100 Years Ago Today: Murder-Suicide at Tolland Station

Oak Creek Times, March 7, 1919

More tragedy on the old Moffat Road this week. On January 29th it was a boiler explosion on the hoodoo Engine No. 100 near Dixie Lake that killed two coworkers. Today it’s a murder suicide at the Tolland railroad station of the Denver Northwest & Pacific that left two friends dead.

In 1919, Tolland was the last railway stop before the big climb on the Moffat Road known as Giant’s Ladder, which topped out at the Continental Divide. The town is in a valley along the S. Boulder Creek, surrounded by mountains, with the crown of them, 13er James Peak, visible in the distance.

James Peak as seen from Tolland, CO with the railroad station on the right
Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Department

Tolland was previously called Mammoth in its pre-railroad days, when it was a mining community and a wagon stage stop. The name changed when an attorney, Charles Hansen Toll, bought the land in 1893 for $1,000, renaming the town after his wife’s ancestral home of Tolland, England. Toll died in 1901, leaving the land to his wife, Katherine, who saw an investment opportunity when the DNW&P railroad came through in 1904. She and her children platted the land and sold off parcels.

Toll Inn, in Tolland, CO, burned down c.1910
Originally called the Mariposa Inn

Tolland had a year-round population of 250 in 1919, many of whom, like our soon-to-be-dead, W. H. “Shorty” Allen and James Carton, worked for the railroad. Commuter trains allowed for seasonal residents as well as day-trippers from Denver to come up to the cool and scenic Tolland at 8,900′, and the town grew a reputation for being a resort town. Tolland had shops, a dance pavilion, picnic shelters, saloons (until Colorado Prohibition in 1916), hotels, and the University of Colorado even built a Mountain Laboratory of Field Biology aka the “Bug House” in 1909.

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Tolland circa 1900

But March is not tourist season. It’s cold season. And by the end of the day on March 6, 1919, two bodies would be very cold indeed. Shorty Allen and James Carton were both from Colorado Springs, and by other accounts were intimate friends. They had worked together in Tolland for the past six months. They were bunkmates, coworkers, and bachelors. I imagine them spending a lot of their time together. Maybe a bit too much time in the end.

Tolland Depot, rebuilt brick by brick from a Denver station
Giant’s Ladder railroad cuts in the background

The trouble between the men started over wash day duties, of all things. It’s unclear whether we’re talking clothes washing or house cleaning/washing. Regardless, Shorty Allen got mad at his friend, James Carton, because he thought Carton had shirked water carrying duties the previous week, and this week Carton was using too much water, which he didn’t have to carry. Every week, you see, the other one had to carry the water back to the railroad car where they bunked.

Allen got so mad over spilled milk…err…water that he picked up a broadaxe that had been sharpened to a razor’s edge and when Carton was bent over, he plunged the axe into Carton’s back, which severed his spinal cord and sunk into his lung. Carton fell to the floor and quickly bled to death.

Two other coworkers, Frank Hullenback and H. H. Wilson, who were also on the Moffat Railroad Bridge and Building Crew, witnessed the gruesome murder and ran out to tell others what happened. While they were gone, Allen, crying over what he’d done, took his .22 caliber rifle, and shot himself in the head, falling down dead over his friend’s body.

Tolland, Colorado in 1926
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Restored Tolland School House, today

100 Years Ago Today: Blizzards and Lizards

Montrose Daily Press, March 4, 1919

M. H. Loeffler was a tailor and prominent Grand Junction Elk member who was known not only for his custom suits, but also for promoting and selling the Hynes Level Measure, which was the first instrument of its kind that could measure the angle of a person’s shoulders.

Hynes Level Measures as sold by Loeffler

Anyway, he was riding the not-mentioned-by-name Rio Grande Southern Railroad in today’s article. The RGS was a narrow gauge railway built between 1890-1893 by the legendary “Pathfinder of the San Juans”, Otto Mears.

The railroad navigated through the steep, majestic San Juan mountain range in southwestern Colorado in order to connect the mining towns of Ridgway and Durango. It featured several hundred-foot long stretches of trestle bridges in order to pass through such dramatic mountain terrain, which also meant it was expensive to build and maintain.

Lizard Head Pass on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Line

Soon after it was completed, the RGS suffered from the Silver Panic of 1893 when the area’s mines closed en masse. The railroad would continue to struggle financially through the Great Depression, but it managed to survive until 1953 by pivoting from expensive steam locomotives to the odd-looking hybrid railcar called the Galloping Goose, which ran from 1931 – 1952.

