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Central City: 1941

September 1941. "Central City, an old mining town. Mountainous region of Central Colorado, west of Denver." Medium format acetate negative by Marion Post Wolcott. View full size.

September 1941. "Central City, an old mining town. Mountainous region of Central Colorado, west of Denver." Medium format acetate negative by Marion Post Wolcott. View full size.


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Cameo in "On the Road"

"Central City is an old mining town that was once called the Richest Square Mile in the World, where a veritable shelf of silver had been found by the old buzzards who roamed the hills. They grew wealthy overnight and had a beautiful little opera house built in the midst of their shacks on the steep slope. Lillian Russell had come there, and opera stars from Europe. Then Central City became a ghost town, till the energetic Chamber of Commerce types of the new West decided to revive the place. They polished up the opera house, and every summer stars from the Metropolitan came out and performed. It was a big vacation for everybody. Tourists came from everywhere, even Hollywood stars."

Jack Kerouac, "On the Road", Chapter 9

Slip n Slide

I'll bet that road into town was one wild ride in the winter when that road was wet and muddy. I wonder how many times those buildings at the bottom of the hill were slid into?

Sorry, wrong odd signal

Olde Buck and damspot are correct, and I am wrong. I have seen switch targets like this, and I even made a model station with this style of "order board". My bad.

The funny signal

To answer doubleclutchin's question, the object is known as an order board. The days of communicating with train crews by paper sent ahead to a telegraph operator required a way to indicate to the train's crew that there was a message (an "order") for them and to halt and receive and sign for same. The paddles were rotated one way for "proceed," and the other for "stop."

Central City, a terminus location (end of the line), would have been a required stop anyhow, so this board is just serving as an example of the object, not what would have been seen in Central at any time.

Odd signal

Double clutch, that odd signal is a train order signal. Displaying white banner/white light, no orders; red means to stop, sign for and receive orders; yellow would indicate orders to pick up, stopping not necessary. There could be some variation of signals on different railroads, but this is typical.

Just as the locomotive was left for display, it is also possible that the train order signal was put up for display also. I don't know if Central City was a train order office back in the day.

I found the train

Right around the corner on Gregory Street, just past the Post Office and RMO Dispensary.

Face on the barroom floor.

I do remember a saloon there touting "the face on the barroom floor." Wonder if that's still there? Really neat town when we were there in the '80s before casinos.

"Odd" signal device

Answer to Doubleclutchin: that is a switch stand. The target (as it is known) shows the position of the track switch, and is part of the mechanism which operates the switch. The switch (in the track) allows a train to move into one of two (usually) tracks. This switch stand would have been used on a main track so the position can be seen from a distance, telling the engineer if a slow diverging route is set, or the main high speed route. "High" speed here was probably not more than 30 or 40 miles per hour. The vertical rod rotates through ninety degrees when the switch is moved, so displaying to the engineer either square blades (perhaps painted white?) for the slow route, or the round blades (perhaps green?) for the "fast" route

I would suspect that this switch stand was moved here as part of the display. A tall switch stand is more expensive than simpler, low switch stands. Since this is the end of the line, is is not necessary to provide long distance warning of the position of the switch.

End of the Line

Might any of our Shorpy railroad buffs be familiar with the odd-looking signal device to the left of the apparently-shy locomotive?

The back way into town

This is the view coming into Central City via Virginia Canyon Road, known to locals as "Oh-My-God Road." It's a narrow, winding, unpaved road from Idaho Springs, and until a little over a decade ago it was the only access to Central City that didn't require going through the neighboring town of Black Hawk. Gambling interests, which wanted visitors to Central City not to be distracted by the larger competing casinos in Black Hawk, drove construction of the absurdly oversized yet still very steep "Central City Parkway." That road now provides a "direct" route from I-70 when not closed due to rockslides or washouts.

Not exactly Penn Station

The two red brick buildings to the immediate right were station facilities for the Colorado & Southern Railway branch to Central City from Black Hawk. In the vintage photo, note the nose of a C&S locomotive peeking around the corner of the depot. Look about halfway up the distant hillside to see the former right of way. This branch was built in the late 1870s; the attraction was gold and silver mining all through this region.

By 1941, C&S Central City branch had been inactive for a number of years. I think the loco shown was left there for a display of sorts, and later moved. At about this time, C&S was in the process of closing/removing the remains of their once extensive narrow-gauge lines from the mountains.

Today's popular Georgetown Loop RR is a reconstruction of C&S Silver Plume Branch that was already gone by 1941.

Tantalising glimpse

The locomotive peeping around the corner of the building is a bit of a tease, I wonder if Marion covered it in another photo?

[Stay tuned! - Dave]

Centered on Central

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