Crested Butte Branch Facts
The Crested Butte Branch was built in 1881 as an extension of the original narrow gauge D&RG mainline into Gunnison, meant to tap the coal mining regions to the north. At its peak, there were eight mines operating in the mountains above town, as well as well over a hundred coke ovens for purifying the product for iron and steel production. The largest group were owned by Colorado Fuel & Iron as part of their vertical integration strategy that fed the furnaces and mills at Pueblo.
Only a few years after the original branch was constructed, a spur from Crested Butte out to Anthracite was added in 1883. This spur would primarily serve the Smith Hill Mine, and would be abandoned in 1946, before the rest of the branch.
In 1893, the Floresta Spur was added, coming off the main Crested Butte Branch at Floresta Jct, just south of Crested Butte proper. The 11 mile branch ran out to Floresta, near Kebler Pass, to serve a CF&I mine. Abandoned in 1929, most of the roadbed today is the grade for Colorado Hwy 135. This branch is sometimes called the Ruby Anthracite Spur, and is not the same as the proposed DSP&P? Floresta Branch, which was never built but would have extended from Baldwin over Ohio Pass into Floresta.
These particular lines had snow problems nearly unlike anywhere else on the Grande system. The Grande had covered turntables at both Anthracite and Floresta. During the winter, Rotary OO was on the Crested Butte Branch extensively between 1916 and 1955 at the request of CF&I, and usually spent all its time working on the branch.
Except for the Anthracite-Crested Butte section, which was abandoned in 1946, the line continued as a vital piece of the narrow gauge to the very end. During the final days, CF&I's Crested Butte mine loads were said to account for some 66% of the total traffic coming out of Gunnison. When CF&I decided to dismantle the "Big Mine" at Crested Butte in 1954, that was pretty much the last nail in the coffin for both the Crested Butte Branch and the Marshall Pass line. Most of the traffic gone, the route was pulled up in 1955.
Crested Butte Branch Timetable