Article by Clint Driscoll
Roadside Attractions – August 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
NINETY YEARS after the Denver, South Park & Pacific narrow-gauge railroad stopped chugging over Trout Creek Pass, it is still possible to reserve a berth in a Victorian Pullman sleeping car or a drover’s caboose and enjoy the hospitality offered in a typical 1880s-era depot. Irene and Juel Kjeldsen own and operate the Trout City Inn Berth and Breakfast on the west side of Trout Creek Pass about six miles east of Buena Vista on U.S. 285/24. There, local railroad history lives.
When the Denver, South Park & Pacific (the Damned Slow, Pokey and Pathetic, as it was known to its employees) laid its rails over the pass in 1879, it passed through the ranch of James McGee. In the hopes of starting a town, a depot was built on the ranch and was a regular stop for passenger trains. The stop became known as McGees and can be found on state maps of that time. The stop was also known as Trout City because Clara McFarland, wife of the first station master, John McFarland, cooked trout dinners for passengers and crew members who stopped there.
The big plans of McGees becoming a town lasted only as long as the DSP&P operated. When the line was abandoned in 1910, the depot and all related structures were torn down; nothing remained except the depot’s foundation.
In 1987 the Kjeldsens bought the location with the intention of starting their B&B using a railroad theme. They obtained blueprints of a basic DSP&P depot (all depots used the same design) and reconstructed the station on the original site. They did not stop with the building. Juel built a -scale model of one of the original Mason-Bogie locomotives used on the line, and also had built to his specifications the only narrow-gauge handcart in the region.
THEY ALSO USED the plans and drawings of DSP&P rolling stock available at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden to build replicas of a Pullman sleeping car and a caboose. The cars are mounted on trucks (the wheel assemblies) brought back from a narrow-gauge logging line in Oregon and set in place where the original DSP&P rails ran through the property.
The Pullman recreates the luxury of rail travel available to Victorian high-rollers. It is furnished with Persian rugs, lace curtains, brass lamps, and velvet hangings. The long, narrow ventilation windows are stained glass, and the door separating the parlor from the berths sports etched glass with a rose motif.
The drover’s caboose is more in keeping with the mobile lodging of the working folk of the time. By the late nineteenth century cattle owners used the railroad to transport their livestock, and the caboose housed the hands hired to get the beef to market. There are four bunk beds and a potbelly stove in the car. It’s perfect for the kids or a family willing to recreate the atmosphere of cowpokes on the move.
For those not interested in the rail car quarters, depot spaces originally designated for baggage and freight storage are furnished with four-posters and trundle beds covered with hand-made quilts to ward off the mountain chill.
The main room of the depot is filled with railroad memorabilia found on the property as well as maps, photos, an authentic telegraph set, framed correspondence between McFarland and his supervisor, and a poignant entry in his personal journal concerning the death of his wife.
In the pleasant dining area, in what would have been the waiting room, Irene and her daughter-in-law are ready to serve guests a hearty breakfast which includes home-made breads, biscuits and rose hip or ground cherry jam.
There is plenty to occupy inn guests including walks along the original railbed, hikes up Shields Gulch, or the opportunity to observe beaver and other wildlife that live along Trout Creek. According to Irene, the best pastime is awaking early to watch the summer sun rise over the pass and touch Mount Princeton with morning gold. “It’s the best light show, ever.” she said.
Those interested in staying at the Trout City Inn Berth and Breakfast can contact the Kjeldsens at 719-395-8433. They are pretty busy, but a voice-mail system will take your message if they can’t answer immediately, and they will get back to you.
Clint Driscoll recently retired as associate editor of the Chaffee County Times in Buena Vista, and before that, he retired from the Aurora Fire Department. He does not plan to open a bed and breakfast.