Doc Susie
Spruce Lodge

Transportation

How did people travel to Grand County? How did they get around? Click on the drop-down menus and take a little trip through history.

Browse Subtopics

Transportation Articles

Getting Around in North Park
Getting Around in North Park

United States Geologist F.V. Hayden visited North Park briefly in August, 1868 in company of a small party of Army officers from Fort Saunders.  The campsite he described on the Big Laramie River is where the Boswell Ranch was later established.  They crossed the river at that point and entered North Park after following the Cherokee Trail twenty-five miles.  The trail from Boswell angled across Beaver Creek and Bear Creek to Chimney Park and then turned southwest to the neck of the Park.  It became North Park's main connection to the outside world.

In 1879, the year of the great fires, naturalist George Grinnell hired a teamster with a stout team and a Studebaker wagon to take him to North Park from Laramie.  By then wagon trails were numerous in the Park, probably created by market hunters who, in turn, likely followed travois-trails made by Indians.

Stagecoach service between Laramie and North Park started in May, 1881 with tri-weekly trips by Concord coach to mining community of Teller City.  The scheduled time for the trip was fifteen hours without any stoppage except for meals and to change horses.

After the mining activity at Teller slowed down the stages ran from Laramie to Walden.  Travel time was about twelve hours with three drivers on the route and five changes of horses, coming and going.

The Laramie-Walden stage had the best record for continuous service of any in the west in 1907.  At that time the mail had been carried six days each week for more than six years without missing a trip, although weather and roads had sometimes delayed the arrival of the stage until 2 or 3 in the morning.

That is a remarkable record considering the weather conditions the stage traveled in.  The editor of the Walden newspaper once described the Laramie Plains as a place "where the wind blows 400 days out of the year--sometimes with a speed and force that turns over wagons and miles of barbed wire fence."  During the winter months the stage would typically start from Laramie with a coach with wheels, transfer to a coach with sled runners at a point above Boswell when the snow got deep, and then transfer back to a coach with wheels when the snow ran out in North Park.

North Park had a public transportation system a century ago.  From Walden local stages carried the mail to the various post offices scattered around the Park.  Passengers could ride on the mail stages, so a traveler could get off the train in Laramie or Granby, take the stage to Walden and the next day catch a ride with the local mail stage to any place in the Park mail was delivered.

During the winter months local travel was by team and sled, skis or snowshoes. Willow Creek Pass became an important travel route for North Park after the Moffat Railroad reached Hot Sulphur Springs in the fall of 1905.  Dave Gresham established a road ranch for travelers near the top of the Pass.  J.W. Welch, the Rand merchant, soon had two freight outfits running between Rand and Granby and tri-weekly stagecoach service between Walden and Granby started in the spring of 1908.  Passengers left Walden at 6 a.m., spent the night at the Nixon cabins on Willow Creek Pass, and arrived in Granby at 11 a.m. the next morning.

Wagon loads of oats from the Yampa Valley were freighted into the Park over Buffalo Pass.  Construction of a road over Rabbit Ears Pass was still several years away.  Cameron Pass was a major transportation route in the days when Teller City was booming.  By 1879 it was obvious that the Park would soon be settled and Fort Collins businessmen were urging that a road to North Park be built to secure the travel and trade of the region before a trade route developed through Laramie.  A toll road was completed over Cameron Pass by 1881.  There was a charge of $2 for each vehicle drawn by one horse, ox or mule passing through the toll gate at Rustic.  A single span was $3 and any additional horses $1 each.  Business was brisk for only a few years and the road was opened to free public travel in 1902, but by then the public was using the road over Ute Pass and the road over Cameron Pass soon fell into a state of disrepair.

While a few automobiles ventured into North Park each summer, there is no mention in the early newspapers of anyone in North Park owning one of the contraptions by the spring of 1909.  There was one steam tractor in the Park and bicycles were popular.

Moffat Road
Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

Railroads
Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

The project, called the Moffat road (officially the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific), was the seemingly impossible dream of David H. Moffat, who spent much of his personal fortune building the tracks over the Continental Divide.

