Given the geography of Eagle County, the railroad was the most important form of transportation well into the 20th century. The road to Red Cliff and on to Leadville wasn’t plowed in winter during the early years so people would either ride the train or load automobiles onto flatbed cars to offload at their destination. Some of the most interesting photos in our collection have a railroad theme and many of these were taken near Minturn, a railroad town.
“The origins of Minturn can be traced to a settlement called Booco, named in honor of homesteader George C. Booco. The Denver & Rio Grande had dead-headed at Belden for six years but in 1886, the railroad’s executives hurried the tracks down the Eagle River on the way to Glenwood Springs, Basalt, and ultimately Aspen’s rich silver ores. In building these tracks, the Rio Grande established a station, which by June 1887 it had designated as Minturn, in honor of Robert H. Minturn of New York, a director of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Co.” [Minturn, a Memoir, by Bill Burnett p. 10]
The roundhouse at Minturn was a huge structure with ten stalls to hold locomotives. There were windows on the side next to the Eagle River and each stall had large smoke holes in the ceiling to discharge smoke from the steam engines. The interior was heated with cast-iron, coal-fired heaters. The locomotives were directed into stalls by use of a steel turntable. It was powered by an electric motor and hostlers operated the mechanism to direct the locomotives into the correct stall. [Bill Burnett p. 13]
The D&RG Railroad YMCA (now the International Trade Center) was used as sleeping quarters for railroad men. “It had a big sun porch on the east, and it had a glass-enclosed reading room. The stationary boiler in the roundhouse heated the YMCA building. The two floors above the lobby were used for sleeping rooms….Each room had a hang-down electric bulb with a pull-chain switch. Also, one single bed and a little nightstand. On the main floor of the YMCA were showers with hot and cold water, plus indoor flushing toilets. The sewer line went out into the river. There was no toilet or bathing facilities in individual rooms; everyone had to use the shower room.” [Bill Burnett p. 27]
“Up track from the icehouse in Minturn was the main depot for passenger trains. This depot was a small place of wooden construction with space for people to sit while awaiting trains. The agent had an office in the depot. The agent was in charge of all movement of trains that came through Minturn….There were electric lights in the depot, but no domestic water service. All workers in the depot had to bring their own drinking water and they had a pit toilet. The depot also had an area for freight that arrived on passenger trains. The agent had a big, steel wheel cart that they pulled up to the baggage car. The biggest daily shipment was bread and pastry.” [Bill Burnett p. 24]
In 1928, a new 120-foot turntable was set in place, replacing the old 100-foot table installed in 1912. The older turntable could not accommodate the 3600-series simple-articulated locomotives assigned to the area. The turntable and roundhouse dominated Minturn.
I am currently working on the Flynn Family photo albums, given to the Eagle County Historical Society by Jack Hughes, grandson of Katie Flynn Gill, through Shirley Welch. The Flynns lived at Kent just west of Wolcott and documented their lives as railroad employees through photographs. The collection is outstanding and well-labeled, with many identifiable places photographed. When viewed with Bill Burnett’s Minturn, A Memoir in hand, one has an accurate picture of Minturn’s place in Eagle County history.