been reorganized as the Denver & Salt Lake by the time of its completion. However, the funding had once again evaporated for the continued trek westward from Craig towards the goal of Salt Lake City. World War I would start only a year later, with the United States entry into combat only a few years later. Funding was scarce and revenue scarcer, and as such Erb was forced to resign 16-Sep-1917. While the USRA had poured over 1.3 million dollars into the line for war needs, the line came out from under government control still seriously hemmoraging red ink. The labors of hauling freight over Rollins and keeping it open through the winter were chewing up almost a million dollars or more a year that the line didn't have. Meanwhile, on the first day of 1920, the Burlington was threatening to rebuild the narrow gauge Colorado and Southern up from Denver to the Main Range and build the main bore themselves.

By 1921, the road was once again back in the bankruptcy courts, this time fighting for its very existance. Scrapping was a real possibility, as the road hadn't turned a profit and was perpetually failing to service its debt. Even the receives of the time - Boettcher and Freeman - were discussing terminating service with the state Public Utilities Commission. However, with the line carrying almost 24,000 loaded cars in 1920, terminating service wasn't really an option. A solution to the perpetual deficit needed to be found. The courts ordered wages reduced as a cost reduction measure, feeling that the men were paid wages out of line with other railroads, but that wasn't the road's real problem. The real money pit was Rollins Pass, and it simply had to go. Anything with four percent grades and blizzards that could strand trains for weeks at a time needed to be bypassed if the railroad was ever succeed.

As it would unfold, the Moffat's turning point would also be one of Colorado's worst natural disasters. A series of early summer thunderstorms in 1921 created a massive deluge of floodwaters that turned the normally placid Arkansas River and tributaries into raging, destructive torrents. On the evening of June 3, these torrents ripped through Pueblo, raising the Arkansas over 12 feet above flood stage and destroying everything in a mile-wide swath through the heart of the city. After this calamity, Pueblo wanted the state to put in flood control on the Arkansas, and they got it - with one little catch. Two bills were introduced in a special Colorado General Assembly session on 8-Apr-1922 - one to fix the Arkansas River's bad temper permanently, and the other to finally build the Main Range tunnel. Thanks to a great deal of political wrangling, with the northern representatives not caring about Pueblo's flood problems and Pueblo's representatives opposing the tunnel, both bills finally passed.

The Main Range Tunnel, now officially named the Moffat Tunnel by the legislation in honor of David Moffat's vision, would finally be built. A 6.2 mile bore straight through the main range of the Rockies, the tunnel would cut off 2500 feet of climbing and descending, 23 miles of extra track, and most of all some twelve or more hours of grueling, dangerous railroading over Rollins Pass. There would no longer be the threat of trains trapped for days or weeks by blizzards or deep drifting snow. Instead, freight and passengers would cruise safely under the Rockies in a matter of minutes. Started in 1924, the first train passed through the massive hole only four years later, on 14-Feb-1928.

Immediately following the stroke of good luck on the tunnel, freight also began to pour over the Moffat Road in 1923. The Routt County coal mining industry was booming, and oil had been discovered at a depth of only half a mile just south of Craig. Aside from the drilling and mining gear going west, the raw resources were flowing eastward. Thirty tankers of oil a day moved by 1924, and that number doubled by 1925. By 1926, Texaco had built a small refinery in Craig, and as such the D&SL was also hauling refined oil products eastward across the Divide. Financial prospects for the line, having been dire and bleak only six years before, were now much, much brighter. The darkest days of the Moffat Road were past, and the Denver & Salt Lake Railway was incorporated in Jan 1926 to assume the still-in-receivership Denver & Salt Lake Railroad's assets.

The Moffat Tunnel was a monumental step forward, but with the D&SL in its current configuration (ending at Craig, CO), it was still a very expensive hole on a railroad that went nowhere important. The D&SL connected with no other roads or major cites west of the Continental Divide. So, as part of the Moffat Tunnel project, the D&SL and D&RGW were strongly urged to look at linking their lines. The most likely point for this was the easy 45 miles of water-level route between Bond, CO, and a point near the confluence of the Grand and Eagle Rivers on the D&RGW's standard gauge mainline over Tennessee Pass.

This route, to eventually be known as the Dotsero Cutoff, wouldn't be built until several years after the Moffat Tunnel, but was eventually pushed through as a condition of the D&RGW's purchase of the D&SL in 1930. In June of 1934, the two systems were linked, and what we know today as the Rio Grande's standard gauge network was finally completed.

