Building railroads and keeping secrets

Illustration is "Building the Union Pacific, Nebraska, Woodcut by Alfred R. Waud, 1867"
Rob Carrigan
Posted

Love, pain and money cannot be kept a secret. They soon betray themselves.

But building a railroad? Maybe it is possible — at least long enough to get the job done.

In June of 1887, J.J. Hagerman, president of the Colorado Midland, announced that regular passenger trains would soon be running between Colorado Springs and Buena Vista.

He had one fairly large problem, however.

“He had bought a site for the Midland station near the Santa Fe tracks, but he had no means of getting his trains directly from the Midland’s eastern end of the track, near the D. & R.G’s (Denver & Rio Grande’s Railroads) line, to his depot’s location,” notes John J. Lipsey about the railroads predicament in Colorado Springs, in a historic paper published by the Denver Westerners in January of 1962.

“On Aug. 15, 1887, Hagerman wrote to one of the Midland’s directors (Busk) in New York: ‘I tried to make arrangements with Evans for use of the street (Moreno Avenue) occupied by the D. T. & G. (Denver, Texas and Gulf Railroad) across this town and made him a liberal offer, but in vain. Therefore we had to ‘jump’ him.”’

“Jumping,” in railroad terms of the times, was the practice of — when negotiation and law suits were determined to take too long, or not likely to succeed — laying track in the middle of the night. Tracks were installed before a court could grant an injunction prohibiting the action. Once the track was down, it seemed to settle the matter and was rarely ripped up.

Hageman had tried to get Dr. John Evans, M.D., president of the Denver, Texas, and Gulf Railroad (one of the predecessors of the Colorado and Southern), to allow the Midland to use the D .T. & G. tracks or to lay a Midland Track on Moreno Avenue in Colorado Springs. At that time, the area was then used as a yard by C. & S.

At the crux of the matter was regionalism. The Colorado Midland was a Colorado Springs railroad. The D.T. & G. was a Denver outfit that diverted mountain traffic to Denver and away from Colorado Springs. Evans, former Governor of Colorado and founder of the Colorado Seminary (now the University of Denver), interests were aligned with that effort.

So it is not surprising that the Colorado Springs City Council at the time was willing to help counter.

“Hagerman persuaded them to call a secret meeting of the council on Saturday night, when no court was sitting which would issue an injunction. At this meeting and ordinance was quickly passed granting the Colorado Midland a right-of-way across the city on Moreno Avenue,” wrote Lipsey.

Hagerman was ready. With no publicity he had assembled men, mules, horses, ties, rails, engines, cars, spikes, plates, switches, tools, food, coffee and lights. Plenty of lights — torches, flares, lanterns, and fuel for bright bonfires. The six blocks of Moreno must have looked like a World’s Fair Midway.”

The moment that the ordinance passed, horse-drawn scrapers began working on the elevations and smoothing a roadbed. Ties were place at measured intervals, rails followed and were bolted together and spiked down. Ballast was added and tamped to secure positioning. Engines pushed forward a supply of ties and rails. Teamsters shouted, rail-toters groaned, sledges rang on spikeheads.

“Before John Evans, a faithful Methodist, was ready for church on the Sunday morning that followed, he must have been notified by his agents that the Midland track was laid on Moreno, and that Midland trains were able to load passengers at the Midland depot and depart for Buena Vista. It was no doubt an unhappy Sabbath for Dr. Evans. No court would sit on Sunday. Neither then, nor later, was he able to undo what Hagerman and the Midland had done that Saturday night. And very probably he regretted his refusal to take money for the right-of-way the Midland got for nothing,” wrote Lipsey.

Building a railroad across town in Colorado Springs could be kept secret, at least long enough to get the job done.