Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad

On Harps and Stubs

A distinguishing characteristic of DSP&P era photos is the ubiquity of the so-called "harp" style switch stands and the stub switches they controlled. Harps were also used by the D&RG and many other standard and narrow gauge railways before the turn of 20th century.

The DSP&P used two different styles; the early versions had the railway's initials "DSP&PR"cast into the housing. After the Union Pacific take-over in 1885, they started to use a somewhat different style with the letters "18 UP Ry 83" cast into the housing. Some very early harps may have been fabricated instead of cast. 

These switch stands were used on both 2- and 3-way stub switches. The target on the lever arm leaned away from the direction of the turnout, or stood vertically for the straight through run on athree-way switch. The target was painted red or yellow, and some illustrations show them as circles painted red on a white background. The overall height of the harp was about 3 feet and overall length of the lever arm was about 6 feet.


Photo of a DSP&P harp style switchstand on a stub turnout at Jefferson water tank, probably circa 1880's.


Extract from Phillip Ronfor's "Night Train" (left), showing the DSP&P harp switch stand. One-sixth scale model (center) has 3 slots on the top edge of the harp to position the lever arm, which is locked in place with a key placed in the slot. The UP version (right) has 3 holes instead of slots to lock the lever arm, giving rise to 3 bumps on the top edge of the harp. The model was produced in the 1970's (author's collection). The height of the model's harp is 6" and the lever arm is 16" from the pivot to the tip of the target.

Use "Save Picture As" to capture this hi-res image.

Richard Kindig's drawing of the UP style harp switch stand is somewhat different than the UP version shown earlier. This one shows a wider harp profile with lots of curlycues in the casting. The lever arm on this plan is about 6 feet tall.


The only large scale harp switch stand on the market that I know of is Ozark Miniatures #107 switch stand. I haven't used any yet but they might dress up my (non-stub) LGB switches. Here is the photo from their website, enhanced a bit for clarity.


Mal Ferrell's sketch from the index page of book "C&Sng".



Two-Way and Three-Way Stub Switches

Stub switches were common on many railways of the 1800's and the DSP&P was no exception. Some stub switches survived well into the mid-1900's on industrial spurs in various parts of North America.

A two-way stub switch (left) and a three-way stub switch (right) in the Como yard. The lead tracks are shifted sideways to line up with the desired route using a switch stand (rotary or harp-style). The term often used was "bending the rails" although the rail was never actually bent, just shifted at one end and pivoting at the fixed end. These switches needed a lot of housekeeping under winter conditions.

Stub switcges in Como yard with the 6-stall stone roundhouse in the background.


Examples of some 3-way stub switches showing location of frogs and guard rails.

Layout of ties on a typical 3-way stub switch. 

A slice of DSP&P rail from Alpine Tunnel, 3-3/8 inches tall, 3-5/8 inches wide at the base. The width of the base and the height of the rail in the late 1880's era were equal, so this slice of rail shows moderate wear. According to ACME tables, it came form rail that weighed 45 pounds per yard.