Massive downpour this summer caused flash flooding in Basalt proper and along the Fryingpan River. While traumatic to those affected, it definitely was not the first time this has occurred.
A June 14, 1929 news report states, “The Ranch home of Alvin Sloss on the Frying Pan was almost swept out of existence Monday night by a gigantic mudslide and flood waters… The fields were covered and a large acreage of crops entirely ruined. All night long men worked to save the Basalt bridge across the Frying Pan. No lives were lost.”
Alvin Sloss’ land is now known as the Cap-K Ranch. Near milepost 9 on the Fryingpan River, there is a long-unused train station from the Colorado Midland on the property. Known as Sloss Station in the annals of history, it proudly sits as a snapshot of the past history of railways in the Roaring Fork Valley.
American railroads went through a golden age between the 1870s and the early 21st century. Total American railway mileage increased from around 163,000 miles in 1890 to more than 190,000 miles by the turn of the century. There were over 750,000 employees working in the railroad industry at this time, and nothing gave a man and his wife social status quite as much as owning and managing a railway.
The Colorado Midland Railroad was one such railway. The Midland used several different routes across Colorado. One route was from Colorado Springs (Milepost 0.0) all the way to Aspen (Milepost 207.3) during the years of 1887-1918. It was vital for the silver mining operations, as well as passenger and freight transport. Beloved by historians, the Midland has an extensive well-documented history. [See the citations below for further reading.]
Midland historian, Morris Cafky, writes of Sloss Station, “This station was formerly known as Sloane. Facilities included a section house 24 x 30 feet, a bunk house 14 x 16 feet, a telegraph and 42-car passing track. Deposits of building stone here and in the Peach Blow area nearby were once extensively exploited, as 20 cars of stone were shipped from Sloss as late as 1905.” (Cafky pg. 318)
Cap and Katie immortalized
The land owned by Cap-K Ranch has changed hands over the past century and a half. It began as Jake Lucksinger’s homestead in 1887, before being sold to Ashcroft-based dairy farmer Stirling Sloss in 1902.
By the early 1900s, the Slosses were well established in Basalt. Both John and Price Sloss owned houses on Second Street in Basalt. (Danielson). The train station that now sits on the Cap-K Ranch derives its name from them.
Millionaire Tucker McClure – a name synonymous with WW II Fryingpan history – acquired the property from a grateful Alvin Sloss as the brothers struggled to make ends meet in 1941. McClure amassed a fortune building roads in Ecuador. On his and his wife’s death in late 1954, the McClure estate wanted nothing to do with the cattle ranch. In 1955, the ranch sold to Miller Nichols and Joe Greg.
The Nichols family, originally from Kansas City, has been the owner of the Cap-K Ranch ever since. The name is derived from a combination of the wives’ first names, Cap and Katie. Cyclists, anglers and other travelers might have spotted the train station, now adorned with a large wooden sign marking the historic building.
Lynn Nichols and her husband Jim Gilchrist live there and are a wealth of knowledge.
“Most of the windows are original,” says Nichols, a co-chair of English In Action. “The roof would have been shingle back then,” she notes when asked. The large sign and the train plaque beneath it were crafted by Nichols’ brother-in-law Ramõn Lopez.
Sloss Station wasn’t always located at Cap-K Ranch. Its origins around 1886 lay just a bit west at Peach Blow Quarry.
“Peach Blow once had its own train station which later moved east to Sloss, taking the post office along with it. Mr Alvin Sloss managed to pull that off and ran the post office until 1931.” (Elmont, pg. 83)
Just as the Cap-K has changed names, Peach Blow was once known as Wilson’s Quarries. The quarry was very active; mining took place on both sides of the river. Peach Blow sandstone was shipped far and wide over the rails, and was used in many luxury buildings of the day.
One example closer by is The Hotel Colorado, in Glenwood Springs. Sandstone from Peach Blow was used in its construction.
Trainmen on the Midland would frequently pull into Sloss Station and were generally friendly with the families who lived on the Fryingpan. Since Sloss Station was situated on a working cattle ranch, there was fresh buttermilk available for consumption.
Around the time that Sloss Station was in use, Basalt was known as Aspen Junction. Some historians argue that Basalt was created around and for the trains that were coming to town.
However, there was some discordance about the name of Aspen Junction. According to local RFV trainman, Jim Markalunas, the U.S. Post Office was unhappy with the confusion that the name was causing for mail delivery. To resolve the issue, the town changed its name to Basalt.
After returning from the Korean War around 1952, Markalunas was hired as the station agent for the D&RG railroad. He delivered telegraphs in Aspen and has been there ever since.
To bookend the tale of an old Fryingpan train station, Elmont recalls a more recent landslide near Sloss Station.
“In the ’50s or ’60s a slide sent tons of earth down the mountain blocking the river for an hour or two before the water broke its way through and sent a torrent of muddy water all the way to the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs,” says Elmont. “The water ran dirty for days, no doubt, killing many fish. The slide totally filled some sheds next to the Fryingpan Road but missed the Sloss Depot.”
A debt of gratitude for research assistance is due to The Aspen Historical Society, Janice Duroux, Earl Elmont and Jim Markalunas.
Cafky, Morris. Colorado Midland, 1965
Danielson, Clarence L. Basalt: Colorado Midland town, 1965, 1971, 2009
Elmont, Earl V. Basalt and the Frying Pan: Legacy of the Colorado Midland Railroad, 2004