The railroads remained separate on paper for almost two more decades, but during that time there was no doubt things had changed. The Rio Grande wasted little time in bringing the old Moffat Road up to standards - lining tunnels, laying heavier rail, and realigning sections with better grading and straighter routes. The D&RGW had acquired a much faster route from Denver to Salt Lake, and was doing everything possible to take advantage of it. Eventually, the D&SL itelf would fade into D&RGW corporate history. Finally, on 11-Apr-1947, the D&SL was officially folded into its parent road and ceased to exist.

#2 User is offline   timothyskinner 

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Posted 12 July 2015 - 11:37 PM

Failure to build the tunnel and the money drain of Rollins Pass were not the only problems.

Pre-WWI, the route from Craig west along the White river to Ouvry then north into Salt Lake City would have passed through the then profitable gilsonite fields. However, the Uintah had already built their 7.5% grade over Baxter Pass.

Post-WWI, the Dotsero cut-off still involved a long way round via Price to Salt Lake. Suggestions such as a route south from Craig to Meeker then through Meeker Canyon to Rifle still had that long way to go across the desert and then Soldier Summit. The Uintah itself became uneconomic in the 1930s when gilsonite was trucked by road to the Craig railhead from new seams north of the White River, the Uintah had had plans to lay track north from Watson to Bonanza with a bridge.

The obstruction to Moffat's direct route was most regrettable.
https://news.google....5,4460318&hl=en

#3 User is offline   CrisGer 

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Posted 17 July 2015 - 04:36 AM

Hi Timothy and thanks for that thoughtful post. Yes there were severe challenges and it was the fire of David Moffat wanting to get access to the markets for his fellow Coloradans, that drove this route to its eventual success. The work the very hard work of the road crews, the hoggers, the linemen, the carpenters and craftsmen who built the line and the towns along it all are part of what we want to celebrate for they are the ones that really made it happen for their fellow citizens. A great model of American hard work and determination and its eventual success. thanks again for the post.

#4 User is offline   timothyskinner 

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Posted 17 July 2015 - 10:21 AM

Hi Cris - it is strange but true that the modern Deseret electrified line from north of Rangely to Bonanza follows the same route north of the White River that the Moffat would have done.

Post-WWII, a slurry pipeline has taken gilsonite south to Mack as depicted in Streamlines Green River payware route.

#5 User is offline   CrisGer 

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Posted 19 July 2015 - 12:26 PM

I have the Green river route and look at that. i considered re doing the Green River route for the MOffat but the mountian sections are VERY primitive and would need a lot of re texturing. interesting that you would mention it.

we have a lot of research going on on this project and have begun making the full Section point yard and facilities at Tabernash as they were when they were relocated there from Fraser in 1913.

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Posted 19 July 2015 - 03:44 PM

Hi Cris - no pipeline shown just a siding label and building. Good to hear your progress with such a worthwhile project !!

Talking of extending existing routes, last year I marked out the old narrow gauge lines into Grand Junction from the Book Cliff mine and from the Ballard mine at Thompson via Excelsior to Crevasse and found the wye clearly visible on Google Earth at Excelsior. There are still plenty of routes to do...

#7 User is offline   CrisGer 

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Posted 10 August 2015 - 08:28 AM

that sounds very interesting. yes there are so many that could be done .in 1918 or therebouts there was no where in the US that was more than 20 miles from a railway i heard. I guess we do what we can as we can and trust those who follow us to carry it on.

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Posted 10 August 2015 - 11:13 AM

View PostCrisGer, on 10 August 2015 - 08:28 AM, said:

that sounds very interesting. yes there are so many that could be done .in 1918 or therebouts there was no where in the US that was more than 20 miles from a railway i heard. I guess we do what we can as we can and trust those who follow us to carry it on.

Hi Cris - Yes, I made an offer on TS.com for anyone to takeover the Thompson route. I have marked out all of the old narrow gauge DRG from the Ballard Mine on the Sego Branch to Thompson and from the point where the Potash Line (in TS.com library) branches off the mainline to Thompson (several sidings, water, etc at Thompson) then continued east to Whitehouse then diverging from the modern mainline up to Excelsior wye and Shale then to Crevasse (now known as Mack) then to Grand Junction with its junction and sidings with lines to Delta and Rifle and the interesting branch up to Book End Cliff so well written up by Bill Pratt on his website.

