Heritage Rio Golden Train

Steam returns to the rails at Heritage Square.

In the summer of 1998 once again the mournful sounds of the train whistle can be heard as Rio Golden and Engine Number 463 take to the tracks at Heritage Square. Built from the ground up the engine is an exact 5/12 (5 inches to the foot) scale model of an old steam train that runs on 15 gauge track. (That's 15 inches between the rails.) The cars are again exact models of Rio Grande's gondola cars. The train will take you on a journey around Heritage Square where you can enjoy exquisite views of Denver and the Front Range.

History of the Rails at Heritage Square.

In 1957, Magic Mountain, what is today known as Heritage Square, broke ground. This 400 acre park was to include amusement rides, an old west town, picnic areas, a live theater, and old style steam trains. While Magic Mountain never became a reality, in 1971 Heritage Square did. The builders of Magic Mountain left behind a steam engine and about a quarter mile of narrow gauge track. The steam engine never did see any action on the tracks of Heritage Square but it was a center piece of one of the first restaurants at Heritage Square, The Railroad Restaurant, where you could enjoy your meal in one of the splendid dinning cars or in the depot-like setting of the building. In the early 80s the steam engine that majestically stood sentinel outside the restaurant was sold to the Durango-Silverton line in southern Colorado. Today you can enjoy an event at The Victorian House and watch the train come choo chooing by.
The year 1972 saw the completion of Magic Mountain's dream when at last steam came to the rails at Heritage Square. High Country Railroad began and Engine Number Nine, a German narrow gauge steam engine, began a happy second life at Heritage Square. The year 1974 saw an addition to the High Country line. This addition would take visitors on a one and one half mile ride across two trestles and around two beautiful lakes. It circled the perimeter of the Victorian village and provided guests with a wonderful view of Golden, Denver, and the Front Range.

Railroad history in Colorado

With mines tucked far away in Colorado's rugged mountains and with more and more ore coming out of those mountains every day, miners needed a way to transport their precious metals to the smelters far away. There was also a need to get supplies to the mining communities. The initial plan was to use standard gauge railroads (four feet, eight inches between rails - the same distance between stage coach wheels). The wide beds for standard gauge had to be cut into the solid mountain sides. The Colorado Central was one of the first narrow gauge railroads in Colorado. A Mr. Edward Berthoud suggested that rails three feet apart would be more cost effective. Although the difference is less than two feet, when stretched out over the miles and miles of mountains, the savings would be substantial. Narrow gauge equipment could also negotiate the tighter curves and steeper grades that the formidable mountains demanded.

Whistle Signals

Before today's cell phones and radio technology, there existed an extensive network of signals known to all railroad men from a brakeman to the engineer. These were whistle signals that could be understood as far away as the whistle could be heard. It is said that the operating rules are written in blood. Each time there was an accident, it was reviewed and a new rule was added to the rule book. Used in concert with whistle signals are hand signals and flag signals. Each and every engineer must learn to recognize and follow signals correctly.
A hand swung at a right angle to the track means STOP!
A hand raised and lowered vertically means PROCEED!
A hand swung in a circular motion slowly at a right angle to the track means BACK UP!
A succession of short whistle sounds is used when an emergency exists, or persons or livestock are on the track.
One long whistle when stopped means air breaks are applied and pressure is equalized.
Two long whistles means release brakes and proceed.
Two short whistles are an acknowledgment of any signal that has no specific response.
Three short whistles when stopped means back up or as an acknowledgment of hand signal to back up.
Four short whistles is a request for a signal to be given or repeated when a signal is not understood.
One long and three short whistles means for the flagman to protect rear of the train.
Three shorts and one long whistle means for the flagman to protect the front of the train.
Four long whistles means that the flagman may return from the west or south.
Five long whistles means that the flagman may return from the east or north.
Two long, one short, and one long whistles are used when approaching all public crossings. The signal is prolonged or repeated until engine occupies the crossing.

So on your train adventure, listen to the signals and see if you can figure out what they are talking about!

Time-line of Golden, Heritage Square and the surrounding areas

This site where Heritage Square exists today has been found to contain remains of an Indian village and a sacred Indian burial ground. Some people claim to have seen the ghosts of these noble people still walking the grounds of Heritage Square.
Heritage Square is a replica of a late 1800's Victorian village built at the edge of the famous Morrison Formation. This geologic formation contains the largest collection of dinosaur bones ever found. It continues into Vernal, Utah where they are continuing to dig for fossils of these fantastic creatures. Today you can visit Dinosaur Ridge, a building once located on the historic Rooney Ranch, which today houses dinosaur fossils and conducts tours of the geologic formation.

High fashion in Europe and the eastern half of the United States brought trappers and mountain men to the Rockies for beaver pelts and other furs. Mountain men rendezvous were popular events in the area with the primary purposes being the bartering of goods and the drinking of "Taos Lightening". The rendezvous went on until 1830 when fashion decreed that top hats be made out of silk, thus making beaver pelts virtually worthless.

By this time, the United States Army was making exploratory trips into the Rocky Mountains, with the Golden area as its jump off point. Many of the Mountain Men transformed themselves into Army scouts, helping to establish routs, forts, and weigh stations for westward bound pioneers.

A miner from Georgia by the name of Green Russell panned the first "color" (gold) out of Cherry Creek. This was the onset of the Colorado Gold Rush.

A year after Green Russell made his discovery in Cherry Creek, another Georgia miner, John Gregory, found gold in the mountains along Clear Creek. The town of Golden was established in 1859 as a supply center for those going to the diggings as well as the smelting center for ore coming out of the mountains.

1864 to 1867
William A. H. Loveland was one of the enterprising merchants who saw the promise that was Golden. He helped found the little town at the gateway to the mountains and the gold and silver camps beyond. Golden was the capital of the Colorado Territory from 1864 to 1867. Loveland was among those who who wanted to make Golden the capital when Colorado attained statehood in 1876.

A 21 year old German immigrant moved to the spring laden Clear Creek valley in Golden. His name was Adolph Herman Joseph Coors. In 1873 he and his partner Jacob Schueler established the now famous Coors Brewery. In 1880, at the age of 33, Coors bought Schueler out and became the sole owner of Coors Brewery.

The Colorado Territory achieved statehood and the capital was moved to a growing town on the plains of Colorado named for John Denver. Today Denver proudly boasts of a gold covered state capital building dome a tribute to the proud miners who founded Colorado.

The Apex station, or the Old Binder residence in Apex, was destroyed in an arson fire. Apex, the "point of summit" of two roads (the St. Vrain and Golden Road from the North and Jackson Trail from Colorado Springs to the South) sprung up in the early 1860's. Apex was also on the old Georgetown stage road and marked the first station where horses were changed after leaving Denver. However, after the destruction of the Binder residence, the last remnant of the town of Apex was removed. Part of the trail, however, can still be followed up the hill behind the place where Apex once thrived.

Henry Ford had built his first automobile, picnics and boating along the small lake at the old Apex site were common, and as the excitement of Gold Fever and gunfighters drew to a close, Golden and the surrounding area settled in to await the turn of the century.