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Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad
Life and Times: Corporate History, Construction, Route

The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad is my favourite narrow gauge railway, partly because of the scenery, the difficulty, and the underdog status of the road. Another reason is that the DSP was the largest user of Mason Bogies, my favourite locomotive. They were the most artistically finished locomotives of any era, with pin-striping, glorious colour schemes, and curvaceous fittings where rectangular would have sufficed.

This page contains a brief history and route map. Other pages contain rolling stock rosters and histories, plans and drawings, and representative photos of prototype and model locomotives and rolling stock. See "Site Navigation" at bottom of this page for a complete list of topics.

The first DSP&P locomotive was a Dawson and Bailey 2-6-0 built in 1874, named "Fairplay". The second was a D&B 4-4-0 named "Platte Canyon". Five boxcars, five coal cars, thirty flat cars, one baggage and one passenger car were built in 1874 by Hallack and Brothers in Denver -- a  small beginning for a railroad with big dreams for conquering the fearsome mountains of Colorado.

 
DSP&P 2-6-0 #1 "Fairplay", drawing by Phil Ronfor                   DSP&P 4-4-0 #2 "Platte Canyon" built in 1874


Not much equipment was acquired during the slow period between 1874 and 1878. Then new money and the prospect of profits from shipping silver ore brought 14 brand new 2-6-6T Mason Bogie locomotives in 1878. These were numbered 3 through 16, and had names assigned that disappeared in later years. Nine passenger cars from Barney and Smith (6 built by DSP&P at Denver) arrived in 1878 and early 1879. (Left and below: Accucraft 1:20 scale Mason Bogies DSP&P #4 and #6)


Three second hand D&B 2-6-0 Moguls, numbered 17, 18, and 19, built in 1875 arrived in 1879, followed by 5 more 2-6-6T’s, numbered 20 - 24, and four 2-8-6T’s in 1880, numbered 25 - 28.

Twenty seven more passenger cars (including baggage, mail, and combines) and six Pullman sleepers arrived between 1879 and 1884.  Several hundred freight cars, mostly 26 to 27 foot, 10 to 14 ton capacity, were delivered between 1880 and 1884. Some 1883 and 1884 cars had a
capacity of 20 tons.

During 1883 and 1884, a large group of Brooks and Cooke 2-6-0 Moguls and 2-8-0 Consolidations joined the fleet, bringing the locomotive roster to 74 at the time of the UP takeover in 1885. Many of these survived to become C&S locomotives in 1899. Only one of the Mason Bogies made it into the C&S era.

<== Cooke Mogul DSP&P #71

At itx peak, the South Park boasted 74 locomotives, more than 1300 freight cars, and nearly 50 passenger cars spread over 260 miles of mainline tracks.

DSP&P Corporate History
The Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad was a 3-foot gauge railway that served the mining boom of the late 1800’s in the mountains of Colorado. Construction began in 1873. The line from Denver to Leadville via Como was completed in 1880, and to Gunnison through the Alpine Tunnel in 1882.

In 1885, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased a majority interest in the DSP&P, resulting in a re-numbering of all locomotives and rolling stock to match the UP family system. The DSP&P was reorganized in 1889 by UP as the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Railroad.
 

In 1894, the DL&G went into receivership and successfully emerged in 1899 as a profitable enterprise. The Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railroad, previously the Colorado Central, running over the Georgetown Loop to Silver Plume, also came out of receivership in late 1898. The DL&G and UPD&G were then merged to become the Colorado and Southern Railway.

 

The UP mismanagement was now gone and the C&S was profitable, at least for a while. The C&S re-numbered all locomotives and rolling stock in 1899 and again in 1911 -- some cars carried four different road numbers in their relatively short lifespans.

By 1908, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (later Burlington Northern) controlled the C&S and developed some new standard gauge lines to compete with other mainline roads southward from Denver. Narrow gauge nuts like me tend to ignore this phase of C&S history.

C&S continued to run the narrow gauge to Gunnison until 1910, and to Leadville until 1937. Portions of the Gunnison branch were leased to the D&RGW, some of which ran until 1954.

