About 1,200 Routt County residents experienced the rides that took
people from the Depot Art Center past Hayden and back to Steamboat.
Even before the train blew its whistle, you could tell it was near by the unmistakable shrieks and laughter coming from the throngs of children standing along the train tracks Thursday.
"All day long, the kids have been so excited and curious," said Karen Tussey, who organized six free train rides for residents on a vintage Union Pacific passenger train Thursday and Friday.
However, during the 1930s and 1940s - the height of passenger train travel in the Yampa Valley and the U.S. - children would not have reacted that way to the sight of a train.
"Back then, we didn't go fast. We didn't have cars or planes. This was it," she said.
Tussey, who worked 17 years for the Operation Lifesaver train education program in Denver, said although part of the ride was about train safety and awareness, the other part was exposing people to the romance and experience of traveling by train.
"My hope was that people would experience the romance and ease of train travel," she said. "It doesn't seem to matter how old or how young you are, trains are magical. It's a very gracious and romantic thing to ride a train."
About 1,200 Routt County residents experienced the rides that took people from the Depot Art Center past Hayden and back to Steamboat. The train was provided from Union Pacific's private collection of vintage cars that are no longer in use. The train left Chicago in early June and traveled across Nebraska before arriving in Colorado this week.
"It's a rare treat to be able to ride in these gorgeous historic vintage cars," Tussey said. "It's very authentic."
An original placard that hung in the Columbine car explained the "personality" of the car.
"It's a thrilling and romantic business - this process of taking tons of steel, glass upholstery, paint and welding them into a thing of beauty, charm and personality," it read. "People sense this personality of the Columbine the minute they step on board. Here is a great train that has about it an air of delicacy and beauty."
Passenger Chrissie Hodges agreed.
"This is a great opportunity for us to remember our roots and where we came from," she said. "It's incredible to watch what's flying by and think people traveled like this all the time back in the day."
Hodges was dressed in historical attire Thursday to portray Emma Hull Peck, founder of the Routt County Teachers Association. Hodges visited every train cabin to deliver a historical monologue and some history about the use of trains in the Yampa Valley.
"I think people really enjoyed having a character on board representing the era when passenger trains were around," she said. "Me being here makes it feel like the passengers are part of the time, part of the atmosphere. People really seemed to live the fact that it took about nine hours to get to Denver from Steamboat by train. I can't even imagine."
Tussey said passenger trains quit servicing the Yampa Valley in the 1960s, although coal trains have remained a staple in the valley. The first railroad tracks were laid in the late 1880s by Charles Moffat, who had dreams of connecting Denver to Utah. Moffat's dreams never came to fruition after experiencing financial hardships. However, he is credited for laying the tracks that connected South Routt with Steamboat Springs.
Tussey said she noticed passengers sharing stories about the area's history during the ride.
"I saw camaraderie. I saw people sharing and a lot of laughter," she said. "Most of all, I saw people engaging in the history of our area and sharing with other people stories about who lived here when, who grew up here and who bought what piece of land. It was wonderful."
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