Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Forgotten Railways of Silverton, Colorado

While Silverton, CO is most famous as the terminus for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the town was a terminus for three abandoned railroad lines which ran to points north. During the operation of these lines, the Durango & Silverton was the Denver & Rio Grande's Silverton Branch, which came into service in 1882.

Nope, not this one! Image: D&S 481, c.1980. Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places Photo Collection
The Silverton Railroad ran from Silverton to Ironton, CO between 1888-1926. It, along with the other two abandoned lines discussed in today's blog were owned by Otto Mears to reach various mines in the area north of Silverton. According to, "Mears' intention for the Silverton Railroad was to eventually reach Ouray. The sheer ruggedness of the north slope of Red Mountain Pass made the route very hostile to railways. Mears' originally surveyed route - his toll road - had sections of 19% grade, making it very unsuitable for anything but possibly a cog railway." ( Another Mears attempt to link to Ouray and Ironton was the Ouray & Ironton Electric Railway. The project was graded, but never built.

Silverton Railroad, Red Mountain Pass, 1888. Image via Legends of America.
The longest named road, the Silverton, Gladstone and Northerly Railroad, was ironically also the shortest, as it ran 7 miles north to Gladstone, CO. After 1915, it was the Gladstone Branch of the Silverton Northern Railroad. Chartered and built in 1899, it was abandoned in 1942. While Mears would come to own this line, he did not construct it, as the owners of the Gold King Mine did after his initial refusal to build another route in Colorado.

Image Link
Finally, the Silverton Northern Railroad ran 13 miles northeasterly toward Animas Forks, CO. In 1942 after years of inactivity, the track was repurposed for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to aid in the US war effort. Built in 1895, this was the last Mears project in the Silverton area. Mears originally envisioned this line to run to Lake City, CO, where it could connect to D&RG's Lake City Branch, but the line never ran past Animas Forks.

In 2013, it was proposed by the San Juan County Historical Society to reconstruct a section of the old right-of-way between Silverton and Howardsville, CO. I cannot find any information on their current status, as the website was last updated in 2016.

Map of Silverton, CO Railroad Lines:
In Blue (Left): The Silverton Railroad. In Green (Center): The SG&N. In Yellow (Right) the Silverton Northern.
In Red: The D&S south of Silverton to Durango.

Thanks as always for reading!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Old Colony and Newport Railroad

The Old Colony and Newport Railway was the product of a merger between two railroad charters in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Old Colony and Fall River Railroad merged with the Newport and Fall River Railroad, which had chartered a railroad running from Newport, RI to the Massachusetts state line. This merger allowed the line to continue to Fall River, MA, which it began doing so in 1864.

Steam engine along the Newport Branch. Image: Old Colony & Newport Railway
In 1865, with the acquisition of the Dighton and Somerset Railroad, provided a direct connection to Boston via Braintree, MA.

It, along with Cape Cod Railroad, merged in 1872 to become the Old Colony Railroad, which it remained until the company was leased to the New York New Haven & Hartford in 1893.

Image: "Two ladies are waiting at Middletown Station for the train to Newport." Trains Rhode Island
Traffic along the Newport Branch began to decline post World War I. Bus and automobile traffic replaced much of the passenger traffic. Service continually declined front then on, with the exception of military trains during World War II. The branch survived acquisition of the NYNH&H by Penn Central, and onto Conrail, who filed for its abandonment south of Fall River in the early 1970's.

The State of Rhode Island purchased the right of way, and today the line supports both a tourist train, the Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad, and the Rhode Island Division of Rail Explorers, a railbike excursion using the same right of way.

Image: Rail Explorers
From Fall River, MA to Melville, RI, the tracks are currently out of service. Here's the right of way, showing the tourist operation (in red), and the abandonment (in green).

N&NB Railroad Dinner Train. Image: Wikipedia Commons
A museum for the branch line closed in 2016.

Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Desert Bus: The Most Realistic Video Game of 1995

During the early 1990's, a moral panic ensued about sex and violence in video games and television. Games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap pushed societal boundaries, in part because of how realistic each game looked. Sexually explicit and violent video games had existed since the Atari days, but in all of their 16-bit glory, these now were perceived as corrupting a generation.

Of course, these were outliers among most video games of the day, and in retrospect, did not really impact society, outside of being a catalyst for the creation of the ESRB. At the same time, a collection of games was being developed by entertainers Penn & Teller, known as Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors". The game included six mini-games, five of which were designed to trick players and their friends, much like the duo themselves.

Smoke and Mirrors box art and a screenshot for Desert Bus.
But the sixth game, Desert Bus, was a commentary against those who believed video games were, in fact, hazardous to society as whole. The "game" consisted of the player driving a bus from Tucson, AZ to Las Vegas, NV. Simple, right?

The bus traveled no faster than 45 mph, and the game took place in real time. Meaning that the 360 mile journey took just over eight hours.