Abandonment began in earnest in 1937 and continued until 1943 with the last narrow gauge train from Climax to Leadville, ending the narrow gauge rule over the South Park Lines. Standard gauge traffic fed molybdenum over this 14 mile route for the war effort, and off-and-on after that into the 1970's.

Today, that section of the old DSP&P Highline between Leadville and Climax is operated as a standard gauge tourist railroad, called the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad.


DSP&P Route
The first track laid ran from Denver south to Sheridan, then west to Morrison. Later the line was known as the Morrison Branch.

The South Park mainline ran from Union Station in Denver, through Sheridan, up the valley of the South Platte River to the town of South Platte, then followed the North Fork of the South Platte through Buffalo Creek and Baileys. West of Baileys, the route ran along North Fork and through the north end of the Tarryall Mountains, through Webster, across Kenosha Pass, to Jefferson and Como, a distance of 88.2 miles by rail.

From Como, the mainline traversed South Park to Garos, where a spur went northward to Fairplay and Alma (also known as London Mills).

The mainline continued south from Garos, over Trout Creek Pass to Schwanders where  a small spur connected to Buena Vista. 

Continuing southwest through Nathrop, St. Elmo, and Hancock, over the southern end of the Sawatch Range, the mainline travelled through the Alpine Tunnel to Pitkin, then west to Gunnison at milepost 208 (measured from Denver).

A short branch line connected to mines at Baldwin, north of Gunnison.

Back at Como, the principal branch line, known as the Highline, went north over Boreas Pass to Breckenridge, Dillon, and Keystone, then turned south to Frisco, Climax, and finally Leadville at milepost 151.3. It crossed the Continental Divide twice, once northbound over Boreas Pass en route to Breckenridge and again southbound on Freemont Pass en route to Climax and Leadville.

Scheduled passenger trains took 8 hours to travel Denver to Leadville. The time-freight took 12 hours and a way freight could take two days.


Route map of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway from Denver to Gunnison with the important side trip to Leadville. The DSP&P was reorganized into the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison in 1889. The line straight west from Denver to Georgetown and Silver Plume was the Colorado Central Railway. The CC was reorganized in 1889 to become the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf (although the line never aimed for the Gulf of Mexico). The DL&G and UPD&G were merged in 1899 to form the Colorado and Southern.

DSP&P Construction
Grading began in August 1873 from Denver to Morrison. The first rails were laid on 18 May 1874. On 20 June 1874, the tracks reached Morrison, and on 03 July 1874, scheduled service began between Denver and Morrison with two round-trip mixed trains per day.

From 1874 until 1878, the company progressed slowly on its mainline, using a series of different construction companies as it struggled to remain solvent. The tracks finally reached the mouth of the Platte Canyon on 04 May 1878, 20 miles from Denver, and by 02 June 1878, the tracks reached 12 miles up the canyon. The tracks reached Buffalo Creek on 17 June 1878. The following year, on 19 May 1879, the tracks reached to the summit of Kenosha Pass and on 27 June 1879 they reached Como.

In November 1879, with the tracks only as far as South Park, the company contracted for the initial construction of the Alpine Tunnel, with an expected completion date of 01 July 1880. The following month, the tracks reached to the summit of Trout Creek Pass. That same year, work began on the branch line, the "High Line", to Leadville, and on 02 July 1880, the first train arrived in Leadville.

The Alpine Tunnel broke through on 26 July 1881, a full year later than planned. The mainline reached Gunnison the following year in 1882.

The Colorado and Southern started dismantling in 1910, with the closure of the Alpine Tunnel. In 1930, the C&S attempted to shut down the mainline through the Platte Canyon, due to a decrease in revenue and traffic. The last freight and passenger trains between Denver and Leadville operated in April 1937, and on 10 April 1937, the South Park Line officially closed. The last regular freight train operated between Denver and Como on 25 April 1937.

The last narrow gauge section, between Leadville and Climax, was converted to standard gauge on 25 August 1943, connecting a number of mines to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the then owners of the C&S.

Follow the links below to see more of this historic narrow gauge railway.