History

 

THE DENVER POST TRAIN

By Dick Kreck, Former Denver Post Columnist

Denver Post reporter Gene Lindberg, a quick-draw artist with a poem, penned this tribute to Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1934:

     All Aboard!  On the big Post Special Train!  Climb aboard!  She’s a-roarin’ north again.  So leave dull care behind, as we join the glad refrain:  Here’s a hot time in the old time Cheyenne.

 The train he referred to was as famous in its heyday as the ornery bronc “ Midnight ” or long-time CFD organizer C.B. Irwin were in theirs.  From 1908 to 1970, the Post’s special carried the rich, the prominent and the simply fun-loving to a day of “whoopee” at the Daddy of em All.

 Wendell Willkie rode it as a presidential hopeful in 1940, as did Vice-President candidate Lyndon Johnson in 1960.  There were film stars, including Dennis Morgan, Fred MacMurray and Rex Allen; U.S. Supreme Court justices, governors and mayors, and influential business leaders.  In short, anyone who might do The Post some good.

 It was a day of relaxation, no shop talk allowed.  Well-known political leaders were sometimes observed on their hands and knees, partaking of games of chance; the Plains Hotel became the epicenter of social activity; stories were legion of revelers who failed to make the return trip to Denver – and there were the “hostesses.” The Post made sure there were plenty of dance partners on board to keep the paper’s all-male guests entertained. “(Wives) thought we were running a rolling cathouse,” recalled Alexis McKinney, special assistant to publisher Palmer Hoyt who organized the trips in the 1940s and 50s.  It wasn’t true, McKinney said years later, but the paper no longer provided partners after 1951.


The annual Denver Post special train to Frontier Days made its first trip in August 1908 when Post co-owner and publisher Frederick G. Bonfils invited 100 friends and advertisers of the newspaper to spend a day reliving the spirit of the Old West and building better relations between cities’ business communities.  There were no trips in 1924, the year Bonfils’ business partner and friend Harry H. Tammen died, or during World War II (1942-45).

 When Palmer Hoyt arrived as editor and publisher of The Post in 1946, one of his first moves was to revive the trip to Cheyenne – without the train.  Faced with a shortage of rail passenger equipment and thwarted in its attempt to charter to 40-passenger aircraft, the newspaper, determined to celebrate the big show’s 50th anniversary, settled for a single United Air Lines DC-3 which carried only 21 guests, including Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice W. Lee Knous, Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, Post executives and representatives of all the town’s radio stations.  


The next year, on July 22, 1947 , the train trips resumed with a crowd of 550 state and Denver officials and business leaders aboard 14 cars, including three diners.  The Post’s guests were entertained by two orchestras headed by George Morrison playing for dancing in the “recreation cars,” Wyoming Governor Lester C. Hunt was among the throng at the Cheyenne depot that welcomed back the first Post train since 1941.

 As the Denver business community grew, more and more people clamored to be invited on the train, which had become an elite social club on wheels.  Some, not invited, were so anxious to be included they drove to Cheyenne to mingle with train guests when the special pulled into the depot.

 The financial costs and an increasing number of unhappy notables who couldn’t get a seat were making the trip a negative for the paper.  When the train made its last run in 1970, it was as much a victim of its own success as anything else.  On its final trip, the Union Pacific stretched to 27 cars (18 coaches and nine diners) and carried 1,127 guests, all of whom were given breakfast on the northbound trip and one-pound steak dinners (or trout or lamb) en route home, all accompanied by plenty of complementary liquid refreshments.

 Cost, combined with the lack of available UP passenger equipment, led to the train’s demise, and the fun and excitement of the annual trek north lay dormant until 1992, when the newspaper revived it to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Post.


  On July 18, 1992 , the trip came back to life as the Centennial Special, using coaches of the Ski Train pulled by Amtrak locomotives and carrying 790 passengers, including Colorado Govenor Roy Romer and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

 In 1994, the train returned to its roots when the UP’s giant steam locomotive, number 3985, a Challenger-class locomotive of the type which had pulled the special in the 1950s returned to its place at the head of the train, making the outing an attraction to rail fans as well as rodeo daytrippers.  Since then, 3985 and the railroad’s other steamer, 844, have shared the hauling.

 Nowadays, the annual Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days Train, this year making its thirteenth trip to Cheyenne since its revival, is open to the paying public.

 For passengers it is a chance to re-live the days on the frontier when a cowboy’s skills were tested and everyone whooped until they were plumb whooped out.  In 1917, columnist Fay King, who covered the rodeo for the Post that year, enthused, “It was sure a whoopee, yip yip time, and I’m gosh-darned glad I got in on it!” Or, as legendary Post columnist “Red” Fenwick put it 30 years later, “West is west and it won’t wear off.”

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