Next month, the Buena Vista Heritage Museum will put on its inaugural RailFest, an educational celebration of Buena Vista’s importance to the rail systems of the Old West.
The museum will host a number of speakers July 20 and 21 who have written books on the history of railroads in Chaffee County and across Colorado.
Speakers lined up for RailFest are Mel McFarland, author of “The Colorado Midland Guide and Data Book and the Cripple Creek Road” as well as editor of the Colorado Midland Quarterly; Dan Abbott, who wrote “Colorado Midland Railway: Daylight Through the Divide,” “Stairway to the Stars” and “Colorado Central Railroad, Golden, Central City, Georgetown” and others; and Bob Schoppe, president of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Historical Society.
Also speaking are George Barnett, a telegrapher with the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Ray Perschbacher, who grew up around the Colorado and Southern (Denver South Park & Pacific Railroad) with both his father and uncle working as engineers for the railroad.
In addition, town historian Suzy Kelly will lead a walking tour of historic railroad sites.
The Sunday tour will begin with a car trip from BV to Hancock, with an optional hike to the Alpine Tunnel’s east portal.
“Last year we did the dinner in a railcar, which was very well received, and people said, ‘Let’s do this again next year,’” Heritage Museum President Vic Kuklin said. “I said, ‘No, let’s try something different’ … I hope to make this a yearly thing.”
At the height of its boomtown status, three railroads stopped in Buena Vista. The tunnel built to connect the towns of St. Elmo to Pitkin by rail was the first to travel through the Continental Divide and was in its time the highest railway tunnel in the world.
“Railroads are so much of our history, and it’s amazing how many of our locals are so interested in railroad history,” Kuklin said. “There are a lot of railroad objects that people have in their homes from their ancestors.”
Maybe that’s why, when Kuklin called every local railroad history authority he knew, they all agreed to speak at RailFest, he said. Some have already signed on for a second year as well.
After the slate of speakers has finished July 20, a roundtable discussion of all the writers will give audience members an opportunity to press the historians on disagreeing accounts in their research, Kuklin said.
After a tour of the depot museum and caboose by McPhelemy Park, guests will be invited on tours of Trout Creek Engineering, the model railroad company owned by Cliff Mestel in Johnson Village, as well as some of the home model layouts of Harley Hamilton, the president of historic South Park City, Kuklin said.
Tickets cost $50 per person if purchased before July 1. After that, they’re $55.
Proceeds will help fund the museum’s restoration of its cupola, along with tax credits for restorative construction on historic buildings and donations from the town of Buena Vista, a History Colorado grant and a gift from one Summit County individual, Kuklin said.