I was thinking of trying those west coast South American routes in Peru, Bolivia and Chile as well the Trans-Alpine further south into Argentina in the steam-era. However, whether I will finish the Uintah and Copper Canyon before they finish me is a good question. I have arranged with a reliable colleague for him to receive copies of the two routes every few months so they may get finished if there are still people interested in MSTS.

With respect to no town being more than 20 miles from rails it is usually Vernal that gets put forward with the Uintah never going north of the White River and lines from Salt Lake no further east than Heber and the Moffat no further west than Craig. Vernal is famous for its bank being delivered by the Uintah and stagecoach brick by brick when the US Postal Service had a Special. A certain Mr B Cassidy once a semi-resident of Dragon had by that time chosen to pursue his career (which relied on railroads similar to the Uintah) in Peru & Bolivia.

Timothy

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 09:07 AM

View PostCrisGer, on 12 July 2015 - 04:22 PM, said:

Here is a summary of the Railroad created by David Moffat to connect Denver and Colorado with the western part of the United States, hopefully with a tunnel to bypass the high climb over the Rollins Pass which was a feature of the early years of the railroad and which is the focus of this Restoration project.

this summary is courtesy of the DRGW Net

In 1902, the city of Denver was well connected into the rail network, with one exception. Any westbound traffic either went north via the Union Pacific to Wyoming and then over the Continental Divide, or went south via the Denver & Rio Grande to Pueblo, where it passed west either via Marshall Pass and the narrow gauge, or up and over Tennessee Pass on the standard gauge. The missing link was a line straight west from Denver and over the Divide to the communities of the western slope of the Rockies. In a way, the Denver, South Park, & Pacific had almost achieved this, passing west along the South Platte and reaching the west side at points such as Dillon, but the DSP&P wasn't exactly a serious competitor. First, it was narrow gauge, never designed for heavy tonnage nor to connect into the standard gauge network. Secondly, it crossed no less than three high mountain passes on its trip west - east to west: Kenosha, Boreas, Fremont, and then through the Collegiate Range via the Alpine Tunnel. It could barely be kept open in the winter, and terminated in the middle of nowhere - northwest of Gunnison, CO. Standard gauge traffic going via the Rio Grande had to travel at least 200 miles further than necessary as it was routed down to Pueblo and then via the Royal Gorge and Leadville (and Tennessee Pass, with its 10,500 ft. Divide crossing, was no joy to keep open in the winter, either). A better solution was needed.

Ever the Colorado railroad visionary, David Moffat proposed a Denver-Salt Lake mainline in 1902 that would pass directly west from Denver, through the main range of the Rockies in a great tunnel, and then west through Bond, Steamboat Springs, and Craig before heading through barren northeastern Utah into Salt Lake City. The road would be founded as the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad. The real challenge with this was how to get through the backbone of the mountains. West of Denver (elevation 5280 ft., roughly), the base of the main range was only 45 miles west and over 4000 feet higher. Assuming a straight shot, that's still a 1.7 percent grade, nearing the 2.0-2.2 percent considered a reasonable maximum for any mainline standard gauge railway. However, the rise along the line's path was far from linear.

The Flatirons - massive near-vertical, upthrust plates of rock forming the front of the Front Range - marked a significant challenge in maintaining the desired grade. Following the Leyden mesa up from downtown Denver, a reasonable grade could be maintained as far as the Flatirons (near what today is Rocky siding). At that point, two large, tight curves were needed to bring the line up out of the draw it had followed to the base of the great front of the Rockies. These, both being 10 degree curves, eventually became known as the Big 10 Curves that continue in service to this day.

From there, it was a battle for every vertical foot, and two different engineers came up with two different proposals. The original proposal, put together by Moffat's chief engineer from his narrow guage electric railroad TJ Milner, was to run up to the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon (probably somewhere around the current Colorado 72 bridge) and then bore a tunnel slightly over a mile long into South Boulder Canyon, bypassing the worst part of both canyons. Shortly afterwords, H.A. Sumner stepped in with a competing proposal - build up the Flatirons and follow Boulder Canyon the entire way. The route would provide the coveted 2 percent maximum grade, but would require around 30 small or medium-sized tunnels to bore through ridges in both the Flatirons and in South Boulder Canyon.

Sumner's route was eventually chosen due to its better grade as well as its less severe curvature. Ridgway, Moffat's chosen General Manager, apparently preferred Sumner's route because he felt that operations would be easier on a long, steady, mostly open grade rather than trying to run up an opposing grade and probably needing to use pushers out of Denver. In the age of steam, being in a tunnel was bad enough. Being in a pusher inside a lengthy bore was intolerable at best and potentially deadly if the train stalled out for any reason. The 6000 ft. bore proposed by Milner was patently impractical for the era.