The rails pushed higher and higher up the mountains until they reached a station named Corona, meaning the crown of the continent.

Corona was the highest point in the world with a standard gauge railroad and the journey from Denver in the winter was perilous at best.

Huge snowplows were required on either side of the Divide to keep the tracks clear.

Eventually, in the late 1920s, a tunnel was dug through the range, eliminating 22.84 miles of track and the breathtaking journey over Rollins Pass.

The railroad reached Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905 and Kremmling in 1906, and played a significant role in building the population of Grand County.

In 1900 the total resident population of Grand County was only 741, but grew to 1,862 in 1910.

Stage and Freight Lines
Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel
The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas

 

For many years Denver longed for its own direct line through the continental divide, linking the city to the west coast.  In the 1860s, Denver was slighted by the Union Pacific(UP), when the company chose Cheyenne as the major hub for the prized Transcontinental Railroad, before it snaked through the Rockies.  Fortunately, the city fathers of Denver did not give up on making their city the center of the Rocky Mountain Empire, as they risked financial disaster by bankrolling a spur line to the main route in Cheyenne.  Denver may not have had their direct route to the west and the fortunes that lay on the other side of the divide, but the city was not dead. 

 

For Grand County, the U.P.'s decision not to penetrate the formidable barrier of Colorado's mountains had a much greater impact.  As it stood Grand County had no for seeable future of gaining a rail line.  This meant that the only means of transportation into or out of the county was by pack animal or foot.  Furthermore, without a line to Denver, there was virtually no practical way for industry to develop in Grand County.

 

In 1904, Denver and Grand County's long awaited dream of a direct line through the mountains and on to Salt Lake City began to materialize.  The Moffat Railroad had risen over Corona Pass and descended into the Fraser Valley.  At the time Corona Pass was the highest rail pass in the world.  Along with this fact came the troubles of maintaining such a wonder.  The route was challenging to keep open in the summer with the violent storms that are prone at such a location.  In the winter the line would close all together.  Adding to the trouble of the unpredictable route was the fact that Colorado's economy of the 1870s was not the same in the early 20th century.

 

In the 1870s, much of Colorado's mineral wealth was centered directly west of Denver in Central City and Georgetown.  By 1880 many of those mines began to play out.  Furthermore, production shifted to the silver mines of Leadville and the Arkansas Valley.  As a result, rail traffic favored Pueblo over Denver.  Pueblo was situated on the plains as the Arkansas River exits from the mountains, eliminating the need for boring tunnels or climbing over arduous mountain passes.  In addition, Pueblo was close to the coalfields that were essential to power the locomotives.  Also, the city was the site of the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi, which supplied rails for the sprawling network.  Finally, Pueblo's smelters boomed when many others withered after the "Silver Panic" of 1893.  At the same time that depression gripped Colorado and silver was devalued, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek.  Within a few short years the new gold camp would become the world's largest producer.  As a result, nearby Pueblo would reap the benefits by converting from silver to gold, to become the smelting capitol of the nation.

 

By the early 20th century, Pueblo's status as an industrial powerhouse and rail center threatened Denver's status as Colorado's "first city."  This was even further evidenced by the "powers-that-be" in the northern part of the state being unable to convince the rest of Colorado to finance a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver.  Time and again legislation that would fund the missing link between Denver and the western slope was defeated in the statehouse by those in southern Colorado who were content with their established web-link.  Barring a miracle, it looked as if Denver and Grand County would have to settle for the unreliable Moffat line over Corona Pass.  In 1921 that miracle would rush in, due to un-for-seen misfortune upon Colorado's "second city" in the south of the state. 

