When local artist Bill Harrington was growing up, his father, who was also an artist, instilled in him an adoration for trains and the many thousands of miles of steel tracks that carried them across the country.
Harrington was born in Leadville and has lived much of his life locally. He remembers the days when trains would roll through town on the Tennessee Pass Line heading northwest to Salt Lake City to drop off various goods and people along the way.
Recently, when Harrington heard that Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway Company hoped to reopen the historic railway, those memories came flooding back. The line itself was the inspiration for his latest painting, “Streaming Toward the Light of Marcia Kay at Tennessee Pass.”
The painting is a large, eerily realistic depiction of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad depot building which sat near the Tennessee Pass Line tunnel until the mid-20th century. The acrylic on canvas painting is also a tribute to Harrington’s wife, Marcia, who passed a few years ago. In the painting, Marcia is pictured reading her bible in the lit top-floor window of the Denver & Rio Grande depot, an activity she would often be found doing in her own home.
Because the building was torn down years ago, Harrington relied on his memory and old railroad books to depict what the station looked like in the late 1800s.
“My intention was to give people a glimpse of what the building and railway looked like back then,” said Harrington. “It would be cool if people realized just how vital the Tennessee Pass Line was for this area.”
“Streaming Toward the Light of Marcia Kay at Tennessee Pass” is cloaked in a blue, evening hue. A train engine bursts through a tunnel and passes the Denver & Rio Grande depot building, which is covered in snow after a deep winter snowstorm. Harrington said he put more than 400 hours into creating the painting, paying special attention to detail and how the train and building would have looked over 100 years ago.
The local artist learned to paint at Lake County High School, where an art teacher named Sylvia Stone helped Harrington develop his craft.
After high school, Harrington quit painting for a job at Climax mine, where he worked until 1981. He started painting again in the 1980s on a drafting table in his living room in Leadville. Because Harrington is color blind, his wife Marcia would help him mix colors and critique his paintings. The pair recorded many formulas for mixing colors that Harrington still references.
When Harrington isn’t painting — and he said he rarely isn’t — he is riding his motorcycle. On the day Harrington spoke with the Herald, he was wearing light jeans, a matching denim jacket and a black motorcycle t-shirt. Though he wouldn’t be riding that day, Harrington said he would return to his drafting table to work on a painting of a 1939 Dodge milk truck.
“I want to connect people to history,” Harrington said. “There is so much of it here, everywhere you turn.”