THE South  ParK  LINE (DSP&P RR)


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the  Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad
Introducing The South Park Line

This page covers history, route, construction, trackwork, early photos, timetables, passes, ane other documents related to the railroad's development. The "South Park" part of the railway's name comes from the formal name of a large, relatively level, grass land southwest of Denver. This is the initial route before attacking the mountainous routes to Leadville and Gunison.

The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, known to friends and fans as "The South Park Line", is my favourite narrow gauge railway, partly because of the scenery, the difficulty, and the underdog status of the road. Another reason is that the South Park was the largest user of Mason Bogies, my favourite locomotive. They were the most artistically finished locomotives of any era, with pin-striping, glorious colour schemes, and curvaceous fittings where rectangular would have sufficed. And there were all those wonderfully unique Nesmith and Congdon style smokestacks. Few railroads had so many distinctive identifying characteristics.

This page contains a brief  construction and corporate history, route map, early photos, timetables, schedules, certificates, and passes, PLUS a bonus section on stuvs and harps.

Scrpll on down to see all the stories on how the South Park Line came to be one of the most interesting of the earlt mountain raikways.

Other pages on this website contain equipment rosters, plans and drawings, and representative photos of prototype and model locomotives and rolling stock in colour, where ever possible.

Life and Times of the "South Park"
The first DSP&P locomotive was a Dawson and Bailey 2-6-0 built in 1874, named "Fairplay". The second was a D&B 4-4-0 named "Platte Canyon". Five boxcars, five coal cars, thirty flat cars, one baggage and one passenger car were built in 1874 by Hallack and Brothers in Denver -- a  small beginning for a railroad with big dreams for conquering the fearsome mountains of Colorado.

   DSP&P 2-6-0 #1 "Fairplay", drawing by Phil Ronfor               DSP&P 4-4-0 #2 "Platte Canyon" built in 1874

Not much equipment was acquired during the slow period between 1874 and 1878. Then new money and the prospect of profits from shipping silver ore brought 14 brand new 2-6-6T Mason Bogie locomotives in 1878. These were numbered 3 through 16, and had names assigned that disappeared in later years. Nine passenger cars from Barney and Smith (6 built by DSP&P at Denver) arrived in 1878 and early 1879.

Accucraft 1:20 scale Mason Bogies DSP&P #4 and #6, "San Juan" and "Ten Mile"

Three second hand D&B 2-6-0 Moguls, numbered 17, 18, and 19, built in 1875 arrived in 1879, followed by 5 more 2-6-6T’s, numbered 20 - 24, and four 2-8-6T’s in 1880, numbered 25 - 28.

Twenty seven more passenger cars (including baggage, mail, and combines) and six Pullman sleepers arrived between 1879 and 1884.  Several hundred freight cars, mostly 26 to 27 foot, 10 to 14 ton capacity, were delivered between 1880 and 1884. Some 1883 and 1884 cars had a capacity of 20 tons.

Cooke Mogul DSP&P #71

During 1883 and 1884, a large group of Brooks and Cooke 2-6-0 Moguls and 2-8-0 Consolidations joined the fleet, bringing the locomotive roster to 74 at the time of the UP takeover in 1885. Many of these survived to become C&S locomotives in 1899. Only one of the Mason Bogies made it into the C&S era.

At its peak, the South Park boasted 74 locomotives, more than 1300 freight cars, and nearly 50 passenger cars spread over 260 miles of mainline tracks.

See South Park Equipment Rosters.

DSP&P Corporate History
The Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad was a 3-foot gauge railway that served the mining boom of the late 1800’s in the mountains of Colorado. Construction began in 1873. The line from Denver to Leadville via Como was completed in 1880, and to Gunnison through the Alpine Tunnel in 1882.

In 1885, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased a majority interest in the DSP&P, resulting in a re-numbering of all locomotives and rolling stock to match the UP family system. The DSP&P was reorganized in 1889 by UP as the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Railroad.

In 1894, the DL&G went into receivership and successfully emerged in 1899 as a profitable enterprise. The Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railroad, previously the Colorado Central, running over the Georgetown Loop to Silver Plume, also came out of receivership in late 1898. The DL&G and UPD&G were then merged to become the Colorado and Southern Railway.

The UP mismanagement was now gone and the C&S was profitable, at least for a while. The C&S re-numbered all locomotives and rolling stock in 1899 and again in 1911 -- some cars carried four different road numbers in their relatively short lifespans.

By 1908, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (later Burlington Northern) controlled the C&S and developed some new standard gauge lines to compete with other mainline roads southward from Denver. Narrow gauge nuts like me tend to ignore this phase of C&S history.

