Kids today and Steam Railroading

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Feature by Chip Deyerle

(May 23, 2015)  Morrison, CO – Just off of Colorado 285, near Morrison, the road sign says “Tiny Town Railroad”, ¾ mile, Next Left.”  We make the turn at the base of a mountain grade about 30 minutes west of downtown Denver. Immediately we are among some of the tallest pines in Colorado, complete with a mountain stream surging beneath the dark green canopy.  It’s springtime in the Rockies and the winter run-off is almost even with the stream banks.

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Beneath this canopy we first hear a real steam engine whistle, loud and clear.  As we pull up to turn into the parking lot, there is a buzz of activity taking place among many child-size homes and houses, banks, churches, car dealership, hardware store, drugstores, department stores, library, school houses, playgrounds, restaurants, florists, even a Moving and Storage Warehouse.

Our visit today is to enjoy the 100th Anniversary of Tiny Town and the Tiny Town Railroad. This special occasion is marked with a special anniversary cake for the visitors to Tiny Town.  In keeping with the tradition, volunteers and staff wore period costumes set at the turn of the last century to add a sense of history to the occasion.

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“Nestled in a mountain valley is Tiny Town opened on this date 100 years ago in 1915 and despite its age, it is still popular as ever with little kids and big kids. What is so special is that Tiny Town has its own steam and diesel railroad, but in 15-gauge configuration.  The tracks from the out-sized rail depot and ticket office run the perimeter of the Tiny Town city limits, crossing two trestles over famed Turkey Creek. There is even a rail tunnel named “North Portal” after a real railroad tunnel of the same name nearby.”

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A brief History of Tiny Town…

“Tiny Town was created at the site of the Denver-Leadville stagecoach stop in a scenic mountain canyon southwest of Denver in 1915. That’s when moving company owner George Turner began erecting one-sixth sized buildings with a turn of the century flavor to delight his young daughter.”

“In 1920 the town was opened to the public.  In just five years, it became one of Colorado’s top attractions.”

“By 1939, the “World Famous” Tiny Town Railway was in operation.  By Then, Tiny Town was creating thousands of special memories for kids of all ages.”

“But the historic town was not without its setbacks as fires, floods, and changing economic times often kept this special palace on the edge of extinction.”

“So in 1988, volunteers adopted the resurrection of Tiny Town as a civic, charitable project.  Individuals from the entire state refurbished original buildings, created new structures and got the railroad up and running again.”

“The Tiny Town foundation was created in 1990 to establish Tiny Town as a not-for-profit effort and ensure the cherished village would never be threatened again.  Each year the foundation has been proud to donate a portion of the proceeds to various area charities.”

“One thing about Tiny Town hasn’t changed over the years – Kids always have a big time in Tiny Town.”

“Families spend hours admiring over 140 colorful buildings, each individually handcrafted by Colorado volunteers.  Many of the structures contain detailed interiors to spur the imaginations of young and old alike.  And some buildings let kids crawl inside and view the town through tiny windows.”

“Tiny Town’s turn-of-the-century downtown features a fire station, toy store, ice cream shop, moview theater, gas station, grade school, library and many other colorful buildings.”“

On this day, the Inter-Canyon Fire and Rescue is on hand with an EMT unit and a fire truck.  They’ve set up display of equipment all firefighters must have, along with a real fire hose for the smaller visitors to try out on a target.

There is also a restored antique fire truck from the 1920s, complete with fire bell and a hand-cranked siren.  Kids and adults take turn trying to crank the siren, putting on an old firemen’s helmet and trying to turn the steering wheel.

Of course the biggest attraction of Tiny Town is the TTRR, the Tiny Town Railroad. It features several different engines that have run for many years on the TTRR. Each steam engine is a a 15-guage replica of a real steam engine running on the Durango and Silverton RR and Cumbres and Toltec RR in southwest Colorado and New Mexico.  Add to that, the engines run on live steam from burning coal!  Built to scale, each engine features virtually the same parts as their big brothers and provides more than adequate power for the half hourly runs around d  TTRR.

If you are wondering who still builds and produces 15-gauge steam engines, look to Uhrich Locomotive Works in nearby Strasburg, Colorado.  In fact, ULCO has not only built the locomotives, but the rail cars as well.   ULCO also makes parts for steam engines across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  While not mass-produced, each part is made from iron castings that are poured from a Coke Furnace and Foundry at ULCO.  Production runs for parts are usually small to meet the requirements of their customers, one of which is Tiny Town.

For more information about Tiny Town, see their website at www.tinytownrailroad.com or call 303-697-6828.

End of Part 2