 

The spring of 1921 started as many do in Colorado, with a drought.  By June 1st the many farmers downstream in the Arkansas Valley feared disaster as crops withered with thirst.  On the 2nd day of June, the farmers got the relief of rain they eagerly wanted.  Unfortunately, the downpour continued until the formerly parched earth became like a sponge and the Arkansas River swelled.  The streets of Pueblo were ankle deep with water by nighttime.  Suddenly, with little warning, a torrent of water rushed from the upper Arkansas Valley toward the helpless "Steel City."  Pueblo's streets filled with water up to rooftops.  The unified rail-yard was ripped instantly.   Unfortunate train passengers were tossed unaware into the maddening grip of the Arkansas, unable to escape the iron coffins in which they were riding.  Families were stranded on roofs as row boats desperately searched for stranded victims.  As pungent water filled the business area with filth and debris, fires broke out.  Unable to do anything, citizens watched helplessly as fire and water consumed their city.  As the flood receded the Rocky Mountain News headline proclaimed "201 Bodies Found, Scores Lost, Pueblo Death Total, 500 To 1,500."  The Rocky Mountain News goes on to describe the scene from June 4th:

"All day long refugees, dazed, not knowing what to do, straggled

about the streets.  Mothers with babes in their arms, mothers

whose arms were empty, old men and women and people of every

description wandered about until gathered up and taken to Red

 Cross headquarters, where they were fed and allowed to rest."

The scene in Pueblo was like those witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or the notorious San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.

 

As Pueblo dried out in the days that followed, plans were immediately being drafted in the statehouse to assure that the devastated city would not befall a future wrath from the Arkansas River.  Seizing upon the opportunity presented by Pueblo's misery, interests in Denver, Grand County, and others in northern Colorado saw fit to take advantage.  As the discussion of flood control in the south dominated state legislation the notion of a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver resurfaced.  According to Ubbelohde, Benson, and Smith's book, A Colorado History 8th Ed., a "special legislative session made history."  Attached to the act that created the Pueblo Conservancy District, northern lawmakers added the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District.  As a result of the passage of these two distinctly different special tax districts in a single signing by Governor Shoup, the long sought after western passage would be built.  With the tunnel Grand County would finally be open to the outside world by a year round and reliable link.

 

The building of the Moffat Tunnel was an enormous undertaking that cost several lives and injured even more workers.  Nonetheless, the tunnel from its inception has remained of vital importance to the Fraser Va

The Train Comes to Fraser
The Train Comes to Fraser

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas
 

A little over a hundred years ago the few residents of Fraser were awakened by a sound new to their town.  The railroad had finally arrived in 1904, just over 30 years after it had first debuted in Denver.  That same blaring horn, followed by the rumble of iron wheels on rails is waking up the good town-folk of the Fraser Valley today.  As the local Manifest has documented recently, many residents have long been annoyed by the noisy disruption the train makes as it announces its passing through town.  Additionally, parents of school children rushing to Fraser Elementary School in the morning can attest to the intrusive obstacle the slow moving behemoth becomes at in the morning.

A hundred years ago, residents of the Fraser Valley complained loudly of the intrusion of the iron horse on the tranquil lifestyle.  It has long been rumored that the course of the railroad was determined by an angry old timer by the name of Billy Cozens.  Cozens was a pioneer of the valley having homesteaded his ranch in the area in the early 1870s.  According to legend, when the engineers were surveying the route of the future Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad through the valley, Billy Cozens bullied the crewmen into the woods.  As the railmen would lay their flags for the roadbed, Cozens, an expert marksman, would shoot the markers out of the ground.  As the story goes, this was the reason the tracks were laid through the forest, rather than the meadow.

The reality of the chosen route for the D.N.&P. was due to grade and not fear of the rifle.  Whether Cozens despised the railroad is anyone's guess.  According to Robert Black's book, Island in the Rockies, the railroads designing engineers actually consulted Cozens concerning the lack of snow on the continental divide.  Regardless, the rumors have persisted over the years about the "Old Sheriff's" contempt for the railroad.  It has even divulged to me that the ghost of Billy Cozens will not allow anything concerning the railroad in his former home, the Cozens Ranch Museum.  Whenever railroad exhibits have been attempted they have mysteriously vanished and were never seen again.

