This is one of those tales I found hard to believe, I heard so many versions of it. After a while I decided it had to have some basis in fact. Some of the men I interviewed could point to the spot where it happened, but that never really convinced me.
The story goes back to the 1920s, but I heard it even happened right up to the end of the Midland Terminal’s ore trains from Cripple Creek. Just to tell a good story, I will smooth out some of the variations in the tale. It seems there was a little cabin on the edge of Woodland Park, near the tracks. The ore, as well as other heavy freight trains had to stop here to let their brakes cool before going on down the pass. They would stop again at Cascade. The fun part of this story happened on the way up, as the train slowly worked through town. The ore trains left Colorado City in the late afternoon and would get to Bull Hill late at night. The train would return very early the next morning.
As the tales all tell, there was a lady in this little cabin who would hand up a pie to the conductor or engineer as it crept into town. In return, the firemen as they shoveled coal into the locomotive’s fire box would shovel some coal onto an area beside the track. I even heard some would drop off a bucket full of coal.
Now I’m not sure which happened first, leaving the coal as thanks for the pie, or the pie as thanks for the coal, but it was a regular thing. The trains had several engines and there might be as many as eight or 10 men on the train. I understand the engineers and the conductor got the first slices and firemen next, anything left over went to the brakemen. The pie was guarded until the crew had their break at Bull Hill. Here they picked up the cars of ore bound for the mill in Colorado City. Once the work was done, they had pie and coffee before heading down the pass. As the train passed through Woodland Park, the pie pan was left on a tree stump near the cabin, clean and ready to be refilled.
As I understand this mainly happened in the fall and early winter. The number of times I heard versions of the story sure made it believable.
As I understand more than one family walked the tracks gathering coal lost from the trains. I even used to walk the tracks near Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs to have coal to burn in the stove in my caboose.
E.M. “Mel” McFarland is an artist, historian and railroad enthusiast. He is a Pikes Peak region native and has written a handful of books and guides highlighting the area’s rich history. Contact Mel at email@example.com.