Once the route was surveyed, grading, boring, and tracklaying proceeded quite quickly considering the terrain. At that point, the foot of the main range of mountains lay only a few miles to the west. At this point, the greatest challenge of them all sat ahead - how to breach the main range. Moffat's railroad had no real source of income in its current form - only the tourists who would pay for day trips out and back, which clearly would fall off in short order. It needed through the range, but due to sources of investment capital being turned off back east of Harriman's interests (in order kill off a potential competitor to his Union Pacific), Moffat had only enough money left to either complete the tunnel or to possibly (with a great amount of stretching) get the rails to a potential source of paying carloads - the resort at Hot Sulphur Springs and the coal mines near Phippsburg. Without additional investment, one or the other could be completed, but not both.

Even if the so-called Main Range Tunnel was not prohibitively expensive, it would take at least several years to complete. For a railroad with no real revenue source, a couple of years is a very long time to be drilling an incredibly expensive tunnel. Even the shortest (and by Moffat's surveys, the only seriously considered) proposed Main Range bore was still 2.6 miles, and that was at an elevation just a hair under 10,000 ft - starting just west of Ladora. The decision was made to build a cheap and quick branch from Ladora over Rollins Pass, cresting at 11,660 feet. The line would not be built to DNW&P mainline standards, because it wasn't the mainline and it was only temporary. Four percent grades and sharp curvature were not only allowed, but in fact the norm on this temporary diversion.

Even while the problems with the Main Range bore and the diversion over Rollins were being decided, surveying was continuing along the proposed route further west. Sumner and crew were working through the next major challenge along the route - Gore Canyon, between Kremmling and what is now Bond. Steep, unstable, and unforgiving terrain was surveyed in the Winter of 1903 - a nearly insane feat, but a testiment to the devotion to get the line pushed through to a stable source of freight.

UP's Harriman, unable to keep Moffat from building by denying him investors, took to a new tactic. The entire Gore Canyon area was claimed by the New Century Light and Power Company (a shill company of Harriman's), which intended to dam it for hydroelectric purposes. This would submerge the proposed right of way under potentially a hundred feet of water or more, leaving Moffat's road to either throw in the towel or build over yet another summit in the Gore Mountains on the north side of the canyon. Fortunately, the Burlington had surveyed a potential route through the canyon years earlier in the 1880s as part of the Colorado Railroad project, and still had the deed from that experiment. Even this did not solve the issue, and the matter dragged on through the courts.

On 23-Jun-1904, a little under two years after the incorporation of the DNW&P, rails had reached a point designated as Mammoth, where modern day Tolland sits. By 2-Sep-1904, locomotive 300 and three passenger coaches crested the Divide on the Rollins Pass diversion to a location now known as Corona, aka "Top of the World". By 28-Sep-1904, the rails had reached Arrowhead on the west side of the Divide, and with it the first regular revenue freight trains were run. Reports are that 185 cars of cattle and six cars of lumber came out of Arrowhead, partially helped by a road the railroad had built from Arrow down into settlements in the Fraser Valley below.

Only a month later, the DNW&P got its first taste of what winter could do on Rollins. On 19-Oct-1904, a passenger train became stuck in a 20 ft. drift for over a full day. Snowsheds were under construction, but they were not completed in time for the early arrival of winter at these elevations. The DNW&P didn't even have a snowplow yet in 1904 - a borrowed Colorado Midland plow was used to reopen the line during that first winter of operations. Their first plow, a 36-ft rotary built by ALCO, arrived in early January of 1905. Even it could not deal with the severity of the Pass, though, as its mechanism was torn to shreds upon hitting a rocky avalanche on its first trip up the hill. It was hauled back to Denver and rebuilt with a stronger mechanism and heavier blades, but winter continued to plague the new railroad, shutting down the Rollins Pass line at every possible opportunity.

By August of 1905, rails had reached Hot Sulphur Springs, CO, 110 miles from Denver proper. On the twenty first of that month, Moffat himself rolled into town on board a special train, along with a few prominent guests. Winter hit the pass in September, but due to luck and better preparedness, the DNW&P kept the line open. It was reliable enough that by November, they had tri-weekly trains running from Denver to Hot Sulphur Springs.

