When the Union Pacific Railroad built a narrow-gauge track west of town in 1883, Boulder got its first dependable transportation route to the mountain mining towns. The locomotive known as "Old No. 30," purchased new in 1898, was placed in service on the Switzerland Trail narrow-gauge Colorado and Northwestern Railway.
It rode the track from Boulder through Boulder Canyon to Fourmile Canyon, transporting supplies and people to the mining towns and hauling back ore for processing. Branch lines ran from Sunset north to Gold Hill and Ward and south to Sugarloaf and Eldora.
The locomotive's run in Boulder County largely ended in 1919, but it continued to be put into service throughout Colorado's mountainous areas until 1952. The people of Boulder raised $5,094 and purchased the engine, plus a coach and caboose, and gave them to the city as a gift.
They were placed in Central Park, where vandals destroyed the caboose in 1958 by blowing it up with dynamite. In 1979, the train was moved from its original site in the park to a location behind the bandshell seating area because the rails it was sitting on were sinking and threatening to tip it over.
Source: City of Boulder
Boulder wants its 19th-century train parts back.
And the city accuses the man it hired to restore "Old No. 30" -- the narrow-gauge 30/74 steam locomotive engine that stood on display for decades in Central Park -- of taking them.
Boulder filed a lawsuit last week against Marlin Uhrich, alleging that the owner of Uhrich Locomotive Works in Strasburg performed substandard work on the engine and failed to return hundreds of missing parts -- including 10 grease cellar boxes, two eccentric crank keys, 221 boiler tubes and 34 mounting bolts.
The poor workmanship and missing parts, the city claims, means it will have to come up with an additional $75,000 just to get the engine up to snuff. Meanwhile, grant money from the Colorado Historical Society meant to pay for the improvements to the locomotive is now in jeopardy, according to the lawsuit.
"It's becoming very difficult to get the job done," acting Boulder Parks and Planning Superintendent Felix Gallo said Tuesday. "It's a city asset we need to protect and keep in shape."
Uhrich, reached by phone Tuesday, declined to comment.
"We have to wait until all this litigation is sorted out," he said.
Until then, the engine will reside at West Side Locomotive in Denver, where it was sent from Uhrich's shop two years ago for cosmetic restoration.
Gallo said the locomotive is more than just a historical keepsake that evokes nostalgia for an era long gone.
"This is an actual train that ran here -- it was not brought here from some other state," he said.
Engine dates to 1898
Old No. 30, purchased new in 1898, played an instrumental role in Boulder County's early history. It traversed Union Pacific's 3-foot-wide track up Boulder and Fourmile canyons, splitting off onto branch lines that ran to Gold Hill, Ward, Eldora and Sugarloaf.
The engine hauled supplies and people to the mining towns in the mountains and brought ore back to the city for processing. It remained in service until 1952.
The locomotive -- along with coach and caboose -- was bought by a group of Boulder residents in 1952 for nearly $5,100 and given to the city as a gift the following year.
The engine occupied two different sites in Central Park until 2004, when the city contracted with Uhrich to fix the engine up so it could be used on the Georgetown Loop Railroad.
But three years later, the lawsuit said, Uhrich told Boulder it wasn't possible to restore the train to operational use. It was sent to West Side Locomotive to undergo cosmetic improvements instead.
Mike Spera, president of West Side, said Old No. 30 wasn't in the condition it was supposed to be in when it reached his shop.
Gallo said parts -- especially bolts -- clearly were not original to the 111-year-old locomotive.
"Parts that were put on looked like they were from the local hardware store," he said.
He said the city tried repeatedly to get the missing parts back from Uhrich, but to no avail.
The lawsuit says it could cost the city $75,000 to machine new parts that preserve the historical authenticity of the original components and to complete work that was never finished by Uhrich.
Resolution still being sought
Sandra Llanes, assistant city attorney for Boulder, said the city hopes its lawsuit will finally spur a resolution to the locomotive limbo the engine has been put into.
"We really had no other choice," she said, referring to the city's decision to take Uhrich to court.
Nancy Geyer, CEO of the Boulder History Museum, said it's a shame that such an illustrative part of Boulder County's history has been thrust into a legal quagmire when it should regain its rightful place in Central Park.
"To see a bit of Boulder's early history, it helps to connect people who live here today with people who lived here 100 years ago," she said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or firstname.lastname@example.org.