There was little to no scenery or interaction along the route, outside of a bug hitting the windshield occasionally, and the ability to activate the horn on the bus. There was no pause button either. The instruction manual explains, "There's no pause feature. No, it's not an oversight. Does your life have a pause control?"

Here's an 8 hour long play through of the game.

The bus always veered slightly to the right, so the player had to constantly steer to maintain lane position. Moving off the road would disable the bus until a tow truck came along, and the tow truck towed the bus back to Tucson in real time. 

If, somehow, the player completed the journey, they would be rewarded. With a single point. After eight hours! Going back to Tucson, one could earn another point. It's been suggested that the game allowed a maximum of 99 points, which would take 33 real-time days of continuous play to achieve.

This was along a single, two-lane roadway. While the game was intentionally realistic to the point of not being entertaining in the slightest, the real life journey between Tucson and Las Vegas couldn't be rendered in 1995's technology. 

In reality, if you were traveling between Tucson-Las Vegas, you would use I-10, US-60, US-93 and the new I-11, which didn't exist in 1995. Also, you'd see a little more than just some cacti, as you'd go through places like Phoenix and the Hoover Dam as well. So if you've ever wished to simulate what a 360 mile long ride through the desert is like, this game is for you, but the experience is more like US-6 in Nevada.

A 10-mile straight section of US-6. Image by The American Southwest
Smoke and Mirrors never officially released despite being almost completely finished, as its developer, Absolute Entertainment, went out of business before the game could release. Only a few copies were ever distributed to journalists, which is what ROMs of the game are based off of. Nonetheless, Desert Bus has attracted a cult following, having been unofficially ported onto PC's, mobile and even the Atari 2600: 

The game, devoid of entertainment, sex, violence, or much of anything, was a biting social satire against those who felt that all video games should be banned or regulated. Based on that, I don't think its anywhere near the Worst Video Game of All Time, as everything that it was, and wasn't, was purely intentional. It was an eight-hour middle finger to Janet Reno and all the other politicians who let ignorance about a new form of entertainment and media dominate the national conversation. How could that be bad?

But if going against political figures isn't your thing, a charity fundraiser where participants play the game, Desert Bus for Hope, raised over $865,000 in 2019 alone. This money supports Child's Play, "dedicated to improving the lives of children undergoing treatment in the hospital with toys and games. The charity supports a network of over 100 hospitals worldwide.".

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Traverse City Leelanau and Manistique Railroad

The Traverse City Leelanau and Manistique Railroad was a railroad line built by the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad to built north from Traverse City, MI. Service ran north to Northport, MI beginning in 1901, and via a railcar ferry over Lake Michigan, connected to Manistique in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, with ferry service starting two years later in 1903. The ferry used a ship known as the Manistique for its journey between Northport and its namesake city.

Sutton's Bay Depot, c.1920. Image via ExploreVistas

In January, 1908, the Manistique sank in the harbor. It was temporarily replaced by an Ann Arbor car ferry but the ferry operation was discontinued in 1908. (Michigan Railroads)

A picture of the Manistique Ferry. Image: Michigan Railroads

In 1919, the line was reorganized as the Manistee & Northeastern Railroad, which served passenger and freight operations until 1955, when those were assumed by the Chesapeake & Ohio. Freight service declined over time, and passenger service ended in 1975.

Between 1989 and 1995, the Leelanau Scenic Railway ran along the branch to Sutton's Bay, MI. After the tourist operation folded, the line was abandoned. Today, the Leelanau Trail preserves the right of way between Traverse City and Sutton's Bay, with the line completely abandoned north of Sutton's Bay.

A switcher engine of the Leelanau Scenic Railroad showing the old M&NE livery. Image: Eddie Gross
Thanks as always for reading!

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Pine Valley and the Oklahoma & Rich Mountain Railroad

The Oklahoma & Rich Mountain Railroad ran from Page, OK to Pine Valley, OK, presently known as Muse. Operations began in 1926 along the 17 mile route. (Right-of-Way)

O&RM RR 205, Unknown Photographer via Pinterest
While almost exclusively a logging railroad owned by the Pine Valley Lumber Company, a subsidiary of the Dierks Lumber & Coal Company, it was nonetheless a common carrier, and did have passenger service along its route, connecting passengers to the rest of the US rail network via its connection to the Kansas City Southern Railway at Page.

A.W. Goke and C.A. Hollopeter. 1931. Soil survey of LeFlore County, Oklahoma [map] via Texas Transportation Archive.

At the end of the line was Pine Valley, a town built by the company, encompassing a significant investment, but also reaching a population of roughly 1,500 during the profitable years of the company.

Oklahoma & Rich Mountain Railroads third motor bus #1 at Pine Valley, Oklahoma in 1937. Image via Pinterest
As the railroad depended almost exclusively on lumber, once forests were depleted around Pine Valley, the main traffic on the line dried up. Thus in 1941, the railroad was abandoned, and Pine Valley became a ghost town not much later.

