Part I – The Beginning
Welcome to my latest restoration project – finishing out a narrow gauge boxcar that I have had for almost 15 years and getting it ready to go back home to Colorado. By this summer, Colorado & Southern boxcar No. 8027 should be in Como, Colorado as part of a project by the South Park Rail Society (southparkrail.com) and the Denver South Park & Pacific Historical Society (dspphs.org) to restore the railroad facilities in Como. Como was a division point on the Colorado & Southern narrow gauge line that ran from Denver to Leadville. The line was abandoned in 1937, leaving the original stone roundhouse, wood depot and brick railroad hotel in Como still standing.
Given that the weather here in Kansas is not suitable for working outside at the moment, I thought I would start with the story of how I came to own C&S 8027 and why the heck it ended up in Kansas. This will be in several parts, starting with how I found the car.
Thanks to my interest in railroads, I developed the “ability” to spot decrepit wood boxcar bodies that had been transformed into farm sheds with merely a glance. At one point, thousands (if not tens of thousands) of such cars could be found along Colorado’s Front Range and Eastern Plains. Though their numbers have dropped off precipitously in the 21st Century, as unrestrained urbanization has become the norm and age has caught up with them, there are still quite a few to be found in that area. Anyway, that ability is what led me to C&S 8027.
For several years, I had noticed a smallish looking wood boxcar body at an old farm on Isabelle Road east of Boulder, Colorado. The farm was on a route that I took quite often heading to my brother’s house. The car was set back from the road quite a ways, somewhat hidden behind another outbuilding, but I could see enough of it to tell that it was smaller than most standard gauge boxcar bodies that are floating around. I thought there was a slight possibility that it was a narrow gauge car of some sort, though I figured that the chances were slim to none.
During the summer of 2004, I noticed that the house on Isabelle Road was vacant ,and by the fall it was for sale and showed signs that no one had been around for quite a while. Driving by one day, I decided to pull in and take a look at the boxcar, so I parked my car and walked over to it. Leaning in through the open side door of the boxcar, I was quite surprised to see “C&S 8027” stenciled along the top of the opposite wall of the car. (Railroads typically stenciled their initials and the car number inside the car, above the side doors, so that workers loading a car would know what car they were in. Often this is the only surviving lettering on a boxcar body and the only chance of positively identifying the car.) Not only was it a narrow gauge car, but a Colorado & Southern one at that. This discovery brought the total number of known surviving wood framed Colorado & Southern narrow gauge boxcars to one.
A bit of research confirmed that car’s history: it was built by the St. Charles Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri in December 1898 as one of a group of 40 narrow boxcars (numbered 8025 to 8064) for the newly formed Colorado & Southern Railway Company. No. 8027 served the C&S for almost exactly four decades, arriving at the start of 1899 and being retired at the start of 1939. (Surviving C&S records indicate that No. 8027 was “Dismantled” in Denver in January of 1939. The most fascinating of these records is a large handwritten ledger in the collection of the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden that contains the record of every rail car owned by the C&S from 1899 to the 1970’s and records every event that happened to each car from its acquisition to retirement.) “Dismantling” essentially meant scrapping. Everything metal was removed from the wooden car body, useful parts were perhaps kept by the railroad, the rest was sold for scrap, and the body itself was sold intact to anyone looking for an outbuilding or shed.
Clearly the car was (at least to a train freak such as myself) historically important and worthy of being saved. It was also a massive project. Along with having everything metal (save the door hardware) removed when it was scrapped in 1939, it had also been sitting outside with little-to-no maintenance for 65 years. As the car seemed relatively secure, I decided to keep an eye on it while I tried to interest someone else in doing something with it.
In the meantime, there were two other C&S narrow gauge cars that I had been “keeping an eye on” for several years. The bodies of baggage car No. 3 (Built by the Union Pacific in 1874) and a combine (which I am pretty sure was C&S 42 or 43) were on what was once a farm on the west edge of Longmont, Colorado that had been developed into houses in the 1970’s. Attempts to talk with the elderly landowner met with limited success and in 2004. The property was sold to a local developer who planned to raze all of the structures on the property. The developer was quite receptive to the idea of someone else undertaking the expense of removing the railcars, gave them to me, and assured me that he would let me know when he was ready to have them moved. By early 2005, a plan was starting to come together for the cars and the developer indicated that nothing would be going on at the site for a few more months. Then one night in February 2005, I drove by and all that remained of the old farm was a freshly bulldozed plot of land and a smoking pile of rubble that had once been a house, a barn, a couple of sheds and two railroad cars.
This experience, along with convincing me never again to set foot in one of Mr. “Developer’s” properties, spurred me to action on C&S 8027. The next morning, I called the listing agent for the house on Isabelle Road and asked if I could buy the boxcar body. The agent was mildly confused at such a request, but quickly accepted my offer of $500.00 so I found myself in possession of a quite decrepit but historically significant boxcar and not a clue in hell what to do with it.