Colorado Railroad Museum

We have talked about visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum numerous times and have always wanted to go.  It was featured on Channel 9 News a few months ago which sparked our curiosity even more.  They were offering a free admission day this weekend, so we took advantage.  It is located in Golden near the Coors Brewery about 15 minutes from us.  We entered through the gift shop, a replica 1880’s train depot and decided on the optional “Galloping Goose” ride.  After we walked through the small museum that gave a brief history of the railroad in Colorado, we made our way to the station to take our ride.  As we waited, we saw the largest train they had on display, engine 5629.  It weighs a mere 600,000 lbs and the driving wheels are a massive 6 feet in diameter.  It is one thing seeing these in the movies and in pictures, but to see it in person was unbelievable.  It was truly a steel behemoth.  The goose arrived and we boarded the strange-looking car/train.  These were originally mail carriers used to take mail to the small hard to get to towns in the mountains and later, some took passengers.  There were only 7 of these built in the 1930’s and the museum has three of them.  We took the short loop (3x) around the 15 acre property as we got a history lesson from the conductor.  After riding the goose, we understood where it got its name from: it sways back and forth on the tracks quite a bit.

We got off the train and walked around to see the static displays.  You can go inside some of the cars and engines, but most are locked.  For a fee you can pay for a guided tour and go in all of them, which we might do another time.  They have the oldest engine in Colorado, which was made in 1880 and is about a quarter of the size of engine 5629.  It is amazing to see the old cars made of wood with bench seats inside and then see one of the Rio Grande cars from the 50’s and 60’s, what a difference.  Looking into one of the late 1800’s cars with wood seats wrapped with a red velvet material, I can just imagine women with their bustle gowns and men in top hats riding to the next town.  It is like looking into a time capsule.  One of the most interesting facts we learned was the difference in narrow gauge and standard gauge rails and cars.  I had always heard the terms, but never really thought too much into it.  Standard gauge tracks measure 4 ft 8 in across and narrow gauge measures between 2 and 3 ft 6 in across.  The most extensive and well known of the narrow gauge was the 3 ft wide rails used in the Rocky Mountains.  The narrower tracks and smaller trains were developed to make it through the tight canyons and switchbacks throughout this mountainous region.  One display showed the narrow gauge tracks inside the standard tracks with train cars on either side to show the difference.

Another interesting display was the two examples they had for removing snow from the tracks.  One went in front of the engine and it literally pushed all the snow away from the tracks.  This menacing looking device was called a wedge plow and it was slanted and attached to an open car, which was then weighed down in the rear to compensate for the weight of the snow.  It is about 20 ft long and about 15 feet high and is adjustable.  Another snow removal device was actually part of the engine, called a rotary plow.  It is a huge circular saw that cut up the snow and threw it to either side.  (Click on the links below to see them in action).

Wedge Plow:   

Rotary Plow:   

The Colorado Railroad museum has a lot to offer and I would like to go back in the spring to see everything and especially go inside more of the cars.  It is an evolving museum, as they have a restoration building on site.  They even have two large toy train sets outside.  One is true steam and the other is electric.  The museum is a great representation of our advances in travel and commerce, which helped shape this area in and around the Rocky Mountains. If you haven’t been, you have to check it out.

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Golden, Colorado: Where the West Lives

Since it is in our backyard, we decided to visit the Golden History Center, Astor House and the Clear Creek History Park.  The Golden History Center is located off of 10th and Cheyenne Street in downtown Golden and has lots of historical artifacts dating from the Gold Rush to present day.

Founded during the Gold Rush in 1859, Golden had grown from a dusty mining camp to the capitol of the Colorado territory from 1862 until the capitol seat was moved to Denver in 1867.  The first Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil was found near Golden, it is home to Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum and of course home to the largest single-site brewery on earth, Coors.

During Prohibition beer production stopped and Coors started new lines of business to keep their employees working. Coors began producing porcelain dishes and malted milk, which they sold mainly to Mars candy company.

After visiting the history museum we crossed over Clear Creek and headed to the Astor House.  It was originally built in 1867 and was the original hotel in Golden, serving patrons from miners to Territorial Legislators who met nearby.  In its later years it turned into a boarding house and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Astor House stayed in continuous operation as a boarding and rooming house until 1971.  It has now been restored to it’s late 1800’s historic charm and truly is a walk in the past.  It had one of the first bathtubs in town and for $0.25 a traveler could take a hot bath; I am sure it was appreciated.  From the pull chain toilet to the water pump sink in the kitchen that still works, it is a must see.

A short walk behind the Astor House is the Clear Creek History Park.  This park encapsulates Pioneer life as it was in the 1800’s.  The winters were harsh, life was tough and it took sheer will to survive.  Some of the restored structures that are on display were moved from nearby areas of Golden and ranches outside of town.  There is a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, cabins, barns and even a root cellar.  On select days there are costumed interpreters who help bring the area to life.  The park is about a block from Washington St, so it is another one for the list if you’re in Golden.

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Our walk through Golden’s history would not be complete without a stop at the Old Capitol Grill, one of Colorado’s most historic buildings and best restaurants.  It served as the capitol building to the Colorado Territory and was home to some of the first legislative sessions, until the move to Denver.  Over the years, the building has held many different businesses.  The Colorado School of Mines had early college sessions here, Colorado Central Railroad had offices inside and it served as a mercantile until 1971.  Ok, enough history, it’s time to eat.  K ordered the fish and chips and I had the Buffalo Melt, and both were very good.  I complimented my Buffalo with a Coors Batch 19, which is a pre-prohibition style lager, only available in select cities.  A true sports bar atmosphere in the original Capitol of the Colorado territory: Awesome.

Golden, CO: Home of the 2 Hour Vacation —>