I suggested to Bill that at the same time as the UPRRHS Convention we do the excursion on the Wyoming and Colorado Railroad out of Laramie the day after the 3985 trip. They had two ex Alaska Railroad FP-7s, ex Santa Fe coaches and two open cars. The trip would be 54.6 miles to Fox Park on the former Union Pacific Coalmont Branch and included several loops that overlooked the valley below. The trip would include photo runbys as well as lunch. Anytime I can ride some new rail miles I'm going to jump at the chance to do just that. Bill and I drove over Sherman Hill and found the train next to the Wyoming Territorial Prison which is now a state park. We boarded an open car for the trip since it was a beautiful Wyoming late June day.
A little history of the line is now in order. The line was organized as the Laramie, Hahn's Park and Pacific in 1911 and started building west towards Centennial. It was nicknamed the Long Hard Pull. The construction was very slow. Over the early years the line went bankrupt on a number of occasions and it was renamed. In 1914 it became the Laramie North Park and Western and in 1924 was reorganized as the Colorado Wyoming and Eastern. It was sold to the Union Pacific in 1957. Traffic on the Coalmont Branch boomed until the mid 1980's when all of the surface coal that could be mined easily was gone. When the UP was operating the line, it was the curviest coal haul on the entire railroad. The line was sold to the Durbanos in 1987 who operated the line up to either 1994 or 1995. Our train for this trip was the two FP-7's 1512 and 1510, two coaches, an open car, two more coaches, the other open car and two more coaches.
We left on time and crossed the Laramie River on our way west out of town. To the north there was a radio tower as the train made a turn to the north for a short distance before returning to its westerly course. The train ran straight across the high prairie with Big Hollow seen off to the south and crossed the route of the old Overland Trail with the wagon ruts still there on the way to Miller. Off to the west is the Snowy Range which is also the nickname of this route. To follow the contours of the land we turn north along the slope of a hill before turning southwest and running along the Mamooth Ditch. We crossed Dry Creek after Millbrook with Bald Mountain standing out to the northwest. We had entered the Centennial Valley and next crossed Ward Gulch with Corner Mountain standing guard to the northwest. The train crossed Nash Fork and entered the town of Centennial which has a depot and a caboose relocated north of the highway. The train turned to the south to run up the Centennial Valley with the Mountain Range of the same name to the west. We crossed Kelly Creek, the Middle Fork of Bucks Creek and Curican Creek as we headed south for the mountains in front of the train.
We started our climb by making a sweeping turn to the east before another one sweeping to the south to gain elevation. We headed southwest and crossed South Creek before we curved around the base of the canyon crossing the highway before climbing to the northeast. We looped back to the southwest winding along the base before turning to the north crossing the highway and making another horseshoe curve to reach Albany where we crossed the same road for the third time. Muddy Mountain stood to the west as we turned to the east and snaked our way along the slope to the Lower Albany Loop which we rounded before coming to a stop for a photo runby. They dropped us off and backed the train down out of sight before running all the way past us with camera's a clicking in perfect light.
They backed up and picked us up and we continued to climb turning to the southeast to round the Middle Albany Loop now heading to the northwest before the train rounded the Upper Albany Loop to head southwest once more. We made another right hand turn before we turned left to cross another highway. This had to be one of the most impressive grades that I had ever ridden over and it's hard to imagine that loaded coal trains once had to descend this route. Most amazing! We pulled into a canyon where we did another photo runby.
Once back on board, we passed below Lake Mountain and ran along the shore of Lake Owens. We made a turn to the west still climbing before we turned to the south and ran about three miles to Fox Park, our destination of this trip.
We were allowed off as the power ran around the train and had time to look around before our return to Laramie. There was a UP SD-40-2 on lease to the railroad with a coal train coupled to it. We reboarded and descended the same route we came up. I was really impressed with the engineering on this rail line. We did our third and final runby at the Lower Albany Loop. The trip back was quite enjoyable with me buying a Snowy Range Shirt. We arrived back in Laramie early. Bill and I said our goodbyes to this unique railroad as we headed to the Powder River Basin before looping back to Cheyenne where we went our separate ways. I had an uneventful drive back home to get ready for my next trip with the Union Pacific 3985.
Note: Thanks to Robert and Jim Burnell for some of the historical data.