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25 March 2024

7th Street Shops - Rails Flanges & Gears Post 5

Correction; the trips to Little Colorado took place in 2006 and 2008.

Monday, March 20, 2023
Tribute - Harry Brunk

Mainline across Clear Creek and section house
I learned a few weeks ago that Harry Brunk had passed away a week or so prior. Though we were not close friends we did talk at various times about our common interest in the Colorado & Southern narrow gauge. I had not heard from him in nearly 10 years. I don't know many details about his passing except that he was in a nursing home and that he passed just after Rick Steele and another friend visited him.

In 2009 and again in 2010 several of us packed up from Denver and traveled to central Nebraska to see "Little Colorado", home to the Union Central & Northern. The photos shared in this post came from those visits.
An intimate view of Forks Creek

According to Harry's anthology, the U.C.&N. was a subsidiary of the Union Central R.R. that branched off at Denver and went west up Clear Creek Canyon. Of course, this was his version of history for the Union Pacific and the Colorado Central Railway that inspired his HOn3 layout. . 

Harry's railroad was fomented in that period of the hobby when "whim" was a common genre of model railroad building. Harry's involvement as a writer for the "Slim Gauge News" (1972 -1974") was a reflection of that perspective. His pseudonym for the column, "The HOn3 Scene", was Leighton Slough; say it as a phrase rather than a name. Of course, Leighton was a retired Yard Master for the U.C.&N and occasionally Leighton made reference to one Harry Brunk in the third person.

The yard at Black Hawk
In those days it was common for modelers to make up a railroad name, complete with a tongue-in-cheek story line to explain why the founders built the railroad in the first place. Often the hobbyist would lace the story with humorous innuendoes and metamorphic logic. Perhaps this was expected to defuse the stigma of "playing" with trains with absurd humor to insure that the "unenlightened" knew it was all none to serious anyway.... maybe you just had to be there. In this way a layout didn't carry the burden of actually following a particular prototype even if the layout reflected that prototype. Again, you just had to be there. When a layout didn't follow any prototype it became whimsical; it adhered to reality (the laws of physic and general railroad practices) that made it believable - but that might have been about it. Harry didn't really do any of that. He loved Colorado narrow gauge but focused only on one railroad; And then he gave it a pseudonym; Union, Central and Northern. Or; "everywhere, here and there".

What ever his intentions were, Harry built a very near copy of the Clear Creek line, He simply renamed it the U.C.&N. and then maintained a commitment to it for five decades. These two points are at the core of why the layout holds such an attraction to so many. Harry translated the C&S into a new and unique "company" by not using that prototype name; to the point we might even be indifferent to the prototype.

Downtown Black Hawk in the 1930s
Certainly, the U.C.&N. was a whimsical idea but it was hardly whimsical in expression. Harry once told me that he wished he had used "Colorado & Southern" for the road name in the first place but by that point it was long past doing anything to change it. I'm happy he didn't try. All together this is the genius of the "Union Central & Northern" that very few layouts actually achieve.

Apparently the layout began in a bunk house. His life style as a cowboy was a bit more nomadic which would be inconvenient to building a railroad model. . At the same time he always lived in rural settings and this allowed a solution to the problem that was nearly as genius as his layout
Back to Forks Creek; westbound

concept. Eventually he and his wife Bobby moved into a place where he was able to purchase a single wide mobile home and the U.C.&N. finally had a more permanent footing. Harry named the trailer "Little Colorado." Little Colorado was moved at least once before it finally failed  in 2011. At that point he had to give up the layout. Thru his good friend Rick Steele (La belle Wood Works) the layout went to the Cheyenne Depot Museum where visitors can see the layout now spread out on the second floor.

The U.C.&N.was a masterful capture of the C&S Clear Creek Division. The rails began just below Forks Creek where the road branched north to Black Hawk or continued west thru Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Silver Plume to the wye beyond.  The layout included the Georgetown Loop and the famous Devils Gate Bridge.

The Argo Mill and Tunnel

He built from the actual settings as much as 1/87th scale would allow. I grew up in Colorado and made many trips up Clear Creek and over both Loveland Pass and thru the Tunnel. I visited Black Hawk many times including New Years day in 1989 to crawl under the type I coal car (4319) on display there. So when my friends and I stepped into Little Colorado several hundred miles from the real thing it was a bit enchanting to not only instantly "be there" but also nearly 70 years earlier! There was the Argo Tunnel, the Hulkill Mine and the Georgetown Loop. There was the Silver Plume Depot and the Black Hawk Boiler and Sheet Metal Works. But there were also things we never saw before; like the complete Forks Creek wye and all of the structures around it. Never mind the engines and cars had the  Circular and Block letter of the U.C.&N. herald - they were Colorado & Southern stock!

An intimate look at Idaho Springs

Harry was a cowboy artist. He worked for Leanin' Tree gift cards as well a number of ranches. He also apparently had showings in galleries. An artist's ability to communicate in a language without word plays an important role in his success. Fine art is a language that speaks from the soul to the soul. Harry may well be more remembered for his layout than his very fine paintings - at least for a time - because there isn't any question his layout has a firm grasp of that language.

As I pointed out, two parties traveled to Little Colorado to visit Harry and Bobby and the famed model railroad. In both cases Bob Axsom, Daryl Leedy and I and alternately Joe Crea one year and Mike Pine the second made the round trip in a day's drive. We traveling together in one car, had a great time visiting the Brunks and enjoyed each others company the whole time. Both trips are among my fondest memories. I am fortunate to have seen the Union Central & Northern in it's original splendor. One day I may get by the Depot and enjoy the memories again.

Robert Axsom took all of the photos you see here. Bob passed away a few years after Vicki and I moved to Montana in 2010. Both of these friends and fellow C&S enthusiasts have enriched my modeling experience. I'll share a few more photos in a following post. The link below will take you to more about the layout in the Depot.

https://www.facebook.com/people/Union-Central-and-Northern-model-railroad/100063867975856/

Idaho Springs was the biggest town on the layout






This standard gauge reefer smacks of Central Valley


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