Situated about 18 miles southwest of Buena Vista,
is the historic narrow gauge Alpine Tunnel.
Once the highest railroad tunnel in the world, at an
altitude of 11,523 feet, it was the first tunnel to be built through the
Continental Divide. The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad began the
work of connecting St. Elmo to Pitkin,
November, 1879 with a construction crew working at either end to connect
Anticipating that the mineral rich area would
be the next big mining "bonanza,” as many as 10,000 different men worked
to build the line and the tunnel at various times. A crew of around 400
worked steadily, but turnover was quick, as the men suffered through the
cold, brutal work. Laborers, working for $3.50 per day, and
explosives men, who worked for $5.00 per day, were often forced to go from
their worksite to their cabins in groups in order to avoid being lost in
Denver Leadville and Gunnison Railroad engine number
199 emerges from stone Alpine Tunnel. Photo
taken late 1800's.
Excavation of the tunnel began in
January, 1880 with plans to complete it within six months. But, those
were ambitious plans, especially starting the project in the middle of
winter. It would actually take the railroad more than two years to
complete the tunnel and cost them far more than they had planned,
coming in at about $300,000 and some $180,000 more than they had
initially budgeted. Due to crumbling granite in the tunnel, over
400,000 board feet of California redwood was required to support and
encase 80% of it.
The two crews met each other in
the tunnel in July, 1881, but it would be another year before it was
ready for the train.
When the first narrow
gauge train came through
in July, 1882, the tunnel was 1, 772 feet long, over two miles above
sea level, 500 feet below Altman Pass (later renamed Alpine Pass) and
the most expensive railroad tunnel built up until that time.
Beyond the west
portal exit of the tunnel, stood the alpine Tunnel Station, the
highest railroad station in the nation; as well as a turntable, water
tank, stone boarding house, and engine house that was large enough to
house six engines.
The rebuilt Alpine Tunnel Station today, Kathy Weiser,
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Beyond the tunnel, the Denver, South Park and Pacific tracks continued on
Once it was complete, the
engineering marvel was a welcome relief to all of those who were
previously required to haul supplies and mail back and forth over the
treacherous passes of Tin Cup, Taylor and Altman.
All along the tracks were a number of
small settlements, some to service the railroad and others that housed the
many miners of the area. These included Woodstock, Quartz, and Sherrod, as
well as Pitkin at the western end, and St. Elmo on the eastern end of the