Further Reading: Ghost Towns of Oklahoma (Amazon)

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Southern Pacific Railroad's South Line (ex-El Paso & Southwestern)

The El Paso & Southwestern Railroad ran in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico during its existence. Constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, the railway owned and operated many lines that connected to the mining industry. (Right-of-way)

Image: Paul McGuffin, 2010, via Abandoned Rails.

In 1912, the main line reached its full extent, extending from Tucson, AZ to El Paso, TX. The collapse of copper prices following World War I greatly affected the railroad, and it was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1924. The SP used the EP&SW as a parallel main line to their own Transcontinental Route, dubbing it the "South Line". 

EP&SW 168 at El Paso, TX. 1/21/1949. Image: Otto Perry via American-Rails
The South Line handled both passenger and freight trains, and remained profitable through its existence. Nonetheless, the Southern Pacific chose to abandon much of the South Line in favor of a single mainline between Tuscon-El Paso in 1959, since there were little sources of traffic along the route. The line remains in service between Anapra, NM and El Paso, TX in the east, and Rancho del Lago, AZ and Benson, AZ in the west.

Southern Pacific Railroad
Docket: 20737 7/28/1959 Section: 1(18)
"Appl. for auth. to abandon portions of (l) the South Line in the Tucson and Rio Grande Divisions between M.P. 1022.480 at or near Mescal, Ariz., and M.P. 1046.390 at Benson Junction, Ariz., a dist. of approx. 23.910 miles in Cochise County, Ariz, and (2) the South Line in the Rio Grande Division between M.P. 1108.941, at or near Douglas, Ariz. and M.P. 1317.817 at or near Anapra, N. Mex., at dist. of approx. 208.876 miles in Cochise County, Ariz. & Hidalgo, Grant, Luna and Dona Ana Counties, N. Mex., together with all sidings, spur tracks, facilities and appurtenances."
Citation: 312 ICC 685&696 (Abandoned Rails)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Kinkora Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad

The Columbus Kinkora & Springfield Railroad was chartered in 1870 to connect New Lisbon, NJ with Kinkora, NJ, 14 miles northwest. The right of way followed the earlier Delaware & Atlantic Railroad, a much earlier rail line ran along a similar right of way, first surveyed in 1827. (Right-of-Way)

Image: New Jersey Department of Transportation
Constructed and in service by the end of 1838, "the line used mule drawn carts riding on iron strapped wood rails primarily to haul wood and charcoal between New Lisbon and Kinkora." (Springfield Township Historical Society)

The line was abandoned at an unknown date before 1870, and the CK&S used its right of way.

Almost immediately after the Columbus Kinkora & Springfield Railroad was completed, it was leased in perpetuity to the Pennsylvania Railroad, becoming the Kinkora Branch after a complicated series of mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies early in its existence. It officially opened in 1872.

Image: Jobstown Station, Springfield Township Historical Society
Just nine years into its existence, about 3 miles of the line were abandoned between Lewistown and New Lisbon at the line's south end. The line rarely served much in the way of traffic until World War I, when its proximity to Fort Dix allowed it to transport troops to/from the base. World War II would once again enhance the line's viability for much the same reason.

After the Second World War, traffic declined once again, but the line would survive until the Penn Central Railroad petitioned for its abandonment in 1971. Abandonment was not granted until Conrail had assumed Penn Central's operations, finally ending the Kinkora Branch in 1982.

Image: Ben Kranefeld, "Though not the original underpass under Rt 130, the Kinkora Branch untilized this route under the state hwy. This newer concrete bridge was created in hopes of creating a "Rails to Trails" pathway" RR Picture Archives

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad

The Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad was an independent line that ran from Baltimore, MD to York, PA, beginning service in 1901. Meandering through the hills, it was a 77 mile long route, despite the two cities only being 45 miles apart the way a crow flies. (Right of way)

The "Champagne Special" crossing the Sharon Trestle - Sept. 14, 1947. Image: Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Society.
The "Ma and Pa" as it was known informally was formed from two earlier narrow-gauge railways; The Baltimore & Delta Railway, which became the  Baltimore and Lehigh Railway, and the York and Peach Bottom Railway, which became the York Southern. As neither was profitable, they merged to combine the route into one, and re-gaugued the right of way into standard gauge.

Despite automobile competition, the railway began to be profitable post-merger, and continued to be up until the Great Depression. World War II would cement profits once again, but after the war, carloads significantly declined. In 1954, the Railway Express Agency mail contract was cancelled by the U.S. Postal Service, and at the same time, the Ma&Pa ended passenger rail. Almost all right of way in Maryland was abandoned in 1958, while industrial operations kept much of the Pennsylvania section open until 1984.

Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad 1502. Image: Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Society.
About 3 miles of the old right of way is preserved between Laurel and Muddy Creek Forks, PA, as the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Society operates a heritage railway along the line.

Image: The last "Ma and Pa" train departs Towson, Maryland, on June 11, 1958. Wikipedia Commons.
Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad 1506 taken in 1993. Photographer: HE Brouse