Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Remains

Golden Belt Route

            The Golden Belt Route was the shortest route to the Rocky Mountain goldfields from St Louis, MO.  After the Kansas Pacific RR completed their rails to Denver in the fall of 1870, they heartily promoted the route.  Beside the railroad tracks, the wagon ruts grew as travelers followed beside the rails and the railroad was hauling freight and passengers west.  For travelers in the 1870’s it was an express route west. 
            A variety of little towns had been built by the railroad to serve their trains and hopes that people would settle the area becoming customers.   With the arrival of the automobile, the wagon road next to the rails became a highway.  The Golden Belt Route became US Highway 40 as it crossed Kansas into Colorado.  Then the government rerouted US 40 and in some places little towns were left high and dry as the highway was over there someplace.   No longer did the traveler pass through the little villages the railroad had built along their route to the gold fields.   

A frozen Coon Creek, where the Mirage stage stop was 

            With the highway realignment, the towns began to fade and soon were ghost towns.  There is a small section of this route that is pretty much like it was in the 1870’s.  When the highway was changed, the ranchers and locals continued to use the old highway as did the railroad, keeping the old route intact.  Civilization has not changed the area much. 

There are crossroads that lead to other adventures. 

            There is open range and cattle stroll down the country road that winds its way cross country next to the railroad tracks.  Few of the old concrete bridges from the 1900’s are still used, a few have been removed and replaced by culverts.  For the most part it is where the wagons of the early 1800 have rolled followed by the new fangled horseless carriages.  Bouncing along this bumpy country road is like stepping back in time.   Here one can imagine the wagons rolling along, listen to the whistle of the train as it passes, buffalo on the ridge, the prairie is the same as it was over a century ago. 

            This old portion of the Golden Belt Route begins where the town of Clifford once was and ends at Aroya an empty ghost town.  The dirt road passes through three town, two stage stations and lots of Indian folklore.  Here I can wander along, quietly, listening to the song birds of the plains, watch the eagles, falcons or hawks circle overhead.  The deer stand in the gully warily eyeing the interloper and on the ridge is the antelope sentential, watching. 
            In the spring of 1870, the Indians launched a series of coordinated attacks on the railroad workers and stage stations.  Numerous workers were killed and wounded fleeing back to the army post at Kit Carson seeking safety.  These attacks brought General Custer out to patrol the rail line and prevent further attacks by the Indians.  There were no mare attacks for the Indians had fled north and would meet up with Custer on another day. 
            So when I bounce along the dirt road I have all this to ponder and my mind goes back to the 1870’s when all this was happening.  I can look at the land and wonder is that where the Indians hid for their attack.  Where were the railroad workers?  What would it of been like working on the western frontier?  The mind is a fertile place to conjure up stories about what was happening 150 years ago. 

The ranch is where the Aroya stage stop had been.  

            I drive past where the stage stations had been, now it is barren vacant land sitting in silence.  The little creek flows under the bridge as I cross over headed for the next town.  One family still lives there calling it home, they are third generation ranchers in the area.  Birds sit on the fence line watching the approaching pick-up.  The railroad tracks are silent ribbons of steel awaiting the next train.  It is a quiet adventure as I bounce along the road, cattle ahead lounging on the roadway.  As I approach they get up and move out of the way. 
            The occasional rancher rolls down the road to check on his cattle, the letter carrier pauses by the country mailbox and a railroad pick up parks on the road making notes of the rails.  Otherwise it is a moment in time that passes back to centuries before. 

At the eastern end is the remains of Aroya 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

First Harvey Houses

Fred Harvey
Harvey Houses

            Fred Harvey worked for the railroad in the 1860’s, traveling to various places, where work took him.  For Fred the food service in most eateries back then was less than adequate.  When he would return to his office there were complaints of being on the road and having bad food.  So Fred took it upon himself to change that, with a partner.  Two restaurants were opened at main railroad stops out west.  The very first Harvey Restaurants were built in hotels at Wallace Kansas and Hugo Colorado on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, 1872. 
            A Harvey House and the Harvey Girls tend to be synonymous with the Santa Fe Railroad.   After the early success with other restaurants along various rail lines, The Santa Fe RR offered a contract to Harvey to build restaurants along their rail line.   By this time the partnership had broken up and Fred Harvey was no long employed by a railroad.  He was now opening a chain of restaurants across the country that would bear his name.
            The restaurants were situated in Hotels and soon these would be replaced by new hotels and some bore his name.  The Harvey houses dotted the southwest at other places besides the railroad.  Some were at other railroads and a few were in National Parks.  Today a few of the old Harvey Houses still stand and some are museums or refurbished into new uses. 
            The first two restaurants of Fred Harvey met their demise when railroading policy changed.  Crew change points were shifted and much of the railroad business the first hotels and restaurants relied on was gone.  Wallace had been a town of over 4000 souls, with changes on the Smoky Hill Trail and the railroad, the workers of Wallace moved on to the next railhead and soon it was a shell of what had been.  Today Wallace has a population of less than 100 souls and the Wallace hotel is long gone.  The Kansas Pacific office building still stands; otherwise it is ghosts that wander through the now empty town. 