C&S continued to run the narrow gauge to Gunnison until 1910, and to Leadville until 1937. Portions of the Gunnison branch were leased to the D&RGW, some of which ran until 1954.

Abandonment began in earnest in 1937 and continued until 1943 with the last narrow gauge train from Climax to Leadville, ending the narrow gauge rule over the South Park Lines. Standard gauge traffic fed molybdenum over this 14 mile route for the war effort, and off-and-on after that into the 1970's.

Today, that section of the old DSP&P Highline between Leadville and Climax is operated as a standard gauge tourist railroad, called the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad.

South park RouteS
The first track laid ran from Denver south to Sheridan, then west to Morrison. Later the line was known as the Morrison Branch.

The South Park mainline ran from Union Station in Denver, through Sheridan, up the valley of the South Platte River to the town of South Platte, then followed the North Fork of the South Platte through Buffalo Creek and Baileys. West of Baileys, the route ran along North Fork and through the north end of the Tarryall Mountains, through Webster, across Kenosha Pass, to Jefferson and Como, a distance of 88.2 miles by rail.

From Como, the mainline traversed South Park to Garos, where a spur went northward to Fairplay and Alma (also known as London Mills).

The mainline continued south from Garos, over Trout Creek Pass to Schwanders where  a small spur connected to Buena Vista. 

Continuing southwest through Nathrop, St. Elmo, and Hancock, over the southern end of the Sawatch Range, the mainline travelled through the Alpine Tunnel to Pitkin, then west to Gunnison at milepost 208 (measured from Denver).

A short branch line connected to mines at Baldwin, north of Gunnison.

Back at Como, the principal branch line, known as the Highline, went north over Boreas Pass to Breckenridge, Dillon, and Keystone, then turned south to Frisco, Climax, and finally Leadville at milepost 151.3. It crossed the Continental Divide twice, once northbound over Boreas Pass en route to Breckenridge and again southbound on Freemont Pass en route to Climax and Leadville.

Scheduled passenger trains took 8 hours to travel Denver to Leadville. The time-freight took 12 hours and a way freight could take two days.

See Detailed Maps of Yards, Sidings, and Branch Lines HERE


Route map of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway from Denver to Gunnison with the important side trip to Leadville. The DSP&P was reorganized into the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison in 1889. The line straight west from Denver to Georgetown and Silver Plume was the Colorado Central Railway. The CC was reorganized in 1889 to become the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf (although the line never aimed for the Gulf of Mexico). The DL&G and UPD&G were merged in 1899 to form the Colorado and Southern.

South park Construction
Grading began in August 1873 from Denver to Morrison. The first rails were laid on 18 May 1874. On 20 June 1874, the tracks reached Morrison, and on 03 July 1874, scheduled service began between Denver and Morrison with two round-trip mixed trains per day.

From 1874 until 1878, the company progressed slowly on its mainline, using a series of different construction companies as it struggled to remain solvent. The tracks finally reached the mouth of the Platte Canyon on 04 May 1878, 20 miles from Denver, and by 02 June 1878, the tracks reached 12 miles up the canyon. The tracks reached Buffalo Creek on 17 June 1878. The following year, on 19 May 1879, the tracks reached to the summit of Kenosha Pass and on 27 June 1879 they reached Como.

In November 1879, with the tracks only as far as South Park, the company contracted for the initial construction of the Alpine Tunnel, with an expected completion date of 01 July 1880. The following month, the tracks reached to the summit of Trout Creek Pass. That same year, work began on the branch line, the "High Line", to Leadville, and on 02 July 1880, the first train arrived in Leadville.

The Alpine Tunnel broke through on 26 July 1881, a full year later than planned. The mainline reached Gunnison the following year in 1882.

The Colorado and Southern started dismantling in 1910, with the closure of the Alpine Tunnel. In 1930, the C&S attempted to shut down the mainline through the Platte Canyon, due to a decrease in revenue and traffic. The last freight and passenger trains between Denver and Leadville operated in April 1937, and on 10 April 1937, the South Park Line officially closed. The last regular freight train operated between Denver and Como on 25 April 1937.

The last narrow gauge section, between Leadville and Climax, was converted to standard gauge on 25 August 1943, connecting a number of mines to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the then owners of the C&S.


A distinguishing characteristic of DSP&P era photos is the ubiquity of the so-called "harp" style switch stands and the stub switches they controlled. Harps were also used by the D&RG and many other standard and narrow gauge railways before the turn of 20th century.

South Park TRACKWORK - Stub Switches

Trackwork on marrow gauge lines in theearly 1880s was very light-weight compared to today's mainline standards. For example, raiks were 40 to 45 pouvds per yard versus 120 to 140 pounds for a high speed mainline of the 1980s and later.