The resolution to the Gore Canyon issue started to take hold over a year later, in April of 1905 when Pres. Teddy Roosevelt, on a hunting trip to Colorado, was informed of the problem. Moffat and most of the backers of the Moffat Road were prominent Republicans, and let it be known at a Denver fundraiser that they'd like the Department of the Interior to back off on the dam issue. With this pressure from his Republican base, the President put an end to the problem for good on 9-October-1905, when the Dept. of the Interior was told in no uncertain terms to drop the proposal. Thus Moffat had won the battle, and it was said he kept a statue of Roosevelt on his desk from that day forward. With the rails already pushing through Byers Canyon west of Hot Sulphur, Gore Canyon was quickly becoming an issue. With the rights resolved, the grade was complete partway through Gore by the close of 1905.

By the close of 1906, the Moffat Road had only a bit over 100 miles of trackage to show for its four years of existance, pathetically little business, and was financially destitute. In addition, while it had many miles of quality mainline, it had the hideously expensive Rollins Pass to operate, which regularly drained off any meager profits that the railroad might accumulate during the more temperate months. Moffat himself, having pumped his personal fortune into the line upon being unable to find investors, was nearly broke as well. By 1907, the rails had only reached Yarmony, far short of any of the natural resources (coal, oil, gilsonite) that were projected as stable revenue sources.

Thanks in no small part to a group of investors, lead by David Dodge, finances were provided to continue the line. In September of 1908, rails finally reached the first online resource - the coal fields near Oak Creek and Yampa. By January 1909, the railway had progressed to Steamboat Springs, but shortly after that, the line was once again out of money.

Little more of note happened on the DNW&P until one fateful day in 1911. On 18-Mar-1911, David Moffat unexpectedly passed on, leaving the railroad without its visionary. His vice president, William Evans, quickly stepped forth into the leadership role, but one of Colorado's railroading leaders was gone regardless. Despite the dark hour, an odd stroke of fortune landed in the railroad's direction when Colorado Rep. Gaines Allen proposed a bill to have the State of Colorado construct a five mile Main Range tunnel, on the condition that the railroad sign a long term lease. Unfortunately, the governor at the time, a gentleman named Shafroth, failed to sign the bill, which automatically made the issue a public referendum. In the election of September 1912, the bill failed miserably, and the railroad's hopes of eliminating Rollins Pass were dashed.

Earlier that year, on 1-May-1912, another horrible blow befell the line. Unable to service its debt, the line was thrown into receivership under David Dodge, and Pres. Evans was replaced with Newman Erb from Minnesota. The investors realized that the only way to possibly salvage their investment was to continue Moffat's vision. In early December 1912, a contract was let to extend the railroad from Steamboat to Craig in order to tap many of the coal fields along the route. However, in January 1913, the railroad underwent yet another reorganization, at least on paper, due to the more delinquent debt payments. By April 30, 1913, the reorganization had completed, and the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific lapsed into history. From that point forward, the line would be the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, reflecting the original ambitions of David Moffat carried forward.

By the end of 1913, trains were arriving at Craig, CO, over a recently completed extension of the former Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Rwy, which had been reorganized as the Denver & Salt Lake by the time of its completion. However, the funding had once again evaporated for the continued trek westward from Craig towards the goal of Salt Lake City. World War I would start only a year later, with the United States entry into combat only a few years later. Funding was scarce and revenue scarcer, and as such Erb was forced to resign 16-Sep-1917. While the USRA had poured over 1.3 million dollars into the line for war needs, the line came out from under government control still seriously hemmoraging red ink. The labors of hauling freight over Rollins and keeping it open through the winter were chewing up almost a million dollars or more a year that the line didn't have. Meanwhile, on the first day of 1920, the Burlington was threatening to rebuild the narrow gauge Colorado and Southern up from Denver to the Main Range and build the main bore themselves.

By 1921, the road was once again back in the bankruptcy courts, this time fighting for its very existance. Scrapping was a real possibility, as the road hadn't turned a profit and was perpetually failing to service its debt. Even the receives of the time - Boettcher and Freeman - were discussing terminating service with the state Public Utilities Commission. However, with the line carrying almost 24,000 loaded cars in 1920, terminating service wasn't really an option. A solution to the perpetual deficit needed to be found. The courts ordered wages reduced as a cost reduction measure, feeling that the men were paid wages out of line with other railroads, but that wasn't the road's real problem. The real money pit was Rollins Pass, and it simply had to go. Anything with four percent grades and blizzards that could strand trains for weeks at a time needed to be bypassed if the railroad was ever succeed.