            The nearby museum of Ft Wallace has new display in a back warehouse that has recreated the town of Wallace using store fronts.  The Wallace Hotel that housed the first Fred Harvey in Kansas is one of the fronts that has been built.  It is like walking down the streets of the old railroad town with all the different stores and shops from that era. 
            Hugo does not a display of any kind for where the first Harvey House was.  Roughly where the hotel had been, there is now an old empty gas station and the sign for Hugo.  Short distance east is where the Roundhouse had been, now a swimming pool occupies the land.  The depot is next block over and preserved as a community center.  The street one block north of this is lined with small old homes where the early rail workers and others lived.  Most of the homes on the north side date 1870-74 and that era.  The other side is the newer homes built where the railroad had their buildings.  Hugo has an original roundhouse on the SW side of town that is being restored and maybe there they will do something with the Hugo Harvey House. 

            Both little towns were connected by the railroad and then by the first Harvey house.  Both sit astride the Smoky Hill Trail and had stage stops.  Today the railroad still sends the occasional train down the rails.  No longer is it the whistle echoing across the high plains with a cloud of smoke overhead.  The air horns of the diesel have replaced the whistle of the steam engines but the lore still whispers across the land. 


Friday, December 30, 2016

Ark Valley RR .... Cornelia, CO.

Cornelia Colorado
            A wide spot along the rails and a huge warehouse is the extent of the little village of Cornelia. 
            When sugar beets dominated farming in the Arkansas Valley, the farmers built a railroad on the north side the river to serve the sugar beet farmers.  The east end of the rails were Holly Colorado and the west end was at Swink. 
            As the railroad prospered, other businesses were served and small towns popped next to the rails.  Most were not much more then a store and the rail terminal.  A few grew into little town with all the amenities of a prosperous country town. 

            Cornelia was one of the stops along the rails and like the sugar towns is faded into memory banks in the 60’s when federal sugar tariffs changed.  One of the little towns on the rail line was Hasty, the gateway to the John martin reservoir and Hasty Lake.  Here one can see the old rail bed next to the highway.  To the north along county roads there are other little burgs that have reminders of other days. 

            Cornelia is to the west and is on one of those county roads going to over there.  There is a huge warehouse still standing and a processing shed and a couple of homes.  It appears a farmer now operates, the old community remains.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ruxton, Colorado

Railroad Town

            Ruxton, Colorado was a small town built for railroad service.  Here there would have been maintenance of way crews and equipment, A depot of some type and few homes for the workers to live in.  The local train would stop here, dropping off supplies and people and picking up.  It was a wide spot out on the mesas of eastern Colorado. 

            Ruxton is located in one of Colorado’s more unique landscapes.  It is a dry land of cacti, mesas, gullies and canyons.  Scrub trees dot the land and along the springs and small creeks, there are groves of trees.  There are small oasis’s that are scattered across the empty land.  Cattle roam over the land and the occasional ranch house next to a spring. 
            Cattle shipping would have been handled by the railroad or sheep.  Early 1900’s, lots of sheep roamed the land but the land could not sustain the sheep.  Today it is mostly cattle roaming the land in search of sparse tufts of grass. 

            Along the dusty road there are old railroad cars, marking where corrals and pens are.  Here the rancher could drive his cattle in for shipment on the rails.
            There is the old stone house, now is state of falling apart.  Yet years ago it would have been a family’s dream home.  The first room was built, with door and window.  Later years, rooms were added on to the house, probably as the family grew.  The little stone house is the only sign there had been a village here. 

            The trains still roar by and MOW crews still work on the rails.  It is a vast land that has a song of silence, one can listen, for those that pause.  It is broken by the occasional pick up or train.  The grasses sway with the few trees as an easy breeze whispers through.  Clouds roll across the horizon keeping their moisture.  In silence, Ruxton sits.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Broom Factory

            Pritchett, situated in the far southeastern corner of Colorado was at one time considered the capitol of broomcorn.  There was a factory there to manufacture brooms for shipment across the corner.  Broomcorn became an important cash product for the farmers.  The flat land was excellent production ground for growing crops and the farmers grew and grew. 

            Drive through Pritchett today and one would not even consider its importance to the region.  There are numerous empty building on Main Street and lots of vacant lots where there had been stores and shops.  There are a few businesses that operate, the grain elevator, a saloon and the Post Office, the school still teaches.   But life is much slower in the little country village that survived the “Dirty 30’s.”   
            The east/west highway sees the occasional traffic as it bends through town.  No longer are there brooms to be shipped around the country, today it is grain products.  Yet for the person that wanders through town, all kinds of past moments ripple through the imagination.  The workers that worked in the rural factory, going to an from work, pausing in the saloon, the few cars cruising main.  It would make a great Hollywood backdrop for a movie. 

