What if Mr. Moffat's Railroad hadn't have gone broke? - Ken Bailey


David Moffat was a billionaire, and a visionary. More than a century ago, he dreamed of crossing the Front Range of the Rockies with rickety railroad tracks -- braving steep grades, severe weather, desolate location, and strained supply lines -- at a time conventional wisdom said it was impossible (existing railroads of the time turned north or south and Denver and crossed the barrier of the Rockies a hundred miles out of their way!)

Moffat was aiming for Salt Lake City, Utah. He threw his men and his money at the imposing and solid barrier with all he had. In time, he did the impossible -- his steam trains came chugging down the western slope of the Rockies, having proven it possible.

But the monumental task had bankrupted him. Towns and villages could not grow up along the new railroad line and sustain it as they had on other, less severe new lines. Weather and rock slides and harsh operating conditions played havoc with his trains. And the tracks sputtered and came to an end just beyond the little town of Craig, Colorado, far short of Salt Lake City, and not that far short of a little not-yet-town waiting for a railroad so they could unleash their own attack on fabled deep oil beneath them -- a little town named Rangely.

What if Moffat had not gone bust? What if he had made it to Salt Lake City with his trains, after all?

In real life, the orphaned railroad was connected to the existing Denver and Rio Grande, who built a connection from their own winding line and as a result found a much quicker way to get to Denver from points west.

The rest of the truncated Denver and Salt Lake R.R. lived on also -- coal traffic has kept it alive all these years.

Not many know it, but -- almost right up to the creation of AMTRAK in 1971 -- a little passenger train plied the line, as well, taking passengers and supplies to towns such as Steamboat Springs (and Craig?), a long way from the Rio Grande main line to the south.

In this fantasy drawing by Ken Bailey, we see a different world. The little train of real life -- the YAMPA VALLEY MAIL, does not turn back at Craig, but continues on westward on tracks that never were built.


We see it -- a proud Alco PA diesel and a few passenger cars -- pausing at the depot in Rangely -- a depot never built -- to take on passengers and mail as the crew talks with a local -- Fred Nichols, perhaps? -- and checks their watches.