Friday, January 27, 2017

Golden Belt Route ..... Part III

            Continuing along the Golden Belt Route, one travels over one of the old concrete bridges from the early 1900’s, crossing Coon Creek.  Bouncing over the country road, is bouncing along with the wagons that traveled next to the railroad tracks more than 100 years ago.  Very few vehicles roll along the road and fewer trains sing on the iron rails.  On the road to Boyero, the land is mostly unchanged, it is open range, cattle stand on the road looking at the interlopers, deer lounge in the shade of the few trees and birds serenade the traveler. 

            It is traveling back to another era, listen to the land as it sings.  Here one can gaze across the emptiness and hear the creak of the wagons, see the puffs of dust from the wheels.  It is now cattle that graze on the grasses, sharing with the wildlife.  The eagles feast on the prairie dogs, the prairie falcon has a dove for a meal, the song birds sit on the fence line and the antelope watches from far ridge.  A land as it was centuries ago. 
            Rolling SE from Clifford, the Golden Belt Route passes through Boyero.  Situated on a bend of the creek and the tracks, the livery stable dominates.  Built by the railroad in 1870, Boyero’s purpose was to serve the railroad and keep it running.  The water in the area is ample but very alkali, not suitable for steam engines.  So a cistern was built and the RR brought in tank cars of water to fill the cistern.  Since most of the people that lived there worked for the railroad, they were allowed to get water from the cistern. 

            Over time the RR village grew into a prosperous ranching community and rail town.  Schools were built, there were churches, stores, shops and the saloons.  It was at the junction of a state highway and US road making it a good place for early day travelers to stop.  Then the government realigned the US highway and later the state highway was rerouted.  The decline of Boyero began.  Today there is one family that still lives in the remains.  Years ago they had an antique store there and a sign directing customers down the road to their shop. 

            Many of the town lots are still owned by former residents or their families.  Most of the streets have faded and are overgrown with grass.  North of the livery stable there is a stack of RR ties, it is this pasture where the schoolhouse used to be and there were some homes there also.  Along the old highway is the remains of a gas station/post office, the general store collapsed a few years ago and was cleared to a vacant lot.    A couple of streets can be seen going east and there are a few more buildings down them.  Mixed in with them are a few cattle, always watching the people that pass by. 

            Across the tracks sit a few more buildings, there is a street along the frontage with small side streets into the other places.  The large building had many lives, store, boarding house and home.  The drummer boys used the trains a lot for pedaling their wares and rooming houses were as popular as hotels were back then.  Let the mind wander, warm summer eve, on the porch.  The dim glow of a cigarette as the travelers wait for the cool of the evening to settle in.  Conversation floats off the veranda, it is a scene for the imagination to conjure up. 

            Before the auto, ranchers would ride their horses into town.  Put their horse up at the livery and walk down to the train.  They would ride the train to the county seat, take care of business.  Catch the train back to Boyero, walk over to the livery and pick up their horse for the return trip home.  Life had a different pace back then.

            There are ranches in the area that can trace their beginnings back to the late 1800’s.  Walking the cemetery, there are a few pioneers there born in the mid 1800’s.  Alongside are the railroad workers that built the little town.  Here the Spirit of the West lingers. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Golden Belt Route Part II

Clifford, Colorado
            On the western end of the remains of the Golden Belt Route is the little town of Clifford.  Of the three towns along the roadway, Clifford is the smallest.  There are still a couple of buildings still there, the schoolhouse and the Wards house.  What makes Clifford so interesting are the myths associated with it.  The buried gold treasure, the Indian battles, stage stops and the family that perished riding the train and they were buried at Clifford. 
            Clifford is just south of US 40 and can be seen from the highway if one looks closely.  Rolling down the country road towards the creek, one passes the one room country schoolhouse.  It sits in a pasture, dealing with the elements of time.  It is pretty much like it was over 100years ago.  Out back is the coal house with attached out houses.  Over the years some people have vandalized it, tearing screens off to get in or…. But it hangs in there.

            Going on south one can see the depressions in the pasture where the rest of the town had been.  At the railroad tracks, there are the foundations and footers for the railroad buildings and water tank.  On south of the tracks, behind locked gate in the ranchers pasture, is the mail order house.  Huge rambling building that may have been a rooming house.  The porches have caved in, the windows are gone and with some imagination one can see the ghosts floating around the weather beaten house. 
            The east edge of town is Coon Creek, the Mirage stage station had been here.  The Indians had also used the creek for a sweat lodge.  Through here Coon Creek is a pretty good sized steam, 10-15 feet deep and 20-30 feet across.  Looking to the north, about 6 miles are the grove of trees that mark Coon Springs, a stage stop on the Smoky Hill Trail.  Next to the railroad tracks is the small graveyard.  These three elements make for farfetched stories that probably have basis in fact. 
Looking up Coon Creek
In the distance can be seen the trees of Coon Springs

            The spring of 1864 an Army payroll wagon was robbed by 3 men near Coon Springs.  They were not very successful in their getaway.  The troopers were after them and catching up with them the robbers ducked into a gully.  Here they put the gold coins into dutch ovens and buried the gold, using stones to mark the spot.  They figured they would spend their time in jail, then return and dig up their loot.  One was killed in a gun fight after getting out of jail, another went back to jail after another robbery and the third disappeared.  So the legend of the buried gold grew and people would go out on the gullies looking for the buried treasure.
            Even a gentleman from England traveled to Clifford to search.  He spent over 6 months roaming the area looking for the buried gold.  One day he went to the train depot and very quietly left Clifford with his baggage.  Now if you found the gold, would you shout it from the rooftops or quietly go into the night? 
            When gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Hill Trail became a busy place and water on the prairie was important to the gold seekers and other travelers.  Coon Springs became an important stop and this did not set well with the Indians.  Then when the stage stop was established there, the Indians became more enraged and over the decade there were a variety of Indian raids on the station and on the travelers. 
            The spring of 1870 the railroad began building across East Central Colorado.  The Mirage stage station was built along the banks of Coon Creek, upsetting the Indians more.  The spring of 1870, the RR construction crews were building across the plains.  A camp was built near Mirage for the workers and it was a pretty lively place.  That summer the Indians launched a series of raids on the workers and stage stations, from Lake Station to Kit Carson.  Numerous workers were killed and many more wounded and the crews fled back to Kit Carson.  The Indians had stopped RR construction for a short time.  The attacks also brought more army troopers.  General Custer was reinstated and assigned to protect the railroad from Kit Carson to Denver.  The Indians, they turned north and headed to Wyoming to meet up with Custer on another day.
The indention's for the buildings can be seen, in the trees are the concrete remains of railroad stuff and beyond that is the mail order house.  

            With Coon Creek and good water, the railroad built a small station near Mirage and called it Clifford.  Clifford never was a big town, maybe a 100 folks dwelled there.  There was a depot, water facilities and section houses for the RR workers.  Some stores were opened, a saloon and a few homes were built.  Ranchers in the area used for shipping cattle and travel to the neighboring towns. 
            The summer of 1896 a young family was traveling by rail from back east to join her husband in Denver.  Along the way the family had become sick, a mother and two daughters.  By the time they arrived in Clifford, the family had died.  The bodies were taken off the train and left at the train station.  Somebody took the effort to bury them.  A short distance from the depot graves were dug next to the rails and the family was placed in their final resting place.  There were other graves and today it is surrounded by a fence. 
The graves 

            There were the buffalo hunters that would visit.  There were the cowboys and their six shooters and the bar fly’s that traveled through the little town.  And… oh yes…. There are locals who still believe that the gold is still buried somewhere in the area.  

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.