The Interurbans. Vol. 3, Denver’s Street Railways

Author: 
Don Robertson and Kenton Forrest
Publishing: 

Golden, CO: Colorado Railroad Museum, 2011. Black-and-white photos, color photos, illustrations, maps, tables, charts, bibliography, index. 376 pages. 8½” x 11”. $51.95 hardcover.

Reviewer: 
Russell Powers

This book is the third in a trilogy devoted to the definitive history of streetcar and interurban railways in the Denver area. Volume 3 covers the three interurban routes of the Denver Tramway Company (DTC) that ran into Denver’s western suburbs, as well as the Denver & Interurban Railroad’s (D&I) line to Boulder. In its simplest form, an interurban railway was essentially an electric-powered heavy-duty streetcar operation that ran across country, generally linking urban centers and intermediate points with frequent service. As with the previous two volumes, this one draws heavily upon the wealth of data supplied by the senior author, Don Robertson, whose father was an attorney for the DTC, and whose grandfather was a president of the company. The junior author, Kenton Forrest, is the archivist at the Robert W. Richardson Railroad Library at the Colorado Railroad Museum and has an extensive knowledge of the Tramway’s trolley and bus operations. Studies such as this seldom answer every question regarding a railway’s history, and this volume is no exception. There are data gaps, but they do not detract from the story.  

The publication of the book is especially timely because readers familiar with Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) FasTracks plan will realize that some of the agency’s rail corridors will follow, or closely parallel, three of the long-abandoned interurban routes discussed in the book. Because the book is about the DTC and its predecessors, and the D&I, only minor attention is given to the Tramway’s successor operators, Denver Metro Transit and the RTD.

Volume 3 is divided into two parts. The first 370 pages are a narrative of the history and operations of the interurban lines that served Denver’s western suburbs and Boulder. The second part consists of 56 pages of tables and charts of data that include features such as all-time DTC rosters of rail and bus rolling stock, a D&I roster, station lists, and a list of key Tramway employees. Much of this material relates to subjects covered previously in Volumes 1 and 2. I commend the authors for including an index, a feature commonly missing from books of this type. An extensive bibliography directs readers to sources of additional information. The use of subheadings within chapters makes reading the book easy, and allows the reader to quickly find subjects of interest.

Denver was one of a few cities in the United States to have both narrow-gauge and standard-gauge trolley operations, and this also the case with the interurban lines radiating westward from Denver. The standard-gauge Denver, Lakewood & Golden Railroad began Denver to Golden service in 1890 as a steam-powered railroad. Electric trolleys came to the Golden line in 1910 and survived until 1950. The line was eventually acquired by the Tramway Company Freight service and continued until the line’s abandonment in 1952. The former right-of-way of this line from the Platte River Valley westward to about Simms Street is being rebuilt by the RTD as part of its new West Corridor light-rail line.

The first electric Tramway interurban route to serve the western suburbs was the narrow-gauge line that served Arvada and the Tramway’s coal mine at Leyden further to the west. Service to Arvada began in 1901, and the extension to the Leyden Mine opened in 1903. Coal mined at Leyden was used to fuel the Tramway’s powerhouse (today’s REI flagship store in the Platte Valley). Long coal trains were commonplace on northwest Denver streets until the line was abandoned in 1950.

The second trolley route to Golden was opened in 1904 by the DTC. This was a narrow-gauge line that used much of the Arvada/Leyden route trackage in Denver and then took off across country, roughly paralleling Clear Creek all the way to Golden. This route was also abandoned in 1950. 

The D&I, a subsidiary of the Colorado & Southern Railroad (C&S), operated a standard-gauge interurban between Denver and Boulder, mostly parallel to, or over, C&S trackage. Just west of Broomfield, the line split into two branches, both going to Boulder. There was also a short branch to the resort at Eldorado Springs. The interurban was in operation from 1904 to 1926. Its early demise was due to a disastrous wreck at Globeville, and to the rise in the use of the automobile. Much of this route will be reincarnated as RTD’s US 36 FasTracks Corridor.

While this lavishly illustrated book was written for the trolley and rail fan, persons otherwise interested in Denver history should also find this an enjoyable and informative read. Volume 3 effectively captures the flavor of Denver and its suburbs during the first half of the twentieth century. Bring back the yellow cars! 

Reviewer Info: 

Russell Powers, a semi-retired minerals-exploration geologist, holds a professional geology registration in Arizona. He received his undergraduate degree in geology from the Colorado School of Mines and an MS from the University of Houston. He has a longtime interest in railroads, streetcars, and the history of the American West. At present, he maintains active memberships in rail-fan, geology, and mining history organizations. He has authored several articles for rail-fan publications and is a volunteer at the Robert W. Richardson Railroad Library at the Colorado Railroad Museum<.