Calumet Branch Facts
The Calumet Branch of the D&RG was built as narrow gauge in 1881, with 6.8 miles of main track, laid with 35 pound iron rails. It was a spur off the Tennessee Pass main, running from Hecla Junction (in Browns Canyon) a little over eight miles due east to the Calumet Mine, appropriately. The line existed to haul iron ore from the Calumet Mine down to Salida, where it would then be moved on to the C&FI mill in Pueblo.
The line was extremely steep and twisting. Over half of the of the line was at 7% - specifically the section through Railroad Gulch (Box Canyon). The rest, from Camp Jeffrey (MP 5.6) to the Calumet Mine eased out to 6%. Curvature was tight, with some curves coming in at 22 degrees. Sources indicate that early engines used on the branch needed to be outfitted with shims under the boiler, to keep the crown sheet from going dry due to the grade. (A dry crown sheet is, of course, the first step in the cataclysm known as a boiler explosion, to be avoided at all cost.) Later units apparently no longer had the problem.
Train handling was also a bit unusual on the branch. The early years brought the standard train - engine, cars, caboose. After about 1883-1884, however, trains operated up the branch with the empties in the lead and the locomotive on the rear (loaded trains still operated locomotive-first). For the trip down the hill, each ore gon was assigned its own personal brakeman, who would sit there and crank down the brakes repeatedly through the trip. Due to the grade, brake shoes would wear quickly enough that repeated tightening was apparently necessary. Despite the steepness and heavy loads, only one significant runaway was ever reported in the 20 years of operation.
The Calumet Mine closed in 1899, but Turret, CO (just northwest of the Calumet Mine), was experiencing a small gold boom at roughly the same time. For the next several years, the D&RG would haul in the occasional load of coal, or haul out a load of gold ore, but never really enough to make the branch worth it. However, on 3-Aug-1901, a flash flood ripped down through Railroad Gulch, destroying nearly the entire branch. Service ended at this point, though the rails were left in place for another two decades. Several efforts were made to convince the D&RG to reopen the branch to serve possible new mining developments, but none of these were successful. Finally, on 7-Sep-1923, the D&RG petitioned the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for permission to formally abandoned the line, and it was granted without any sort of a fight. What little of the branch remained was removed later that year.
Calumet Branch Timetable