Narrow Gauge Combo Car 211 Arrives at Museum

Hinsdale County Museum took possession of one of its largest and most challenging artifacts in its four-decade-plus history on Thursday morning last week.
As previously reported, the museum completed
arrangements with South Fork, Colorado, resident Don Shanks last fall to acquire narrow gauge railroad Car 211, a combined passenger and freight car which was used on the Lake City branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in the first several decades of the 20th Century.
According to museum president Grant Houston, the historical society board of directors “thought long and hard” before taking on the challenge of acquiring the local railroad car.
“Our board concluded that this was very possibly the last opportunity for the Lake City museum to preserve and interpret a narrow gauge car which had actually been used on the Lake City branch of the railroad. The car, according to Houston, illustrates dwindling economics in the early 20th Century as the former 44-passenger car was reduced to 24-passenger capacity and combined with a freight car.
The passenger car with a gently sloping “duck bill” roof with a series of small ventilator windows, was orignally built in 1881 but was massively reconfigured in 1900 as “Combo Car 211” combining both freight and passengers.
Houston terms the local branch of the Denver & Rio Grande as the “lifeblood” of Lake City in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Car 211 is shown in a variety of historic pictures on various sections of the Lake City line, including being sidelined in front of the Lake City train depot while apparently stranded in the 1921 flood.
Two of the most enthusiastic museum volunteers responsible for bring the train car back to Lake City are Scott Campbell and Jesse Kendall. Campbell has closely studied designs for Car 211 and says its is recognizable by it window pattern and two chimneys for potbelly wood stoves, as well as a vent leading to a small toilet cubicle in the passenger compartment.
In addition to a wood stove and toilet, passengers in Car 211 were illuminated by hanging kerosene light fixtures and were supplied with a water cooler.
After leaving Lake City, 211 was formally retired in 1940 and was used as a storage container at Flying D Ranch near Fort Lupton, Colorado, after being stripped of its metal wheels and underpinnings.
It was stored in Monte Vista, Colorado, after being acquired by railroad buff Don Shanks in 2002.
Following a successful fundraising effort, Hinsdale County Museum purchased Car 211 last fall, together with narrow gauge wheel trucks to replicate the car’s original under carriage.
Grant Houston credits support from Hinsdale County in transport of the car and metal trucks to Lake City last week. With county commissioners’ permission, Hinsdale Road & Bridge Supervisor Monte Hannah arranged for Car 211 to be loaded onto the county’s flatbed truck piloted by shop foreman Don Menzies and JoAllen Blowers.
Prior to the car being loaded last Wednesday afternoon, June 27, museum volunteer Kendall had gone to Monte Vista to install stout timber bracing within the car.
Kendall, joined by Scott Campbell, then returned to Monte Vista on June 28 as Brian Gilbert and Pablo Villarreal of Monte Vista’s MVMT Crane Service gently raised and lowered the car onto the county’s waiting flatbed utilizing dual slings. Once loaded, county road & bridge personnel Menzie and Blowers, followed by Campbell and Kendall, personally delivered the car back to Lake City late Wednesday afternoon via Spring Creek and Slumgullion Passes.
According to Gilbert, Car 211 weighs 16-tons. Adding to the car’s overall weight are two 3-ton metal wheel trucks which were loaded and hauled to Lake City last Thursday on a separate flatbed truck.
MVMT Crane Service’s 50-ton crane arrived in Lake City last Thursday morning after spending the night in Gunnison. Crane staff Gilbert and Villarreal declined to drive the crane over Slumgullion Pass, instead preferring a lower-altitude route from Monte Vista to Saguache, then State Highway 114 to Highway 50 near Gunnison, and up Highway 149 to Lake City on Thursday.
A sizeable crowd of spectators, including South End residents John and Jean Taylor, who drove up especially for the occasion, were on hand last Thursday morning as first the metal wheel trucks and then Car 211 were unloaded into the yard at Hinsdale County Museum. Assisting in the unloading were MVMT Crane Service employees Gilbert and Villarreal, museum volunteers Campbell and Kendall, and Don Menzies and county mechanic Jeff Lanktree from Hinsdale County Road & Bridge.
In advance of the car’s arrival, volunteers had extended narrow gauge ties and track near the museum’s southern boundary on Silver Street, in the process pushing the museum’s other narrow gauge car, caboose No. 0588, to the eastern end of the railroad tracks adjacent to the Transportation Building.
As envisioned by the museum’s board of directors, fundraising will continue for a multi-year renovation of Car 211. After renovation is complete, the museum will feature a two-car train exhibit.
Narrow gauge Car 211 is undoubtedly one of the largest artifacts to be acquired in the history of Hinsdale County Museum.
This summer’s principal fundraiser, envisioned by the museum as a benefit for the railroad car’s renovation, is a Pub Crawl which will be held Wednesday afternoon, August 1. Tickets benefiting Car 211 restoration are $40 per person and include an overview of the planned car restoration by Jesse Kendall and Scott Kimball at the museum, after which the crowd will trot off to three separate Lake City area pubs where local historian Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, Phil Virden and Grant Houston will discuss particular aspects of Lake City history.
Each tour member will receive a souvenir beer mug and samples of beer at Lake City Brewing Co., Restless Spirits, and Packer’s Bar & Grill. Tickets for the event are available in advance at the museum.
Artist Kathy DuChene has created a poster supporting the Car 211 restoration which will serve as promotion for the event. Copies of the artwork are also suitable for framing and will be available for purchase at Hinsdale Museum.
Other weighty preservation challenges taken on by the local museum in its four-decade history include the two-room Smith-Grantham House which was donated to the museum in 1981. Hinsdale County Road & Bridge has a long history of assisting Hinsdale Museum loading and relocating its weightier artifacts, starting in 1988 when crusher equipment from the old Contention Mill on the upper Lake Fork was donated to the museum by Joel and Celia Swank.
Most recently, Hinsdale Road & Bridge used a flatbed to gingerly relocate Caboose 0588 from its original location in front of Hinsdale County Courthouse to its present location on the museum grounds. In 2012, following the Papoose Fire on the Upper Rio Grande, Hinsdale Road & Bridge moved the heavy two-room log Civilian Conservation Corps outhouse from 30-Mile Resort to Hinsdale Museum.