As it would unfold, the Moffat's turning point would also be one of Colorado's worst natural disasters. A series of early summer thunderstorms in 1921 created a massive deluge of floodwaters that turned the normally placid Arkansas River and tributaries into raging, destructive torrents. On the evening of June 3, these torrents ripped through Pueblo, raising the Arkansas over 12 feet above flood stage and destroying everything in a mile-wide swath through the heart of the city. After this calamity, Pueblo wanted the state to put in flood control on the Arkansas, and they got it - with one little catch. Two bills were introduced in a special Colorado General Assembly session on 8-Apr-1922 - one to fix the Arkansas River's bad temper permanently, and the other to finally build the Main Range tunnel. Thanks to a great deal of political wrangling, with the northern representatives not caring about Pueblo's flood problems and Pueblo's representatives opposing the tunnel, both bills finally passed.

The Main Range Tunnel, now officially named the Moffat Tunnel by the legislation in honor of David Moffat's vision, would finally be built. A 6.2 mile bore straight through the main range of the Rockies, the tunnel would cut off 2500 feet of climbing and descending, 23 miles of extra track, and most of all some twelve or more hours of grueling, dangerous railroading over Rollins Pass. There would no longer be the threat of trains trapped for days or weeks by blizzards or deep drifting snow. Instead, freight and passengers would cruise safely under the Rockies in a matter of minutes. Started in 1924, the first train passed through the massive hole only four years later, on 14-Feb-1928.

Immediately following the stroke of good luck on the tunnel, freight also began to pour over the Moffat Road in 1923. The Routt County coal mining industry was booming, and oil had been discovered at a depth of only half a mile just south of Craig. Aside from the drilling and mining gear going west, the raw resources were flowing eastward. Thirty tankers of oil a day moved by 1924, and that number doubled by 1925. By 1926, Texaco had built a small refinery in Craig, and as such the D&SL was also hauling refined oil products eastward across the Divide. Financial prospects for the line, having been dire and bleak only six years before, were now much, much brighter. The darkest days of the Moffat Road were past, and the Denver & Salt Lake Railway was incorporated in Jan 1926 to assume the still-in-receivership Denver & Salt Lake Railroad's assets.

The Moffat Tunnel was a monumental step forward, but with the D&SL in its current configuration (ending at Craig, CO), it was still a very expensive hole on a railroad that went nowhere important. The D&SL connected with no other roads or major cites west of the Continental Divide. So, as part of the Moffat Tunnel project, the D&SL and D&RGW were strongly urged to look at linking their lines. The most likely point for this was the easy 45 miles of water-level route between Bond, CO, and a point near the confluence of the Grand and Eagle Rivers on the D&RGW's standard gauge mainline over Tennessee Pass.

This route, to eventually be known as the Dotsero Cutoff, wouldn't be built until several years after the Moffat Tunnel, but was eventually pushed through as a condition of the D&RGW's purchase of the D&SL in 1930. In June of 1934, the two systems were linked, and what we know today as the Rio Grande's standard gauge network was finally completed.

The railroads remained separate on paper for almost two more decades, but during that time there was no doubt things had changed. The Rio Grande wasted little time in bringing the old Moffat Road up to standards - lining tunnels, laying heavier rail, and realigning sections with better grading and straighter routes. The D&RGW had acquired a much faster route from Denver to Salt Lake, and was doing everything possible to take advantage of it. Eventually, the D&SL itelf would fade into D&RGW corporate history. Finally, on 11-Apr-1947, the D&SL was officially folded into its parent road and ceased to exist.

Back in the late 1970s I was fortunate enough to visit the area and drove on part of the old roadbed as far as was feasible from the East Portal of Moffat Tunnel. Don't know if it is still open for public travel but it was amazing to try to put yourself in the place of laborers and railroaders who worked on the line and ran the trains on this tortured route. A wonderful experience. Glad you are keeping this tradition alive particularly with your amazing Colorado area mining structures. jc

#10 User is offline   CrisGer 

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 07:43 PM

The route can be driven with Four wheel, the Forest Service has always hated that Railroad and they are happy to see the remains of the roadbed destroyed by crazies in Off Road vehciles and motorcycles going 100 mph. a few trestles remain, but the last water tank fell off into the canyon, and the remaining RR ties travel back to Denver as garden ornaments one by one.

glad you had a chance to see it.

it was a remarkable achievement of American industry and ingenuity, and a tribute to the immigrant and visiting foreight workers there were quite a few Japanese men working on the Section crews on the Pass...and all worked together to make the Railroad run and to make our country Great.

Chris :unclesam:

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