            Neat old gas station on the corner, classic movie house, the saloon and a park on the corner to hang out in, the flappers from the 20’s or the Hot Rodders of the 50’s.  Any of these would fit right into the fabric of Pritchett.  Cruise down the street to where it turns, flip a U and cruise back to the other end of town.  Music rolling out of the saloon.  It is a western town on the eastern plains of Colorado. 
            Today the farming and ranching in the area keep the little town school open insuring the town has some life.  The tumbleweed can roll down the street not bothered but by the light breeze. 

The link takes one to the Baca County History, stories about broomcorn.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Comanche

Picture Canyon
            Situated in the SE corner of the state of Colorado is the Comanche Grasslands, owned by the Federal government.  The government bought up scores of acres and turned them is to grass in the attempts to slow down the dust bowl of the 30’s.  It also created recreational areas on the prairie, opening up wide variety public lands.  The nearby states also have huge sections of grasslands in the corners of their states. 

            The grasslands of New Mexico and Kansas encompass parts of the old Santa Fe Trail, following the Cimarron River, mostly dry.  There is the flat rolling land that is prone to blow and there is the surprise of the canyons and mesas in the area.  Just north of the Oklahoma border, in Colorado is a large area of land broken with canyons and rocky cliffs. 
            Tucked back in these areas are springs, trees and rocky overhangs, where the Indians could have shelter and carve in the rocks.  One such place is Picture Canyon, about 12 miles due west of Campo and a few miles south.  Here one drives out of the flat lands into scrub forest and rocky gulches. 

            The rock walls made great easels for early many.  The Indians left their mark with Pictographs and petroglyphs.  They were not alone the early European explorers left their mark also.  There are some petroglyphs that archeologists speculate may have been Viking/Celtic in origin.  Which raises the questions, were the Northern Europeans, exploring in Western North America. 

            No matter what, it is still a fun place to drive back into and watch the land change.  Looking at the cliffs, there are the occasional overhangs/caves that show signs of soot on the rocks.  Here in late summer the Indian could sit here and work his buffalo meat into pemmican.  For here in the canyons are a variety of fruits, Choke Cherry, Hackberry and others. 
            There are also the remains of cabins that were built, late 1800’s.  It was a good area to graze cattle for summer pasture and a cabin for the trail rider. 

            It is an area to delve back more than a few thousand years.  The Folsom Point man roamed the area, before the present day plains Indians showed up.  The Comanche Indians are the contemporary residents of the area, living, hunting, working and playing in the canyons.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Following The Rails

Gilpin, Colorado
            Following the railroads, reveals lots of old communities that are no more.  Depending on the RR, spacing would 6-20 miles between stops.  The old steamers would need water and servicing and this is what lots of the stops were for.  They also were places to station the section crews that maintained the rails.  Here one could find section houses, a depot of sorts and if enough people were there an enterprising gentlemen would open a store.  Soon it would become a town, well maybe.  With the changes in railroad equipment, section assignments would change and small stops would become vacant as the workers were assigned to other districts.  What had been a place at one time, became a ghost place. Since lots of them did not become towns and have a Post Office, they do not show up on lots of maps.
Partial map showing some of the railroad spots. 

            I collect some railroad memorabilia and one of those treasures is time tables.  The RR tables would list the routes of trains and the control points.  These places would have a siding, maintenance crews and some buildings.  When I go hunting ghost communities I carry a few of these time tables to help me find some of the lost villages.  What’s interesting is if a town grew up, not associated with the RR, it does not show up.  So I carry some old maps and do lots of cross checking with the different places I’m looking for.  Sometimes these places pop up on digital, usually not.  Then other places pop on digital that shows on no other places.  It becomes a challenge to coordinate all the different little bits of info. 
            Gilpin is one of those little burgs that used to be that shows up most places.  There are a few things in the area but nothing to indicate a town had been there.  A rancher has built a corral nearby and across the road is a comm. Tower.  The railroad has some signal lights on the ROW for traffic control, which would be the only indicator that the railroad had anything here. 
There were times when the RR would have stock pens and load livestock on the train.

            The trains make a long climb out of the Arkansas Valley and Gilpin would have been the first stop on the ridge top.  Here the train would have gotten orders on how far to proceed and if there were any MOW crews on the tracks.  There would been a water tank and a depot of some type.  Sometimes the depot was an old boxcar sitting beside the rails.  Very seldom do I find reminders of those days.  Usually it is chunks of concrete marking where the various buildings had been.  As I go from here to there, I block out some time to travel along some of these out of the way routes, looking to see what I can see.  Sometimes I completely miss them and make U-turns, if I have not driven to far past them.  Or I put them in the hopper to chase down on another trip.

            Gilpin is on the edge of the desert and poor soil.  Not much grows on the limestone soil and there is very little rainfall.  Climbing up the ridge, the land changes to varied mesas, canyons and scrub forest.  A few cattle roam the sparse grassland and the occasional pick up rumbles down the road.  Otherwise it is pretty empty land as I muter down the road to the next stop.