‘A labor of love’

Coach #70’s restoration could take years

Corinne Westeman
Posted 2/9/21

Community members would hardly recognize Colorado and Southern Coach #70 sitting inside Historic Rail Adventures’ Silver Plume workshop. The exterior on the previously south-facing side was …

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‘A labor of love’

Coach #70’s restoration could take years


Community members would hardly recognize Colorado and Southern Coach #70 sitting inside Historic Rail Adventures’ Silver Plume workshop.

The exterior on the previously south-facing side was completely removed, and the seats were taken out as well. The general frame, the north-facing side, roof and most of the interior remain — for now.

For the past several weeks, railroad employees have been assessing Idaho Springs’ Coach #70 to determine what needs to be done to preserve the car. City officials were scheduled to discuss Historic Rail Adventures’ findings early this week.

The coach, which once ran on the Colorado and Southern Railroad in Clear Creek, is the last of its kind. City officials said it’s an important community asset that needs to be preserved.

Jonathan Cain, assistant city administrator, said staff will hold a City Council work session in the coming weeks so that council can decide how extensively it wants to restore the car and how much it’s willing to spend.

Cain added that he intends to apply for a History Colorado grant to help fund the project, which will be due in August and requires a 25% match.

Step by step

Mike Horner, project manager for Historic Rail Adventures, estimated that about 25% of the coach’s total structure will have to be replaced.

The beams and part of the roof have rotted, the wooden trusses are bad, and much of the siding and sub-siding will have to be replaced, Horner and Georgetown Loop Superintendent Phil Johnson said.

It’s not all bad news, though, as most of the coach’s heavy framework is intact.

Horner and Johnson estimated that restoring the car will take a minimum of 10,000 man-hours, and the price will depend on how quickly the city wants it done and to what degree it wants the coach restored.

Horner, who also worked on Coach #70 in 1982-83, spent 1,500 volunteer hours just restoring its roof and south-facing wall without getting into any structural work. Given that he recently finished a three-year restoration project for the Georgetown Loop’s caboose, Horner said he wouldn’t be surprised if Coach #70’s restoration also took a few years to complete.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said of restoring train cars. “ ... You take it step by step and in order.”

Cain said the city could opt to have the coach repaired to the point that it could operate again, as Historic Rail Adventures has previously expressed an interest in hosting the car at the Georgetown Loop, which the community might support. However, the less expensive option would be to have it restored to be display-only.

An estimate done two years ago by another company said that restoring the coach would be in the $300,000-$500,000 range, Cain described, adding that the city has $200,000 set aside for the project. Along with that and any grant funds, he said the city’s also considered hosting a fundraiser for the restoration work.

Once the assessment is complete and the city figures out the finances, Cain said Idaho Springs will put out a Request for Proposal from companies that could do the restoration work.

While Historic Rail Adventures is a candidate, Cain noted that there are facilities in Golden and Wyoming that do similar work. It could also be a collaborative approach, he said, depending on what work is required.

The last one

Coach #70 was built in 1896 for the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railroad by the St. Charles Coach Company of St. Charles, Missouri. It was ordered along with three other narrow-gauge coaches that also operated in Colorado. These four were built at the same time and cost $3,000 each.

It eventually ran on the Colorado and Southern Railroad, which ran from Denver, up Clear Creek Canyon, through Idaho Springs, and ended in Silver Plume.

Idaho Springs’ coach is the only one of the four that survived as the other three were dismantled in 1939.

In 1941, crews pushed the coach from Denver up to Idaho Springs and then dismantled the tracks around it as the rail line was abandoned, Johnson and Horner described.

So, Coach #70 and Locomotive #60, which is still in its usual spot behind Idaho Springs City Hall, were gifted to the county by the railway. The coach was restored in 1983, and both were given to Idaho Springs shortly thereafter.

Cain said the city eventually wants to have Locomotive #60 restored as well and has discussed building a cover to preserve it and the coach from rain and snow.

“That train basically brought the whole of downtown Idaho Springs into the city and helped start the Gold Rush,” he continued. “ … We want to make sure we do this (restoration) the proper way ... (because) that coach is the last one there is.”


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