Miss D. and I had an enjoyable morning running (well, ambling, really) through the Royal Gorge aboard a tourist train. We splurged on the deluxe package, which included a very tasty, well-prepared breakfast, equal to anything I've had in decent restaurants that weren't moving. We sat in the observation car, high up, with big curved windows offering the best view of the Gorge. It was a cool, rainy, cloudy morning, not the best weather for viewing the sights, but one makes do with what Mother Nature provides.
The train moves pretty slowly, probably at no more than 10-12 miles per hour, taking it easy through the many twists and turns of the railway track along the side of the Royal Gorge. When one thinks that space for the entire track had to be blasted out of the rocky mountainside with dynamite and pickaxes, with every hole for the explosives being dug by hand-held single-jack and double-jack drills, the mind boggles. (Pneumatic or steam drilling had not yet been developed to a commercially viable level.)
The term "jack" referred to miners; it was originally a term from Cornwall, and miners from that region were colloquially referred to in the USA as "Cousin Jacks". They were considered masters of drillwork. Here's a demonstration by the 2017 World Champion of single-jack drilling, where the same man holds the drill and strikes it with a hammer, turning it slightly in between each stroke.
Double jack drilling used two miners, one swinging a sledgehammer, the other holding and turning the drill. They would trade places every few minutes. Here's a demonstration from a 2010 championship event in Idaho Springs.
Looking at the incredibly steep sides of the Royal Gorge (image below courtesy of Wikipedia), and realizing that the entire railway roadbed had been carved out of solid rock by those primitive methods, was a sobering experience.
They would have worked the drills at all angles, including sideways, slanted up or slanted down, unlike the straight up-and-down drilling portrayed in the video clips above. Our forefathers were surely as tough as nails! It becomes clear why human life expectancy, which was about 34.8 years in 1800 in the USA, had risen only a few years, to 41, by 1900. With such brutal, backbreaking physical labor, and the constant risk of accidents and crippling injury, many manual workers stood little chance of achieving what we would consider a ripe old age.
When the train returned to Cañon City, we took to our own vehicle once more and headed for the Wet Mountain Valley. This is where my Western protagonist, Walt Ames, has his horse ranch (which he obtained by methods described in "Rocky Mountain Retribution"). In a future book, he's going to run headlong into the hordes of silver miners and prospectors who descended on the area after the discovery of silver at what became the Silver Cliff Mine. He will strive to keep his ranch and horse breeding activities intact, while prospectors will try to break into his land holdings in their search for wealth. It's going to lead to an epic conflict.
The Wet Mountains are so named because they capture much of the winter moisture drifting from the Pueblo basin in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We saw graphic evidence of this on our drive. The valley itself, on the west side of the range, was dry and sunny, with snow visible on the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. The lower Wet Mountains, forming the other side, have no snow on them as yet. However, when we drove through them on Highway 96, on our way back to Cañon City, the eastern side of the range was wet and misty, dripping with moisture, showing very clearly why early settlers named them as they did. The eastern and western sides of the range might as well be two different ecosystems, the difference in moisture is so marked.
We'll be heading out on Tuesday for Cimarron, NM. It's one of the most famous of the early towns of the Old West. I've been there before, but I'd like to show Miss D. some of the history that still haunts the place. From there, on Wednesday, we'll make the long run home. It'll be nice to leave nosebleed altitudes, and get back to denser air again! I'm sure our lungs will be duly grateful.