Up the pass with an extra passenger

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Dangerous, isolated, difficult to build and even to keep open, the Rio Grande Southern had its share strange occurrences, especially in the stretches along the Dolores River and up over Lizard Head Pass from Rico to Telluride.

Frequently beset by blinding blizzards and threatened at any time of year by rock slides, snow slides, and mud slides or any combination of the three, the steep grades and high lonesome stretches also had the ability to inspire spirits, it seems.

Or at least to encourage them to appear.

One such spirit was Isidor Henschel, or Jimmy to his friends, and ‘Jimmy the Jew’ as he was ethnically slurred in the camp of Rico, at the time.

In route to Ophir, Henschel died in a train wreck in 1901 when, hopping a freighter from Rico to save time, he turned out to be in the wrong place at exactly the wrong moment.

“At Rice’s Spur, just over the Sunny Side of Lizard Head Pass, the freighter had stopped to pick up a lumber load,” writes Mary Joy Martin in her 2001 book “Something in the Wind: Spirits, Spooks & Sprites of the San Juan.” “ In the process, the freighter escaped back down the hill toward Rico, piling up at Snow Spur, the flat cars helter-skelter, the caboose wrecked, the body of Jimmy crushed by the timbers.”

For years afterward, as long as the RGS ran, folks claimed Jimmy periodically appeared in trains, including the Galloping Geese, traveling on that same lonesome stretch of tracks.

But according to Dan Asfar, in his book “Ghost Stories of Colorado,” Henschel never did anything to call attention to himself.

“He simply appeared on the train from Rico to Ophir just when the locomotive began chugging up the ascent to Lizard Head Pass. His manifestation was always the same; a young man, looking as real and alive as anyone else, sitting at the window seat, wearing the crisp Navy uniform he had been buried in. Most times, he appeared so gradually that people did not even notice he was there. Then, just as quietly, he would fade out of sight when the train approached Rice Spur.”

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