By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
A Colorado man with deep roots in railroading and a profound admiration for Wyoming says former Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler all but ruined him financially by pulling the plug on a planned Denver-to-Salt Lake City passenger line.
The line would have passed through Wyoming, Jim Jordan told Cowboy State Daily.
“I lost everything, and had to build back up from there,” he said, adding the passenger line “could have worked. It really could have worked.”
Jordan, a sixth-generation Colorado native, said Herschler is the only Wyomingite he’s known that he didn’t like, and he actually wishes he could live in the Cowboy State.
“I wish you guys didn’t have so much snow and so many damn rattlesnakes,” he said.
He also has a connection to the Wyoming Capitol building – some of his ancestors helped build it.
‘In My Day We Called Those Dead Bodies’
In the 1980s, after AMTRAK pulled out of Wyoming, Jordan said he was called upon to help organize efforts to fund a passenger line between Denver and Salt Lake City, passing through Wyoming.
After visiting with every city council along the route and convincing numerous investors to pitch in, Jordan said it looked as if the idea would become a reality. Organizers had gotten the Union Pacific Railroad to agree to let the passenger line use its tracks, and AMTRAK would license the line.
After a long conversation with Wyoming’s governor, he got Herschler to agree that Wyoming would match any money he raised through investors and donors.
The project had widespread support, including from then-U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming (now retired).
One use of the rail line would be to transport “deceased persons” between Cheyenne and Denver for mortuary and funeral services, Jordan said.
To which he said Simpson responded with his trademark wry humor.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Back in my day, we called those dead bodies,’” Jordan recalls Simpson saying.
‘Piss On His Grave’
However, the project fell apart after Herschler decided to withdraw support – and the promised matching funds – relaying the message through an assistant, Jordan said.
Jordan said that many years later and still harboring a grudge long after Hershcler had died, he ran into somebody who had known the governor. He asked where Herchler was buried and the person replied the location was “secret.”
Jordan said he replied that he wanted to know so he could “go piss on his grave.”
He said he was told in response that the location was kept secret because there was concern so many people would want to do the same that “there would be a flood.”
(The truth is Gov Herschler, a widely-popular leader who remains the only governor in Wyoming to be elected for three terms, is buried in the public cemetery of his hometown, Kemmerer, and its location has never been secretive.)
Deep Railroad Roots
Jordan worked for railroads for many years, then later for fire departments. He was the first paid fire chief for Summit County, Colorado.
In that vein, he followed in his father’s footsteps.
His father worked as a “fireman” back when rail engines were still powered by steam and heated by a coal-fired boilers. It was the fireman’s job to shovel coal into the boiler.
“Back then, rail engineers were really mean to their firemen, just nasty,” he said. “One day, my father was shoveling coal like mad in the middle of a blizzard, and he thought to himself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ So, he walked away from that job and went to work for the Denver Fire Department.”
Jordan said his grandmother also was involved in railroads, organizing and leading “flower excursions.”
People would board trains to go pick flowers in the Coloraod mountains, he said.
“Nowadays, it’s illegal to go take flowers from the mountains, but back then people would come home from those excursions and step off the train with armloads of flowers,” Jordan said.
Jordan said his grandmother told him that her grandfather, David Greenlee, owned a construction company that helped build the Wyoming State Capitol.
David Greenlee was a Union Army veteran of the Civil War who moved out to Colorado after the war, Jordan said. He founded a construction company called “Greenlee and Sons.”
Records show that when construction on the Wyoming Capitol began in 1886, a “Robert C. Greenlee” was named as a main subcontractor, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.
Wyoming Is What Colorado Used To Be
Jordan said he’s seen many changes in Colorado over the years, most of which he doesn’t like. The state has become largely too politically liberal and crowded for his taste.
“Colorado used to be a bright red state,” he said. “A very red state. Even the Democrats were red. They were very conservative.”
Along with his family’s history with the Cowboy State, that’s one of the reasons Jordan said he holds a fondness for Wyoming.
“I would like to live in Wyoming because I’m politically similar to most of the people up there,” he said. “But I hate snow. I hate it with a passion.
“I lived in Dillon (Colorado) for many years, and I saw snow every month of the year up there. I just couldn’t stand it.”
Yeah, And Those Snakes
Then there’s his revulsion toward rattlesnakes.
“I got bit by a bull snake when I was about 3 years old, and it just wouldn’t let go,” he said.
Nowadays, Jordan said he dedicates much of his time to helping raise money for charitable causes and restoration projects.
He’s president of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Heritage Society, which is working to restore an old railyard in Calhan, Colorado.
“I still like to go up to Wyoming for visits,” he said. “I have great connections with many people up there.”
Perhaps it’s just as well those connections either don’t know or won’t divulge Herschler’s final resting place.