On August 28, 1898, Billy Westall, the engineer of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, was guiding his train with about 450 travelers back to Denver, after what must have been a delightful day in the mountains. Some passengers had boarded the train in Pine. But before arriving at the Dome Rock Station, where more people were waiting for their ride home, Billy Westall discovered piles of sand and gravel covering the tracks. A cloudburst to the north had washed out the valley of a small stream that fed into the river. Loyal to his human freight and trying to avoid a disaster, Westall slowed the train to decrease the impact. His fireman jumped to safety just in time. The train hit the pile of debris and keeled over, and the engineer was pinned in, seriously injured. His excursionists got away scared and later were taken home to Denver by another train.
John L. Green of Buffalo Creek recalls that Westall "was taken back to Buffalo," and, "he died of his injuries later that night in the Buffalo depot. "While in the arms of his fireman "Buddy" John Nichols, Billy Westall uttered his last words, "Tell my wife I died thinking of her." William G. Westall, who was popular with his passengers, his crew and the people along his route, was buried at Riverside Cemetery. A year later, on September 4, 1899, Westall's comrades of the A.O.U.W., the Ancient Order of United Workmen, erected the impressive monument for him. Nearly all of the officers of the grand lodge were expected to take part in the ceremonies of unveiling the monument. Former passengers came by special train to pay their respects, together with a band and a men's quartet. Caterers from Denver took care of refreshments. Locomotive engineers from the South Park Division also planned to come. John D. Vaughn expressed his thoughts for all with his poem, which, according to Dr. James King, was set in music and recorded by a WPA folk music project in 1935. Unfortunately, the recording was lost in a fire in 1953. News about the incident soon spread throughout Jefferson County, the state, and even the country.
For many years, school kids heard the tale from their grandmothers. By erecting the monument, William Westall's friends tried to bring the memory of this heroic man and his tragedy to people's minds. But there was no sign on the monument to tell the story to the travelers and other curious people. For years, people had been concerned about the safety of the monument but on December. 9, 2013, the National Junior Honor Society from West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer succeeded in moving the monument to a new location where it will be more visible from the nearby dirt road. The monument can be found by taking Hwy 285 to Conifer and taking the Foxton Road exit. When you reach the W. Platte River Road, turn left and continue on several miles along the road which eventually turns into gravel and what was once the railroad tracks. The monument can be found on the right side next to the river.
Portions reprinted from "Historically Jeffco" by Milly Roeder and the Denver Water Blog.