Monday, May 22, 2017

Fun with the Short Line’s Push Cars

Steven Wade Veatch and Peter Doolittle

The narrow-gauge Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railroad, or Short Line, was built along what is now the Gold Camp Road. By 1901, the train ran all the way from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek. This was the shortest route from the goldfields to Colorado Springs. Train cars, filled with gold ore, rumbled along the rails behind powerful steam locomotives to mills on the west side of Colorado Springs. The route also operated two daily passenger trains that provided service each way.

Figure 1 is an antique postcard that shows what is known as a "gravity car" that was popular with tourists, photographers, and other interested people from the Pikes Peak region who took a trip on these gravity cars that rolled down the grade at fast speeds from a point known as the “Summit” eastward to Colorado Springs.

Figure 1. This photo shows two tourists riding down a grade of the 
Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek Railroad on a gravity car. 
This photo is on a postcard.  From the S. W. Veatch collection.

These gravity cars could reach speeds of 40 MPH! What a thrill that must have been in these early days. This car appears to a lever operated handbrake. The location depicted in the postcard is Point Sublime on the Short Line. The lake in the distance is at the Broadmoor Casino, now the Broadmoor Hotel.

The white post in this picture is most likely a warning for a crew operating a flanger, or snow plow, that there is a bridge or tunnel ahead. There is probably some structure or obstruction out of view to the left in the postcard. Note the guard rails between the two outer rails going to the left. Those are usually present on a bridge or trestle, possibly a tunnel, to keep derailed equipment from falling off into the abyss or causing damage to the structure being protected. 

This so-called gravity car was known as a push or hand car and was used by section men or "gandy dancers" who were responsible for inspecting and maintaining a section of the railroad track. The gandy dancers used the push cars to get to and from the section they were working on that day. Push cars were a more primitive version of the pump handle handcar depicted in old movies. Someone, standing on the deck of these cars, would push them along on flat or level track by using a pole they pushed against the ground. In the case of mountain railroads, such as the Cripple Creek railroads, the push cars would be lashed onto the back of a train going upgrade and then allowed to coast down from the top of the pass or grade, carrying a gandy dancer along his section of track.


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