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CHAPTER VIII—MINES AND SNOW PEAKS OF COLORADO; THE WATER-BRAKE

THE next convention we attended was held at Denver, Colorado, in October, 1899. We went by way of St. Louis and Kansas City, and the trip was full of interest. We travelled six hundred miles over the plains, seeing adobe houses, tumbling weeds, great cactus-covered stretches, and prairie-dog villages. Then, as we neared Denver, the mountains came into view, and we obtained our first glimpse of the great Rocky Range stretching along the western horizon. At first, we could scarcely distinguish their distance-tinted outline from the blue of the sky. Soon Pike's Peak appeared, and gradually a panorama of exquisite beauty was unfolded, as the three distinct ranges became discernible through the distant mists. The range second in height looked like a sea of azure hue, and the towering snow-caps above like throngs of angels with the lowest range for their footstool. With all this beauty in full view we reached Colorado's capital. It didn't take us long to discover that hotel accommodations were scarce for so large a body of people, for between five and six hundred delegates usually attend, accompanied generally by their wives, and frequently by their children. Finally we located at a boarding-house on the European plan, taking our meals at restaurants. At that time, the streets were not paved, and when it rained the mud was something to dread, and when it dried the alkali dust blowing around was "fierce." We didn't mind such things as these, however, as there was so very much to enjoy. We found the city quite pretty, with plenty of shade trees (cultivated growth), and bounded on the north and west by the mighty range whose summits are crowned with perpetual snow. The average elevation is very high, and at one place it is said to be one mile above sea level. The air was peculiarly bracing, and Frances was surprised after washing some handkerchiefs to find them thoroughly dry ten minutes later in a dark room.

A delightful mountain trip was an excursion over "The Loop" to Silver Plume, tendered the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers delegation by the Union Pacific Railroad. On the way, we saw lovely views continually, and never tired of looking at them. After passing several picturesque places, as we wound farther up the mountains, we came to Georgetown, the loveliest of them all. The town is situated in a valley, and as it lay glistening in the sunlight far below us, was a sight to be remembered. It is a mining town, and we saw some of the mines, and the miners at work. Our terminus was just beyond. The mountain is so steep at this point that a smart piece of engineering was called into play. In order to get up higher, the track runs along under a bridge, gradually ascending, then passes over the bridge, thus forming a loop which was the only way Silver Plume could be reached by rail. The train stopped on the bridge to get a full view from there. The snow-peaks rising on either side, the creek far below, rolling and tumbling over the rocks, and that beautiful town spread out in the valley, made a charming picture. We left there reluctantly, and soon arrived at Silver Plume, four thousand feet above our starting-point. We learned that the name was derived from a mine in that vicinity. Several of the miners' children crowded around the coaches offering specimens of ore for sale, and found ready buyers.

Snow lay on the ground; and several of our people made snowballs and pelted each other. We ate our dinner on the top of the mountain, and had good appetites. The mountains in that region showed great bare places where the scanty timber had been rolled down. On the return trip, some of the delegates went through the train making up money for the two engineers and firemen who pulled our train. A nice sum was collected. We reached Denver at eight o'clock, well pleased with our outing.

A few days later, the Denver and Rio Grande offered an excursion to Leadville, but only my wife and I and one other couple accepted the invitation. Stories were circulated about how people going up there were apt to have the blood gush from their noses, ears, and eyes, on account of the high altitude, and nearly everybody was afraid to go. We arrived at 7:40 A.M., and took the omnibus for Hotel Kitchen where we had an excellent breakfast, after which we started out to view the place and ramble over the snow-flecked mountains. The streets were long, with plank walks on either side. We started up the one nearest us, and when we reached the first rise, everything looked so wonderful that we concluded to go on and investigate the mines. We made the descent into the "Matchless" owned by the Governor of Colorado, being let down a distance of three hundred feet on a square kind of platform called a cage, and operated by a wire cable. Upon reaching the bottom, we were given a candle apiece, and shown around. There were thirty different branches of tracks for the little tram-cars. When we returned above ground, we saw the engine that ran the cable and also visited the building where the ore is tested by chemical process. In our rounds, we met a man whom we had known in former years. He was the undertaker of Leadville, and he gave us a good deal of information, telling us, among other things, that the town had a population of twelve or thirteen thousand and was run by Lynch Law. He also confirmed two statements that had been made to us, namely: that it requires thirty-six hours to cook beans, and that cats cannot live there, or if they don't die right away, they have fits. As for ourselves, we felt no inconvenience whatever from the ten thousand feet of altitude, but greatly enjoyed the atmospheric buoyancy, and walked for several hours without being any more fatigued than if we had taken an ordinarily long walk. My friend told us that if we wanted to see the finest collection of ore specimens in the State, and didn't object to go into a saloon to see it, he would take us. And a wonderful collection it was! At the mines we had been given some pieces of gold ore which we carefully guarded as souvenirs.

From Leadville we went to Pueblo to join the main body of engineers on a trip to Marshall Pass. Reaching Pueblo at 1:50 A.M. we spent the remainder of the night with a Brother Engineer and were awakened early for the start. Brass bands were aboard and the music made things lively. From start to finish, the trip was one never to be forgotten, with points of interest following each other in rapid succession. When about forty miles from Pueblo, we entered the Grand Canon of the Arkansas which in the Royal Gorge is only wide enough for just the track and the river, while its walls of granite rise nearly three thousand feet high. The swaying of the train rounding the many curves, combined with the upward viewing, made quite a number of the people sick, while many of the others waited until later to succumb to the most dreadful feeling, car sickness. Needless to say that Frances and I escaped.

At Salida we waded into our lunch baskets, and again wondered how much more our appetites would increase in those mountain regions. We were now only twenty-five miles from Marshall Pass. The excursion train consisted of twenty-one coaches in three sections. As we wound higher and higher up among the mountains, we could look ahead and see the first section far above, and, in a short time looking behind, could see the third one as far below us. The scenery was magnificent, similar to that we had seen going over "The Loop" on the Union Pacific. We passed through several snow sheds, with the snow peaks coming nearer and nearer, until the white mountains lay all about us, and we had reached the top of the Rockies. It is almost impossible to describe the stupendous grandeur of the view that met our gaze. The spiral way up which we had come showed four lines of track, the last one far, far below us, while near at hand we looked over miles of cone-shaped summits. It was warm when we left Denver, but cold enough up there, where a mist of rain and snow filled the air, but the inclemency of the weather did not deter a throng of souvenir hunters from getting off to look for rocks, mountain wheat, and pine cones.

When we began the descent, I rode on the engine as far as Salida, and was very much interested in the water-brake. It is only used in descending mountains, and when the air-brake fails to control the train, it is operated by a stream of water flowing from the water line in the boiler into the steam-chest right under the valve, so that the reverse lever can be handled as easily running down steep grades, as if the engine were standing still, with the steam shut off. The water floats the valve on the valve seat.

It was very cold when we reached Salida where we took supper at the Arlington, then boarded the regular train and returned to Denver, ready for business on Monday morning. This convention was one of the best I ever attended, closing November 5th. When we left Denver snow was plentiful, and we saw it on the ground for miles after leaving there.


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