As far as the townfolk of Fraser were concerned, many of them regarded the railroad as an opportunity that had eluded the region for years.  Unfortunately for Fraserites, their town was to be bypassed as the major hub for the area.  Further down the valley Tabernash was chosen as the location for the workshops and roundhouse for the forthcoming trains.  As a result, the trains would move through Fraser without their engineers paying the town much notice outside of their blowing whistles.  Nonetheless, the people of the valley would embrace the iron horse.  Economic potential in Grand County would erupt due to the advent of relatively efficient transportation.  Specifically, the lumber industry would boom with the outlet that the railroad would provide.  Additionally, people could move between Denver and Grand County easily compared to the wagon roads that formerly provided the only passage to the outside world.  As timber and cattle traveled to the Front Range, mail and hard goods traveled back to the Fraser Valley.

In years past, just like today, it has been easy to forget the benefits that the railroad has brought to our lives.  Certainly, when the train moved into the valley, the people that day realized that their life could slow down a bit.  The reality was that the short inconvenience that the passing train brought with its blaring horn, bringing traffic to a momentary standstill enhanced the life and character of the Fraser Valley.  It provided power, people, and materials in a unique way that simplified life here.  This is as true today as it was in 1905.      

 

Train Legends of the Moffat Road
Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Wagons of the West
Wagons of the West

Transportation into Grand County in the late 1800's was one of the more difficult tasks. Stage coaches were used to carry the many people to and from the county.

The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Leisure Time

Leisure Time

Of all the leisure time activities available to the pioneers, dancing was the favorite. Dances were held in grand hotels that remained from the mining boom, such as the Fairview House and The Garrison House in Grand Lake. Quadrilles, a type of square dance, were popular at the time. A fiddler would provide the music and serve as the caller. These parties would start in the evening and last all night.

The formidable temperatures and great traveling distances were incentive for getting the most out of every gathering. Winter Sports have also always been a popular pastime. Skiing was introduced to the region during the winter of 1883. Snowshoeing and sleigh rides were also enjoyed. 1882 officially brought the arts to the Grand Lake area when the Dramatic Society was organized. A production of the well-known comedy "Our Boys" was the premiere performance.

Topic: Biographies

Redwood Fisher

Article contributed by Corinne Lively

There were two Redwood Fishers, grandfather and grandson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Grand Lake area. 

One of the earliest pioneers was the senior Redwood “Woody” Fisher, born in Urbana, IL in 1839.  He learned surveying skills in New Jersey, and received a degree in Civil Engineering in New York City, where he met his future wife, Louise Perrenoud.  He arrived in Denver in June 1860 and borrowed money to purchase his first surveying instruments.  His bride to be, her two sisters and widowed father arrived in Denver in July 1862 in a mule drawn ambulance. They had traveled for six weeks from Omaha to deliver the vehicle which was used as an ambulance and hearse.  The first marriage license in Denver was issued to Woody and Louise, and their wedding took place May 6, 1865. 

The day after his marriage to Louise, Woody joined General Hughes and E.L. Berthoud as Chief Surveyor in building the wagon road from Denver to Provo, Utah over Berthoud Pass.  The expedition followed a route laid out by Jim Bridger. 

Woody held the offices of Denver city and county surveyor and county commissioner.  He was foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. #1, and helped fight many Denver fires. 

In May 1870, Woody was killed attempting to stop a runaway team of horses at the corner of California and 14th Streets.  While trying to save the lives of several children, he fell and the wagon wheels ran over him.  Woody left his wife with three children, Louise, Charles and Ella.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Redwood must have spoken in glowing terms about his time in Grand County since his son Charles, only two when his father was killed, spent most of his life near Grand Lake, built a summer home on the North Inlet below the Rapids Lodge, purchased 160 acres on the east side of the Colorado River from the Fred Selak estate.  He died here in August 1945.  Charles and his wife Sara had a son in May 1907, whom they named Redwood.

