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HEAR THAT LONESOME WHISTLE BLOW AND AIN’T IT THE SWEETEST SOUND

For almost a century—beginning, in fact, with the county’s earliest days—the railroad was the spine of Kiowa County. With tracks that ran from border to border, east to west, trains that crossed these plains through the years carried everything from immigrants and the entirety of their possessions to livestock—including cattle fresh off the range to cans of fresh cream, the United States mail, “suitcase farmers” coming with plans to make a fortune, those same suitcase farmers leaving when defeated by the wind and dirt, passengers headed to Pueblo for the day and God only knows who or what else. For those years, the success of the railroad impacted the success of the county, accounting for roughly a quarter of the revenue Kiowa County relied on to operate.

And then, about twenty years ago, a decision was made that ultimately changed all of that, and it must have seemed like a shot that came completely out of the dark. Who would shut down a railroad that, just one day prior, had 21 trains passing through the county in a single day? But the decision to shut it down was made, and shut it down, they did.

The whys and wherefores of such a move comprise an intriguing and complicated story populated with a cast of characters that included Anschutz, executives with Union Pacific, then Governor Roy Romer, members of the state legislature, the Colorado Department of Transportation and, in a final blow, a less than reputable railway salvage company named V&S.

At that point, pretty much everyone said it was a done deal; the railroad was never coming back, so there’s no point in hoping that it would. The county learned to operate on less revenue. Farmers, already strained by drought, high interest rates and low prices, found themselves having to pay more to transport what they managed to grow. Meanwhile, the people of the county did what they’ve always done; they cinched their belts a little tighter and learned to live with less.

Who would have guessed that the story was far from over? Who could have ever predicted that a savior for the situation would be found in the unlikely personage of a third-generation descendant of Russian royalty from the great state of New York with an intriguing name like Stefan Soloviev? Who, except for the most optimistic among us, would have ever anticipated that Soloviev would subsequently invest an enormous amount of time, energy, attention and resources such that, with the dogged help of the Kiowa County Board of Commissioners and a persistent, civic minded farmer from the East End, V&S would be prevented from tearing up the tracks and resurrection of the railroad would become a very real possibility?

Five will get you ten that there was only one man with such an unrelenting determination, and he was the same man who sent me a text last Friday that stated the following:

******Transaction just closed. Me, Colorado Pacific, an offshoot of
Crossroads Ag and KCVN are the new owners of the Towner line.

It’s been saved.

That text came from…you guessed it. Stefan Soloviev. And that’s about as close to making it official as it gets. The railroad is going to start running again through Kiowa County.

The Colorado Pacific Railroad company, aka the “Towner line” as mentioned in Mr. Soloviev’s text, runs from Towner (interchange with Kansas and Oklahoma) to NA Junction, east of Boone (interchange with Burlington-Northern Santa Fe). That totals a distance of about 122 miles and crosses through the four counties of Kiowa, Crowley, Otero and Pueblo.

At this point, not many details are known other than the purchase price was $10 million, and Soloviev/Colorado Pacific Railroad is advertising for the position of an executive director for a railroad. Given the complexities involved in transferring ownership of a line that goes through four counties, there is most certainly a mountain of paperwork and documents to be completed prior to “on the ground” action taking place. Nonetheless, there is no doubt additional information will be forthcoming.

All things considered, perhaps having to wait for a while to learn more specifics is not such a bad thing. Given that it’s been 20 years…more importantly, given that most people thought this day would never come, maybe this is a good time to pour another cup of coffee, sit back in the chair and just enjoy what it feels like to get some real, real good news.

 

 

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