Colorado & Southern narrow gauge boxcar 8301 – the garden shed

Just over one-third of the body of Colorado & Southern narrow gauge boxcar 8301 remains today as a shed in Northeast Kansas. In its 106 years of existence, C&S 8301 has been a railroad car for a little over 30 years and a shed – in at least four different locations and three configurations – for over 70 years. 8301’s story is an interesting one that must be told along with that of sister car 8310.

Sometime around 1945, an unknown photographer took this shot of Great Western 2-8-0 No. 2 outside the Loveland engine house. Inadvertently, the photographer also captured a portrait of the boxcar body in the background. Author’s Collection.
Sometime around 1945, an unknown photographer took this shot of Great Western 2-8-0 No. 2 outside the Loveland engine house. Inadvertently, the photographer also captured a portrait of the boxcar body in the background. Author’s Collection.

Relics from the Colorado & Southern’s narrow gauge lines, especially freight cars, have survived mostly by accident rather than any deliberate attempt to save them. The bodies of steel underframed boxcars 8301 and 8310, the only known such original objects floating around today, are a prime example of such unintentional preservation.

A close up of the photo shows the car to have a C&S “Button Herald”. In the original photograph, “C&S 8301” can be clearly seen on the car with a magnifying glass.
A close up of the photo shows the car to have a C&S “Button Herald”. In the original photograph, “C&S 8301” can be clearly seen on the car with a magnifying glass.

Built by the C&S’s Denver shops in July 191, using trucks, steel underframes and other hardware purchased from the Bettendorf Axle Corporation, C&S 8301 and 8310 remained in service for just over 30 years, closing out their time on the Clear Creek line between Golden and Silver Plume. Photographs clearly show 8301 headed to Blackhawk with a load of explosives in 1939, 8310 in the last train from Idaho Springs on May 4, 1940, and photographer Gerald Best found both 8301 and 8310 in a string of boxcars in Denver on May 29, 1941.

Following their retirement, both cars were scrapped and their wooden car bodies acquired by the Great Western Railway. The standard gauge Great Western was built in 1905 to serve the sugar beet factories operated by the Great Western Sugar Company. Based in Loveland, Colorado, the GW ran from Loveland through Johnstown to Longmont, and had a line that ran through Windsor to Eaton. With the exception of the Windsor to Eaton line, the GW remains in use today, although it has not hauled sugar beets since the early 1980’s.

Barring the discovery of either C&S or GW paperwork concerning the sale of the two cars (which may well exist in either the Colorado Railroad Museum’s mountain of C&S papers or within GW boxcar 301, which became the repository of all of the GW’s paperwork when the Loveland depot was cleared out in the 1980’s), the exact manner of how the pair came to be on the GW will remain a matter of conjecture. That said, there are two possibilities:

Direct purchase from the C&S – For the first 50 plus years of its existence, the GW always had a close relationship with the C&S; much of the track material used to build the GW was purchased from the C&S and the C&S’s Denver shops performed major overhauls and other substantial work on the GW’s fleet of steam locomotives. The GW also purchased several freight cars and even a caboose directly from the C&S over the years.

Purchase from a scrapper – Following the abandonment of the Clear Creek line in 1941, the freight cars used on the line were retired and presumably sold as scrap as the C&S had no further use for them and there was not really a market for narrow gauge freight cars at the time. (Had the line made it another year, the cars might well have gone to the White Pass & Yukon like many of the cars that were used between Leadville and Climax between 1937 and 1943). Scrappers would remove the metal parts from the cars and then sell the wood bodies locally as sheds. The GW was also a regular buyer of used freight cars from various dealers and was known to occasionally purchase a car body for use as a shed.

The earliest known photo of C&S 8301 on the GW (reproduced with this post) shows that the cars arrived on the GW fairly intact. The C&S lettering had not been painted out and all of the grab irons and roof walks were intact. Initially, the entire body of 8301 was placed on the ground to the south of the GW’s Loveland engine house, while 8310’s initial location is not presently known.

By the mid 1950’s, the pair had been placed in their final position in the Loveland yards. Located on the south side of the mainline, east of the engine house and in between the legs of the wye, the narrow gauge car bodies were part of a shed “complex” used by both the track crews and carmen over the years. The “complex” included actual sheds used to store motor cars (speeders) and track tools, along with the bodies of two standard gauge wooden C&S boxcars.