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Galloping Goose with Lizard Head Rock in Background

The fleet of seven Galloping Goose railcars had motorized bus bodies fitted with cow catchers up front, and they featured a passenger car in the back. Originally painted black and green, all seven were painted silver in 1935 and remained so until their end. The Galloping Goose railcars were all built in manufacturing plants in Ridgway, and they carried mail between the small San Juan towns in addition to becoming popular tourist rides as well. Today you can find Galloping Goose railcars #2, #6, and #7 at the Colorado Railroad Museum, railcar #4 in Telluride, CO, railcar #5 in Dolores, CO, and railcar #3 at Knott’s Berry Farm in California.

Colorado Experience episode on the Galloping Goose railcars

Now let’s head back to the year 1919, where our friend Loeffler is on a steam-powered train on the Rio Grande Southern, heading over the iconic Lizard Head Pass when the train he’s on runs into a natural phenomenon that today’s weekend travelers on I-70 may have seen pummel their route: a huge avalanche.

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Avalanche covers I-70 near Copper Mountain on March 3, 2019

Another reason why the RGS was so expensive to maintain is that any winter service required a constant battle against snow. Loeffler says that 20-30 feet of snow has piled up near Windy Point, which is located just north of the iconic Ophir Loop. That snow total seems like a stretch, but ok.

If he came from Lizard Head Pass in the south, traveling north to Montrose, then that means his train also passed through the notoriously avalanche-prone Ames Slide area, where I’d fully believe that 20-30 feet of snow could have piled up. Regardless, I can only imagine the anxiety of traveling by rail through so much snow.

Blue Line is the Rio Grande Southern Line near Ophir
Rio Grande Southern being dug out from massive snowfall

Today, you can drive over Lizard Head Pass on CO-146 and see the titular Lizard Head Rock spire, which was once featured at the center of the Rio Grande Southern seal. In 1911, a huge rockfall occurred on Lizard Head Rock which took out the larger, taller spire and left the smaller spire as the most prominent feature, which it still is today. Albert Ellingwood, storied mountaineer, recorded the first known ascent of Lizard Head Rock in 1921. Read his trip report here.

Rio Grande Southern Railroad logo featuring the iconic Lizard Head Rock
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Lizard Head today
Rio Grande Southern Railroad on Lizard Head Pass

100 Years Ago Today: Lunatic Threatens to Cut Off Police Chief’s Head

Herald Democrat, February 14, 1919

Governor Oliver H. Shoup (shoop ba-doop) was elected the 22nd governor of Colorado in November, 1918, and he was already receiving death threats by February, 1919. “Lunatics” weren’t wasting any time. Granted, Shoup’s own head was not under threat but that of a proxy, Hamilton Armstrong, long-serving Denver Chief of Police. Neither Shoup nor Armstrong were harmed by the unknown letter writer. Both men died years later of heart attacks.

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Governor Oliver H. Shoup
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Chief of Police, Hamilton Armstrong, with head firmly attached to shoulders

The letter this “lunatic” sent was oddly signed. The writer drew a person’s left hand and wrote “one hundred and fifty White Caps” on the hand. Originating in the mid-1800s, “whitecapping” was the crime of threatening a person with violence in order to influence their behavior. White Cap societies were anonymous groups that used whitecapping to intimidate people. This letter writer supposedly had a group of 150 people behind their threat. In the 1920s, the KKK, wearing literal white caps, became the most notorious and influential of these groups in Colorado.

An article from Montrose Daily Press from the same day describes the letter as a “black hand threat.” The phrase “black hand threat” has its roots in Italian-American extortion rackets, for gangsters and mafia members would send letters threatening their target, often signing it at the end with a drawing of a hand. A film about the origins of the Mafia, called The Black Hand, starring Leo DiCaprio, is currently in the works.

Montrose Daily Press, February 14, 1919

Another interesting piece of the whitecapping letter: the writer disavows themselves from the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World), but claims, “there is some power behind us.” Newspapers at this time often lumped together the I.W.W., Bolsheviks, and Anarchists together as violent, dangerous, anti-American organizations, despite the fact that none of these groups agreed with each other, and most members of these groups detested violence. Regardless, I’d love to know why the writer wanted his target to know the I.W.W. had nothing to do with the threat.

A bit more about Governor Shoup: he served as governor for two terms, from 1919 – 1923, but he declined to run for a third term. He is best known for opening the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which runs beneath James Peak (13,301′ high). Moffat Tunnel opened the Middle Park area up to a more reliable Denver supply line, and it provided Denver residents with a faster way to get to Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. Shoup helped create the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District that sold bonds backed by real estate taxes, which funded the tunnel.

