A date with Kate

Klondike Kate #4 steams west with tour car and passengers in tow Saturday at the 24th annual Boreas Pass Railroad Day. (Photo by Kelly Kirkpatrick, The Flume)

Thanks in part to the annual Boreas Pass Railroad Day in Como, most recently held Saturday, Aug. 17, a magical and meaningful period of American history is anything but forgotten.

For about a 57-year stretch from 1879 to 1937, railway travelers from near and far found themselves at the hub of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad in Como, Colo.

Como played host to miners making their way to and from mining towns such as Breckenridge and Leadville, while also catering to tourists who traveled to enjoy an abundance of scenic splendor that would have been virtually inaccessible without the use of narrow gauge railways.

As travelers stood within the bustling downtown sectors of Como and scanned the seemingly endless expanses of South Park, they also enjoyed a wealth of options aboard the most cost effective and modern form of transportation available at the time: steam- powered rail travel.

The restored Como Roundhouse, built by Italian stonemasons in 1881, served as a maintenance complex and hub for three main lines of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad: one to Denver via Kenosha Pass, another to Breckenridge via Boreas Pass and on to Leadville over Fremont Pass, and the third to Gunnison by way of the Alpine Tunnel and the Palisades. The roundhouse received historic designation in 1983.

Other options for travelers at the time included settling in for a few nights at the Como Hotel, or people watching at the Como Railroad Depot – both sites which are also recently restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tireless efforts on the part of the South Park Rail Society, Park County Historical Society, and hordes of enthusiastic volunteers, have paved the way for the preservation of Como’s colorful past and its prominent place in railway history.

One such volunteer, who was in attendance Saturday to share his knowledge and passion for Como’s railway history, was Don Hansen of Colorado Springs. When asked why Boreas Pass Railroad Day was important to him, Hansen responded without hesitation.

“At one time, and for a considerable period of time, this railway and others like it represented the future of American transportation,” Hansen said. “Towns all along the railway served to improve and maintain rail infrastructure, and to replenish steam engines with water. Como was a vital location and a central hub in those efforts.”

An important piece in the preservation of Como’s past occurred in 2017, when the first steam engine in 80 years rolled into town. Klondike Kate #4, a narrow gauge steam engine built in 1912, was restored to running condition and made her first run since 1952 at Boreas Pass Railroad Day in 2017.

The Baldwin-built steam engine, which once worked the Klondike Mines in the Yukon, is now the focal point at the Como Roundhouse and Depot, the hotel and the Railyard National Register District. An ever-expanding track through town allows visitors to hop aboard a passenger tourist car and to experience travel during the golden age of narrow gauge steam motive power.

Klondike Kate might have been the focal point at Saturday’s festivities, but she was by no means the only authentic piece of history on display. A number of authentic box cars in various stages of repair were also on site.

Additionally, two old but still-operational printing presses from The Fairplay Flume were prominently displayed in the roundhouse, with live demonstrations showing how the early printing presses worked.

The event was more than just a celebration of narrow gauge rail travel; it was also a celebration of music and cultural diversity as it existed during Como’s boom days.

Helping to bring that culture to life was Denver Brass, comprised of 14 professional musicians dedicated to presenting fresh and exhilarating shows that feature all musical styles.

Denver Brass was joined on stage by Celtic Colorado Pipes and Drums. Celtic Colorado is comprised of pipers and drummers who play in bands or as solo musicians from around the state.

A large crowd of spectators assembled near the stage, located in the roundhouse, to hear uplifting, historically significant tunes such as “America the Beautiful,” Civil War brass band medleys, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “Amazing Grace,” and “God Bless America.”

Railroad Day is a joint effort of the South Park Ranger District, South Park National Heritage Area, Como Civic Association, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, Denver South Park and Pacific Historical Society, Como Depot and Eating House, Como Roundhouse, Letterpress Depot, South Park Rail Society and private citizens.

The event highlights the history of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, with many historic buildings available for tours in both towns.

For more interesting information about the history of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, readers can go online to www.southparkheritage.org, or to www.southparkrail.com.

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