Laramie, Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railroad

For many years, the 111-mile railroad transported coal, lumber, and livestock to Laramie.

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The original route of the L, HP & P.

The Laramie, Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad operated from 1911 until 1996. Construction began in 1901 from Laramie west to Centennial, Wyoming, and then south to Walden and Coalmont, Colorado. Isaac Van Horn was the man behind the L, HP & P, and made the money to fund the construction of the railroad as a grocer in Nebraska. According to records from the Securities and Exchange Commission Reports, Vol. 116, p.352 (1921), Van Horn received $2,750,000 in stock from the railroad. The original premise behind the construction of the railroad was to serve the Acme Mine, owned by the Acme Gold & Copper Mining Co. The Acme Gold & Copper Mining Company had an interlocking board of directors with the L, HP & P and the Northern Colorado Coal Company, and this served extremely influential in materializing the railroad. All three companies were incorporated under Wyoming law with main offices in Laramie, WY.

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Grading for the L, HP & P
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Laying of track for the L, HP & P

The railroad provided additional economic stimulus to the area, and served as a vital transportation outlet for cattle, lumber, and coal from North Park, CO, which at the turn of the century lacked a direct link to the Union Pacific mainline. For many years, the 111-mile railroad transported coal, lumber, and livestock to Laramie. By the 1920s, the railroad was struggling, with the gold boom having ended. The short-lived gold rush, that spurred the creation of the L, HP & P, came to a halt when it was discovered the ore was of low grade and quality ore of shallow depth. It became unprofitable to mine and mining operations were soon abandoned.

During its post gold rush tenure, the L, HP & P underwent several reorganizations and in 1924 was renamed the Laramie, North Park and Western Railroad. By 1940 the L, NP & W railroad was under control of Union Pacific and in 1951 whole ownership of the L, NP & W was transferred to UP. In 1955, UP largely abandoned the line between Walden, CO and Coalmont, CO, and maintained the line for freight service only. In 1987, the line was renamed the Colorado Wyoming Railroad and operated on a limited basis as a tourist line until 1996 when the entire line was disbanded and deconstructed by the Forest Service.

Despite its hardships, the railroad provided solid economic support to communities along its way for decades. The railroad operated numerous support facilities along its route. At Lake Owen, there was a siding, a telephone, a water tank, and a cabin where the station attendant responsible for maintaining these facilities lived.

Fox Park was considered the principal station between Laramie and Walden. Here, it wasn’t gold driving the economy, but timber. At Fox Park, the railroad built a log depot, a water tower, a Y siding, an elevated coal shed, a large warehouse and livestock pens. The Forest Service built a large two-story log building. The route was used to transport livestock from North Park to Centennial and Laramie, in addition to serving to transport livestock to and from high mountain meadows in the spring to graze and back to lower elevations in the fall. Westbound trains arrived Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and eastbound trains arrived on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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Depot and hotel in Fox Park, WY

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In present times, only sections of the rail line exist as nonfunctional units and serve a historical and recreational purpose, with the Medicine Bow Rail Trail following the part of the original railroad grade. Today, the trail is a wide gravel trail open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horses. It is 21 miles long and along the way exist numerous relics as tribute to the railroading past of the area.

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The trail opened in 2007, and offers and expansive experience through the Rocky Mountain wilderness, with large stands of lodgepole, spruce, fir, and aspen throughout its 21-mile route. It traverses large meadows of grass and sagebrush, crosses numerous streams, and provides plenty of access to water, skirting dozens of swaps, ponds, and lakes. The largest of which is Lake Owen, located just southeast of Albany, WY.

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Present day historical site near Lake Owen

The trail also offers sightings of moose, beaver, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, porcupine, and black bear. In the summer months, insects thrive, with ample butterflies, lured by the various wildflowers growing along the trail. The trail experiences light use, and remains largely undiscovered by the vast crowds. It is in relative geographical isolation, some 35 miles from the nearest large town of Laramie.

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The Medicine Bow Rail Trail in the fall. Image Credit: engr.colostate.edu

The communities that once were exclusively railroad communities now serve as recreational retreats. Once only served by the railroad, the area is now served by Wyoming State Highway 230, with Colorado State Highway 125 serving Walden. The area experiences frequent summertime tourism, offering opportunities for camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, and hunting. In the winter snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and hunting are the primary activities. Relics of the railroad, mining, and logging history of the area are abundant, with the railroad grade clearly visible along most of its original route. Old mine sites are found dotted throughout the landscape as well as old logging sites.