Gov. Shoup at the Moffat Tunnel East Portal Opening Day
Denver Public Library, Western History Dept

Before being elected governor, Shoup attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He left college to pursue business ventures in banking as well as oil, and he was the first president of the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company. During his political career as governor, he oversaw the creation of the State Highway Department and a restructuring of the Colorado National Guard. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

Denver Police and Fire Chiefs. Chief of Police Armstrong circled.
Gov. Shoup signs ratification of 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote
President Wilson with Gov. Shoup leaving Brown Palace in Denver

103 Years Ago Today: Flanger Jumps Track, Hits 75mph

Chaffee County Republican, February 5, 1916

A flanger is a railroad car that clears the area between the rails of ice and snow. A flanger would often be used in conjunction with a rotary snow plow when there was significant snow buildup on the tracks.

Whereas a rotary is placed on the front of a train to blast the majority of the snow forward and sideways, the flanger is at the back clearing the rails nearly down to the ties. Because the flanger blades sit so low to the ties, the operator would need to lift them before the car crosses any switch or grade crossing.

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D. & R. G. W. flanger car at the Colorado Railroad Museum

The article says the runaway flanger started near the water tower at St. Elmo, but since I couldn’t find any pictures of that, here’s a restored water tower near the old Woodstock station just a few miles to the west of St. Elmo. This water tower was the Alpine Junction tower.

Restored water tower near old Woodstock station

Check out the video below to see a flanger in action on the Durango & Silverton line. At some point I really need to ride this Durango and Silverton narrow gauge — looks like so much fun!

I accidentally selected 1916 instead of 1919 on my date search in the Colorado Historic Newspapers database, but I didn’t realize it until after I’d already learned about flangers, which are really a neat piece of railroad history. Since they were still in use in 1919 I’m going with it

100 Years Ago Today: Two Men Killed in Boiler Explosion

Steamboat Pilot, January 29, 1919

Railroading was so incredibly dangerous 100 years ago. One of the reasons why these old pictures and stories of railroad routes through the Rockies leave me shaking my head in awe is just how much risk there was in building, maintaining, and operating these lines.

Engine No. 100, pre boiler explosion, near summit of Moffat Road
Photo Courtesy of Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library

I’m especially fascinated by the Moffat Road, aka Rollins Pass Road, aka The Hill Route, aka Corona Pass Road. I’ve run it, I’ve skied it, I’ve seen people snowmobiling, driving, and biking it. The 100+ year old route is alive and semi-well today, despite the Needles Eye tunnel being caved in since 1990, the Devil’s Slide trestles in disrepair, and the iconic Riflesight Notch hanging on by some decrepit ties. But still it persists over the Continental Divide.

The “road” was originally a path used by Utes and Arapahoes for thousands of years. In the mid-1800s it became a wagon route to Middle Park and points north. At the turn of the century, millionaire David Moffat incorporated the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad and secured the funding to make it into a railroad route, and construction began in 1903-1904.

Moffat Road map from Tolland to Tabernash
Moffat Tunnel (completed 1928) the dashed line

At the time, Moffat Road was the most direct railroad from Denver to Middle Park, but it was incredibly costly to maintain, especially during the winter, when giant rotary snow plows were necessary to move the many feet of snow on the track. The road’s 2%-4% grade was also very difficult for engines to complete, and in 1928 the opening of the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which allowed the railroad to traverse under 13er, James Peak, made the Moffat Road obsolete.

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Rotary Snow Plow on Moffat Road

In 1919, the Moffat Road was still in regular use, and terrible accidents like derailments, forest fires caused by engine sparks, and rarer events like the boiler exploding in today’s article, were unfortunate occurrences in railroad life.

The Routt County Sentinel ran an article on this boiler accident on Jan 24th, with more details about the explosion. They said it was the “first accident of [its] kind in history on Moffat Road.” They also reported that the boiler cylinder blasted forward 225 feet, and an ejector valve flew backward 200 feet. I can’t even imagine the concussive sound of such an explosion.

According to the Routt County article, the explosion took place not so much near Tolland, which is at the eastern base of the hill climb, but farther up the road on Brogan’s Cut, near Dixie Lake, which is right at treeline, a few miles after the road is more consistently at the steeper 4% grade. Dixie Lake is now known as Jenny Lake, which is about 1/2 mile past Yankee Doodle Lake.

Jenny Lake (bottom right) and Needles Eye Tunnel (center right) as seen from high above and long ago

The Routt article refers to the Dixie Lake “siding,” which is where a track splits off from the main line, and in this case there was a water tower fed by Dixie Lake at the siding. Did the boiler explode because it was low on water? If the train had made it to the siding to re-fill the boiler would this tragedy have been avoided? I couldn’t find anything more than speculation about the cause of the catastrophe.

Maybe they shouldn’t have put Engine No. 100 on this Moffat Road auto tour brochure for motorists produced sometime in the 1960s-1970s

100 years ago today, reports of a boiler exploding on the (possibly cursed “hoodoo”) Engine No. 100 while ascending Moffat Road near the Continental Divide, killing two men, Engineer Carlin and Fireman Proctor, while injuring another, Brakeman Behringer.