C&S 8301 and 8310 were combined into a long shed, placed upon a platform so that the end of the shed was at flatcar deck height, and used to store railroad crossing signal materials. The body of 8310 remained mostly intact, just having its ends removed, while all but 13’6” of the “A” end of 8301 was discarded. The stub of 8301 was placed behind 8310, resulting in a roughly 44’ long shed with doors on the north (track) end. By this time, all of the grab irons had been removed from the cars, along with the roof walks. The shed was painted in the GW’s standard cream/yellow and brown paint scheme and put to use. While a trained eye would notice that the signal shed was actually made of boxcars, the only real clue to the building’s origin came from the original reporting mark stencils (C&S 8301 and C&S 8310 respectively) that remained inside the cars, adjacent to the door opening.

A 1984 photo shows the GW’s “shed complex” in Loveland. C&S 8310 and 8301 make up the long shed in the background. Author’s Collection
A 1984 photo shows the GW’s “shed complex” in Loveland. C&S 8310 and 8301 make up the long shed in the background. Author’s Collection

By the mid 1990’s, the entire shed “complex” had fallen into disuse and the buildings and car bodies were stuffed with items no longer used by the railroad. In 2003, the GW indicated plans to remove the “complex” as the space it occupied was needed for other uses. As there would be expense in demolishing the car bodies and removing the rubble, GW management accepted my offer to remove the two narrow gauge cars at no cost to the railroad. The question now became what to do with them?

The then restoration manager at the Colorado Railroad Museum, Andy Dahm, was enthusiastic about the opportunity for the Museum to fill in a hole in its collection, and the museum accepted the body of 8310. That left the stub of 8301, which I moved to my home in Niwot, Colorado to use as a shed as no one could really think of a reason or way to display just over 1/3 of a once steel underframed C&S narrow gauge boxcar body.

C&S 8310 and 8301 pose for one last photo as the Great Western’s Signal shed. March 6, 2004.
C&S 8310 and 8301 pose for one last photo as the Great Western’s Signal shed. March 6, 2004.

Moving day for the pair came on March 6, 2004. The boards covering the gap between to two car bodies were removed fairly quickly and easily and the stub end of 8301 was removed first, lifted by a crane and placed on a semi for transport to Niwot. Once there, another crane was used to lift the body off the semi and place it on a railroad tie foundation. Eight years later, in May of 2012, the process was repeated when 8301 was moved to Kansas.

8310 was moved to the CRRM and initially placed on a set of D&RGW trucks, moved onto one of the tracks adjacent to the roundhouse and used to store lumber. Later that year, then Georgetown Loop Railroad operator Lindsey Ashby donated the steel underframe and trucks from C&S 8308 to the Museum and plans were made to merge the two into a C&S boxcar.

The stub end of C&S 8301 is lifted onto a semi trailer for its trip to Niwot on March 6, 2004.
The stub end of C&S 8301 is lifted onto a semi trailer for its trip to Niwot on March 6, 2004.

As of late 2016, the stub of 8301 is continuing its career as a shed, presently housing lawnmowers and other tools in northeast Kansas, while the body of 8310 remains at the Colorado Railroad Museum, resting on the frame of sister 8308, awaiting commencement of the project to merge them into the most original of the three steel underframed C&S boxcars in Colorado. (The other two cars 8311 atop Boreas Pass and 8323 in Breckenridge have entirely new bodies constructed on the original steel underframes.)

A worker guides the crane as preparations are made to lift C&S 8310 off of the platform it had occupied for the last half century. March 6, 2004.
A worker guides the crane as preparations are made to lift C&S 8310 off of the platform it had occupied for the last half century. March 6, 2004.
March 8, 2004 found C&S 8310 sitting on a pair of D&RGW trucks at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.
March 8, 2004 found C&S 8310 sitting on a pair of D&RGW trucks at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.
The remaining portion of C&S 8301 is now into its 8th decade as a shed. Bendena, Kansas, January 2, 2016.
The remaining portion of C&S 8301 is now into its 8th decade as a shed. Bendena, Kansas, January 2, 2016.

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