A slice of DSP&P rail from Alpine Tunnel, 3-3/8 inches tall, 3-5/8 inches wide at the base. The width of the base and the height of the rail in the late 1880's era were equal, so this slice of rail shows moderate wear. According to ACME tables, it came from rail that weighed 45 pounds per yard.

Stub switches were common on many railways of the 1880's and the DSP&P was no exception. Some stub switches survived well into the mid-1900's on industrial spurs in various parts of North America.

A two-way stub switch (left) and a three-way stub switch (right) in the Como yard. The lead tracks are shifted sideways to line up with the desired route using a switch stand (rotary or harp-style). The term often used was "bending the rails" although the rail was never actually bent, just shifted at one end and pivoting at the fixed end. These switches needed a lot of housekeeping under winter conditions.

Stub switcges in Como yard with the 6-stall stone roundhouse in the background.


Examples of some 3-way stub switches showing location of frogs and guard rails.

Layout of ties on a typical 3-way stub switch. 


South Park Trackwork -  HARP SWITCH STANDS
The DSP&P used two different styles; the early versions had the railway's initials "DSP&PR"cast into the housing. After the Union Pacific take-over in 1885, they started to use a somewhat different style with the letters "18 UP Ry 83" cast into the housing. Some very early harps may have been fabricated instead of cast. 

These switch stands were used on both 2- and 3-way stub switches. The target on the lever arm leaned away from the direction of the turnout, or stood vertically for the straight through run on athree-way switch. The target was painted red or yellow, and some illustrations show them as circles painted red on a white background. The overall height of the harp was about 3 feet and overall length of the lever arm was about 6 feet.


Photo of a DSP&P harp style switchstand on a stub turnout at Jefferson water tank, probably circa 1880's.


Extract from Phillip Ronfor's "Night Train" (left), showing the DSP&P harp switch stand. One-sixth scale model (center) has 3 slots on the top edge of the harp to position the lever arm, which is locked in place with a key placed in the slot. The UP version (right) has 3 holes instead of slots to lock the lever arm, giving rise to 3 bumps on the top edge of the harp. The model was produced in the 1970's (author's collection). The height of the model's harp is 6" and the lever arm is 16" from the pivot to the tip of the target.

Use "Save Picture As" to capture this hi-res image.

Richard Kindig's drawing of the UP style harp switch stand is somewhat different than the UP version shown earlier. This one shows a wider harp profile with lots of curlycues in the casting. The lever arm on this plan is about 6 feet tall.


The only large scale harp switch stand on the market that I know of is Ozark Miniatures #107 switch stand. I haven't used any yet but they might dress up my (non-stub) LGB switches. Here is the photo from their website, enhanced a bit for clarity.


Mal Ferrell's sketch from the index page of his book "C&Sng".

South park Early Photos -  trains in action - 1875 to 1890
Photos that show complete trains are difficult to take at the best of times. Back in the 1880's, the trains had to stop and pose for photographer/s, usually with some extremely interesting scenery in the background. With some cropping, contrast improvement, and enlargement, the sense of the actual train comes into view a little better.

Here are a somw images that give an impression of South Park trains in action and the terrain they traveled through. I have chosen mostly those that portray the 1880 to 1889 era, before the railway changed its name to Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Railroad. Other pages on this website show closeups of individual locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses (waycars).

See South Park Trains In Colour HERE.


South Park Timetables, Schedules, Certificates, Passes

Some people collect model trains, or books, or artwork, depicting their favourite railways.  Some people collect paper momentos. Here are reproductions of a few such articles for your enjoyment, gathered from various sources. Take a look at the fancy fonts and engraved artwork!


Collecting railway passes, like collecting stamps, is an interesting hobby in its own right. There are many variations in the design and signatures across the years. Some are quite rare and expensive, spme more affordable but still desirable.


Other collectibles include freight waybills, train orders, maintenance work orders and other ephemora of railroad operations.

DSP&P Timetables



1880 front cover and back cover

1880 inside with timetable

1880 interior fold-out map


  1884 Cover from Union Pacic Timetable (enlarged)

 1884 DSP&P Schedule (enlared and inverted for clarity)



1885, front cover with DSP&P Mogul #74, back cover tells the whole story

1885 Inside


1887 outside

1887 Inside

1887 Inside Timetable

1887 Inside Pull-out

 1888 and 1898 

South Park Schedule 1880

DSP&P Schedule 1889 

South Park Certificates circa 1889 

South Park Travel  Passes

DSP&P One Trip Pass 1879                           DL&G Pass 1896

DL&G 1895

DL&G 1895  Two colour drop shading on front




Copyright 2022  E. R. (Ross) Crain, P.Eng.  email