The junior Redwood “Red” Fisher also spent most of his life in the Grand Lake area.  He was an early Park ranger and helped stock many of the high lakes on horseback.  After his marriage to Helen Schultz in 1928 he started ranching below the present Shadow Mountain dam on land purchased from Mrs. Cairns.  He later acquired the 7V/ on Stillwater Creek.  He was President of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association in 1947 and traveled to conventions in Chicago and elsewhere promoting Colorado’s guest ranches with displays of fancy roping and riding.  His own dude ranch, Fisherancho, was on the land below Shadow Mountain Dam and served guests until the 1950s.  The barn still stands, and is now part of the Arapahoe Recreation Area. 

Sources:
Lela McQueary, Widening Trails, World Press, 1962
Middle Park Times, August 12, 1945 and May 6, 1993
Colorado Families: A Territorial Heritage, CO Geneological Society, 1981
Brand Book, Middle Park Stock Growers Assn.
BLM General Land Office Records
Conversations with local decendant Toots Cherrington


Topic: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.

Topic: Mining

Dutch Town

When two Germans, having imbibed too liberally shot up the mining town of Lulu City, they were run out of town.  They went higher and established camp, on the side of Red Mountain near timberline.  There they found a lode of low grade gold, silver and lead.

While it lasted only two years, this encampment came to be called "Dutch Town".  Gradually the fierce winters and lower quality of ore drove the settlers out, leaving only a few empty cabins about a mile west of Lulu City. 

 

 

 

Topic: Biographies

Sir St. George Gore

Sir St. George Gore was born in 1811 in County Donegal, Ireland, heir to an Irish baronetcy and was often referred to as Lord Gore.  He was educated as an aristocrat, never married, and never held public office.

He staged an expensive and expansive “American hunt,” leaving Westport, Missouri on June 6, 1854, with plans to hunt in the southern Rockies.  After spending some time at Fort Laramie, he arrived inMiddle Park. His guides were Joseph Chattillon and Jim Bridger. Gore had a entourage of 40 workers, 25 wagons, 24 mules, 112 horses , 3 milk cows and 14 dogs!

Loving his luxury, he slept in a brass bed, had nightly hot baths, and dines on superb food served on a lace tablecloth set with fine silver and crystal.  He often invited Bridger, who was illiterate, to dinner and awakened in the guide an interest in Shakespeare, which lead to the frontiersman hiring a boy to read the bard's plays to him.  

Described as "a good shot at rest but rather poor offhand" he nevertheless claimed to have killed 2,500 buffalos, 40 grizzly bears and countless deer, elk and antelope.   

Bridger led Gore to West Grand County, to the pass, range, and canyon that now bear his name.  The Indians were shocked at the expedition's wanton slaughter of every game animal in sight.

The expedition did not end until sometime in 1857, when Gore returned to Ireland and relative obscurity.  Not even a portrait remains of the infamous poacher.

Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Topic: Agriculture

Worm Farms and Other Gardens

Have you ever heard of a worm farm? Harry French Sr., who lived for many years at Azure, on the Colorado River, loved to fish, anywhere and anytime.  He had brought the first angleworms into the valley from Iowa.  At his Azure homestead, he made a worm bed and got his worms established. Pretty soon, everybody came by to get some worms for their own needs.  

Worms can’t be found just anywhere in these high mountain valleys. However, at the Arkell place (Diamond Bar T) on Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, luckily someone had planted worms in a corner of the garden plot and this was the only place the Arkells could find worms.  At one point, Gertrude Arkell’s cousin Rose started a small business, digging worms from the garden and selling them to fishermen who happened by.  She even charged the rest of the family if they wanted worms!  

Gertrude described planting their own garden in 1916 after they moved to the ranch.  Papa spread several loads of well-decayed fertilizer from an old corral onto the garden and plowed it, creating a fine base for his vegetables.  Of necessity, pioneers coming into Grand County started immediately to see what would grow here.  They had to eat, and gardens were one of the first items on anyone’s agenda.  Coming over Dice Hill from the Blue and into the Sheephorn area about 1880, Joseph McPhee, a Scot, homesteaded the grass-covered McPhee Flats in Garden Gulch, site of the first garden in the area.  There were only two other homesteads on the Sheephorn at that time.  

