…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
W.Shakespeare – Hamlet
I am far more Horatio than Hamlet, but my faith in the basic rationality of my world has been shaken this evening. The story:
We are spending the week at my parents’ cabin in Alpine, Colorado. Alpine sits on the side of Mt. Princeton, at an elevation of about 9600 feet above sea level. The cabin was built sometime in the late 1870s to serve as the home of the railroad foreman. The Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad was building a railroad over the Rockies to serve the various mines that were dug into the mountains here. The railroad ran from 1881 to 1910. At one time, during the height of the railroad building boom, Alpine was home to over 10,000 people, but today it has fewer than a dozen year-round residents. The population swells to about 150 during the summer vacation months.
Just across 1st Street from the cabin is Chalk Creek, and then just the other side of Chalk Creek is County Road 162. CR162 follows the old DSP&P railroad line up Chalk Creek Canyon between Mt. Princeton to the north and Mt. Antero to the south.
Tonight, we were sitting out on the deck enjoying a beautiful Colorado summer evening. The moon was almost full – maybe a couple more days till the full moon, and the sky was partly cloudy. The moon was just rising over the peak of Mt. Antero around 9:00 when we first heard the train whistle.
(By “we”, I mean six of us: Caroline, Scott & Juli, Mom, Liam and me. I emphasize the number of witnesses because what I am going to report is – frankly – fantastic. )
The whistle blew several times. We heard the distinctive sound of the steam engine clattering as the giant pistons chugged-chugged between the compression and exhaust strokes. It went on for perhaps 30 seconds as the train moved up the road toward St. Elmo. Normally, you will hear a train fade away over a period of minutes. St. Elmo is about 4 miles above Alpine, so we should have heard a real train for several minutes. But as quickly as the sound began, it simply faded away like a morning mist.
The train tracks were completely torn up by the 1930s. The last train went up those tracks in 1910.
The nearest train track is at Buena Vista, roughly 15 miles from here as the crow flies. There are no steam engines on those tracks.
The six of us sat here listening to this steam engine go up the road just across the creek, chugging and whistling as it went. Then as suddenly as it started, it faded away. If I was going to write a screenplay that depicted the appearance and disappearance of a ghost train, it would have been exactly like this.
My mom said, “there’s the Alpine Ghost Train”. Apparently, everyone in town has heard the train at one time or another and it has become such a common occurrence that she had never even thought to mention it to me. The most frequent time to hear the train has been 9:00pm.
From the deck of the cabin, where I sit as I write this, we cannot see the road, but it is less than a quarter mile from here. What I heard was unmistakably a train, a steam engine train. It faded in, chugged up the canyon for perhaps half a minute, then faded away.
You can be sure that I will be out in the middle of CR162 at 9:00pm every night till we head home next week. If the Alpine Ghost Train makes another appearance, I plan to gather as much info as I can.