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The Rock Island Railroad

The beginnings of Falcon are rooted in the Rock Island Railroad. In 1888, the Rock Island completed the track from Limon to Colorado Springs in order to connect with the Colorado Midland Railroad. The Denver and New Orleans Railroad Company had a track that extended from Denver through Black Forest, meeting the Rock Island track where Falcon is today. This intersection of two railroad companies necessitated the building of a depot and Falcon’s first train depot was built in 1890, where Farmer’s State Bank is now located.About 100 years ago, during the Rock Island Railroad’s peak, six passenger trains and six freight trains passed through Falcon daily. Freight trains going west carried mostly mining equipment and livestock. The livestock was freighted to Colorado Springs, where it was loaded onto trains of the Rio Grande Railroad Company, then on to Pueblo’s meat packing plants. In later years, freight trains traveling east carried mostly gravel from Colorado mines for building roads in eastern cities – anywhere from 30 to 50 carloads per day, with each carload weighing about 60 tons.Hay and farm produce were also freighted out of Falcon. The produce was loaded onto the Rock Island in Limon and Peyton and brought to Falcon, where it met the Denver and New Orleans line. It was then transported to Denver.The Rock Island freight trains also served a large business to the south of Falcon. From 1880 to 1900, the Franceville Coalmine, south of Highway 94, was a booming business. The Rock Island built a spur from Franceville to Falcon to bring the coal to the main line. Around 1900, the vein was found to have better coal north of Colorado Springs, and the Franceville mine was closed.Passenger trains were also a necessity for the Falcon area. During the Rock Island’s heyday, about 12 people per day might board the train – the Rocky Mountain Rocket – in Falcon. The original depot, shown in the picture, was built in 1890, and was large enough to take care of railroad business and house the railroad agent. Historians believe the depot remained until the mid 1940s, when the Rock Island Railroad Company tore down all their depots and rebuilt smaller ones.Business at the Falcon depot slowed considerably when the Denver and New Orleans line began to have problems. The Colorado and Southern Railroad, which had taken over about 10 railroads in the state, acquired the company. In 1935, a serious flood wiped out the Denver and New Orleans track both sides of Black Forest, and the whole line was abandoned.Mel McFarland, a local author and Rock Island historian, related the following story about an incident that happened on the Rock Island line in 1941:One Sunday morning a freight train with about 17 cars left Colorado Springs headed east. It stopped in Falcon for more cars. The crew parked the train about where the fire station is now and went over to the depot to chat with the agent. When they returned, half the cars, about eight freight cars including two that were loaded with livestock, were gone. Falcon is much higher in altitude than Colorado Springs, and they hadn’t set enough brakes. The train was rolling back down the track – unattended.They knew a passenger train was coming from Colorado Springs, so they ran back to the depot and called the Springs agent to warn him of the runaway train. The Springs agent switched the tracks to make the runaway train go to the Rock Island roundhouse. (The current trolley museum on Fillmore is the former Rock Island roundhouse.) The roundhouse employees had time to get everything out of the way except for some old cars in the yard. There was a huge crash, and the two livestock cars broke open and freed the cows, who were soon wandering throughout the north end of Colorado Springs.The Rock Island company hired cowboys and brought them in to round up the cows. It took a week to find them. A couple weeks later, a steam engine was filling up at the wooden water tank and the tank ran dry. They had never run out of water before. About 30 feet off the ground, halfway up the tank, a wheel from a train car involved in the wreck was embedded in the tank, causing all the water in the top half to leak out. (Pictures of this wreck are featured in “Colorado Railroad Museum Annual #17”.)In 1945, a second depot was built in the same location in Falcon. At that same time, the company built depots identical in Peyton and Calhan. In 1958, the Rock Island Railroad decided they didn’t need depots in Falcon or Peyton and tore them both down. The Calhan depot is still standing. Falcon had no depot from 1958 until 1980 when the Cadillac and Lake City Railroad took over the tracks and brought in a building to serve as a depot for the next ten years.The Rock Island Railroad’s last passenger train went through Falcon in 1966. In 1980, the Rock Island Railroad Company declared bankruptcy and its assets were liquidated.Next summer, the Rock Island Technical Society, an organization dedicated to the history of the Rock Island Railroad, will hold its national convention in Colorado Springs. The group plans to visit all the old depot sites. (And they will see a major “revival” of Falcon old!)Editors note: Many thanks to Mel McFarland, who supplied all the information for the above article. “Colorado Railroad Museum Annual #17” or “Rocketing to the Rockies,” by Mel McFarland and Michael Doty, is available in area bookstores or through the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.

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