Possibly Nancy Veatch Schissler, (Mrs. Henry Roric) planted the first garden on the Williams Fork in 1883.  She asked the men to plow her a bed, but they were positive nothing would grow.  So, undaunted, she planted lettuce, onions, and radishes on her dirt roof and potato peelings along the ditch bank, all of which grew!  Her little daughters fetched pails of water to hand to her up on the roof for irrigation.  

George Henricks, on the farthest reaches of the Troublesome, rarely had access to stores.  His wife, Aurella, bravely started radishes on her sod roof before the ground thawed, later transplanting them to a sheltered spot along with other vegetables.   What were the usual high altitude crops?  Lettuce, green onions, peas, root vegetables, and beans generally grew well.  Willis Call near Kremmling brought the first white potatoes to Grand County. 

Now, the Arkells on Ranch Creek had been told that at 8900 feet altitude, beans would freeze, and they did.  So did the potatoes, except those planted high up the hill in a spot where the soil was deep and black.  An aspen grove had grown there once, maybe for hundreds of years.   The family anticipated a good crop, but in early September or even in late August, a heavy frost completely melted the patch down.  That crop yielded bushels of small potatoes, few larger than golf balls.  Still, the Arkells stored them in their so-called ice-house, because until Papa got a cellar dug, there was nothing else.  They hoped the ice-house would keep the cold out, as it did heat, but the potatoes froze as hard as rocks.  Mama would bring in enough for a meal and immediately put them into a kettle of boiling water.  When done, they tasted like fresh potatoes! 

Before July, the family had early green onions, lettuce, and radishes, since these didn¹t mind the frost.  They froze every night but still lived, grew, and were good.  The white radishes grew long, slender, and crisp.  Head lettuce could be eaten early as leaf lettuce, or later as a fine firm head.  Peas didn’t mind the cold either but grew fast and tall. The package advertised them as “Telephone Pole Peas.”  They bloomed, set on peas ready to pick, and kept right on blooming and growing more peas, producing right up till early frost.  By late July, the Arkells had small rutabagas to eat, a crop new to them.  Turnips in late July were already large, and by fall they were gigantic but still sweet and good to eat raw. Turnips were pulled in the fall and stored in a great pile. Rabbits chewed off the outer skin and ate it but left the rest.  The remaining skinless turnips soon froze and made good cow feed.

Actually, a number of ranchers grew turnips for cattle food, particularly for show cattle.   Over on the Sheephorn, Helen Anghern Curry related that families shipped plenty of potatoes and peas out of Radium to Denver.  Farmers had to get up very early to pick the vegetables in order to get them on the train. That was almost fresh!  

Grain was grown more commonly than one might expect, especially on the west end.  For instance, a young English chap on the Blue River, Tom Pharo, experimented with growing vegetables and grain as early as 1877.  The Company Ranch on the Williams Fork planted many acres in grain.  And Dr. Hoagland, on the Blue, regularly put in oats and barley for two years, before planting seed for hay crops, in order to break up the soil and gradually level the rough ground.  Others raised many grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, as well as hay.   High altitude lettuce became a main crop to be shipped out of Grand County about 1920.  Before this decade, lettuce sent by train was grown, especially on the upper Sheephorn and on the Blacktail. 

Later, centered around Granby, farms spread to the Williams Fork and the Troublesome, as well as Ranch Creek.  Japanese laborers harvested much of the crop.  In 1919, there had not been a single truck farm in the county; in 1929, there were 34.   On the Troublesome, Roy Polhamus was famous for his lettuce.  His daughter, Catherine, lined the crates with heavy paper in the packing shed. After being cut in the fields, trimmed of bad outer leaves and packed, the crop was shipped to Denver by truck. It depended on how big the lettuce was as to how many dozen would fit into the crate.  Roy also grew enough potatoes that he could spare many for Granby stores in the winter.  

