From left, Al Homann, Ruth Richardson, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Charles Bradshaw, Teresa Freeman, Cindy MacDougall, Alyce Boden, Fran Schilt, and Leslie Jones in 1993. Fritz Klinke photo
Charles Edwin Bradshaw Jr., the Florida citrus grower who bought the Durango-Silverton branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1981 and restored into a major tourist attraction, died on Dec. 21 in Orlando after a battle with cancer. He was 83.
Bradshaw acquired the railroad in March 1980 for $2.2 million.
The line, constructed by the Denver & Rio Grande in 1882 and operated continuously since that time, was originally part of a far flung narrow gauge system in the Rocky Mountain west that reached 1,700 miles by 1900.
An effort to abandon the line went to a public hearing in late 1960 and in June of 1961 the railroad lost the case, but it was allowed to suspend winter operations.
Fritz Klinke of Silverton said Bradshaw put a lot of money into the 47-mile narrow-gauge line.
“He spent money to strengthen bridges and rework the right-of-way,” Klinke said. Bradshaw brought in new rail stock, bigger steam engines, upgraded the rail and grade, and he committed to rebuilding the Durango roundhouse after the 1989 fire.
“When Charlie wanted something done, it got done,” Klinke said. “Charlie had the best interests of both Durango and Silverton in mind in all of his decisions. It wasn’t a Durango-centric railroad.”
Klinke recalled that Bradshaw wanted to keep running trains to Silverton through Thanksgiving, and tried that for a season, but found few passengers.
And Bradshaw hoped to run trains originating in Silverton, even building sidings at Silverton and Hermosa to make it possible.
Bradshaw sold the railroad in 1997 to Al Harper. The purchase price consisted of seller financing in the amount of approximately $10 million; cash payments totaling approximately $5 million; 200,000 shares of First American Railways common stock; and common stock purchase warrants for 1,610,000 shares exercisable at $3.50 a share.
In addition to the railroad, Bradshaw inherited the vast Hi-Acres citrus groves founded by his father in 1942. At one time it included more than 10,000 acres.
Bradshaw, known by some as "Charlie" and others as "Buddy," was the owner of Hi-Acres LLC, the Howey-in-the-Hills-based citrus grower that at its peak owned more than 10,000 acres.
Bradshaw acquired a boat-building plant in Mascotte that turned out fiberglass boats designed to look as if they were made of mahogany. And he accumulated close to 50 antique cars, according to the Orlando Sentinel. His collection was once the subject of an “American Pickers” television episode.
Bradshaw is survived by his daughter, Mollye Sue Inners of York, Pa; his son, Landon Folsom Bradshaw of Leesburg, Fla.; six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Marie L. Bradshaw, and his son, Charles Edwin Bradshaw III.
A funeral service was held Jan. 8, 2014 at the First Baptist Church of Winter Park.