History Detective – How to turn your table

by Carolyn Newman

 

HUERFANO — A turntable is a handy device – whether for a record player or for a railroad engine.

Four blocks west of the county courthouse in Walsenburg was the 80-foot wide turntable located off on a railroad spur. Called a Philadelphia turntable, it could turn a locomotive in a 360 degree circle and head it back the way it came.

After the kids played on it, likely because it was so easy to turn, the turntable was “retired’ or taken out of use in 1923. Locomotives were becoming larger and new developments used other means to turn the engines around.

Hovering over a pit, in order to remove obstacles from stopping the turning, some turntables had wheels on the outer edge.

La Veta had a more active rail yard at one time; they had to prepare engines for the hard haul over La Veta pass. A roundhouse was part of the yard, a partial circle of sheds for engines to be shuttled in under cover for repair.

Walsenburg didn’t rate a round house, although the Oct. 5, 1911, Walsenburg World newspaper reported a round house was to be constructed near the D&RG depot, but it is doubtful it ever happened.

Long gone too is the 50,000 gallon water tank built atop steel columns. This unique one had two spouts to pour out water for the steam engines – because we had two sets of tracks and the tank was built in the middle.

Other work-related buildings along the tracks were a coal chute, car repair house, section house, bunk house, and an oil house.

To get a sense of Walsenburg’s once-busy rail yard, head west from Main Street on Fourth. Turn left (south) on Pioneer and go down to the tracks. The turntable would have been to the right just below the alley. The photo shows circle ruts in the grass; these may or may not be signs of the long-ago turntable where the outer wheels would have turned.

Or drive west from Main to Hendren. Turn left (south) and near the tracks on the west of the street see the concrete foundations of a sizable building. That’s the old Rio Grande railroad depot. The water tank was just west of the depot.

If you would like to see a railroad yard map for Walsenburg or for La Veta, you are welcome to stop in the Huerfano County Heritage Center, next to La Plaza Inn, 114 West Sixth Street, Walsenburg. Open Wednesday and Friday 2 to 5 pm and Thursday 11 am to 3 pm. huerfanoheritagecenter@outlook.com 719-738-2346. The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society.

Information is from the book “The Rio Grande’s La Veta Pass Route” by Rasmussen, and from the March 22, 1907, Walsenburg World newspaper and from the internet.

 

Deep ruts in the grass indicate where the train table may have turned. Photo by Carolyn Newman

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