Encouraged by Nathan Hurd, a Mr. Henderson, on a little ranch straddling the shoulder between Hamilton Creek and Ranch Creek, tried growing lettuce long before the lettuce craze the west end of the county. Nobody had thought of growing it before and people were quite sure he was crazy.  His lettuce was as sweet as any ever tasted, but when the big craze hit, for some reason he gave it up.  Before he quit, he had some 2000 crates of Los Angeles Head Lettuce to sell and planned for 40 acres the following year.  Everyone laughed at him two years before when he started, but the laugh was on them now.  His 2 1/2 acres of jackpine paid him over $750/acre.   The lettuce was grown on new ground and no water; ­dry land farmed.  He called his place “The Happy Lettuce Farm”. 

In the same area, a group of Basques did all the work.  They irrigated at night, little lights at hand to show them the way.  This local lettuce was stored in Tabernash in a shed, before being put on the train.  This shed was later hauled to Granby and became the Grand Old Inn.   Other crops were raised, too. 

At Radium, sweet corn and strawberries were grown for sale.  Harry French’s wife, Mary, had a very green thumb, and at the 1914 County Fair, special mention was given to “Mrs. French of the Sheephorn area, then age 77, for her splendid display of Brown Australian onions, raised from seed.”  In addition, “she had a very handsome display of crabapples and tomatoes.”  Mike Leroux, also in the Sheephorn area, said that his family almost always won a prize at the county fair in Kremmling, because they had one of the few spots in the county where one could grow apples!   Women and children gathered wild berries for jams and pies.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries went into these treats.  The residents on the Troublesome picked chokecherries, and service berries, currants, in addition.  

Marie Craven George remembers growing rhubarb at their cabin.  Some of it still grows there.  Many years later, after Marie married, she and her husband dug up some of that rhubarb and took it to their own garden in Kremmling.  Marie remembers that, as a little girl, she stuck a gooseberry up her nose once and they had to hang her upside-down and spank her, until she sneezed the berry out.  She decided gooseberries were for pies and jams, not noses!  

Getting off the train, the Arkells often walked from Arrow, to check on the raspberry crop, for great quantities of bushes grew along the tracks.  The wild strawberries, though very small, were so full of unexcelled taste that one cup would be enough to flavor a shortcake for all of them, with whipped cream on top.  Using a kind of rake, they also gathered gooseberries, wild currants, and wild blueberries, which grew everywhere.  Bob Peterson maintains the best berry patch for blackberries or red and black currants was on Cabin Creek a mile of so above Devils Thumb Park.

Stafford Family

James "Jimmy" M. Stafford was born in 1849 in Wexford Ireland. Jimmy immigrated to Leadville in the 1870's to work in the booming silver mines. In Leadville, he met and married  Deborah Helen Acey (born 1846 in Trenton New Jersey) in 1880.  In the 1880's the couple moved to Dillon and then homesteaded the Stafford Ranch on the Blue River at Spring Creek Road. Jimmy built their home by hand carrying logs from Green Mountain.  They had one son, Frank Elmer Stafford, born in 1886. Jimmy and Deborah also operated the stage stop, boarding house and saloon called the "Halfway House" between Kremmling and Dillon on Highway 9.  It remained in operation until the stage lines ceased in the early 1900's and the buildings were dismantled in the 1940's.  

Frank went on to marry Alice Smith in 1909 and they had six children, including their first, a son, James Elmer, who died at age 8 in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Frank and Alice built the Stafford General Store, directly across from the "Halfway House".  Frank was instrumental in installing the first telephone lines in the area and served as Grand County Commissioner from 1928 to 1936 and as County Commissioner from 1948 until his death from injuries in a car wreck in 1950.  Alice was called the "Blue River Belle" and kept the general store until 1960.  Alice lived in Kremmling until her death in 1969.  

 

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Topic: Regions

The Blue

Because gold had been found at the headwaters of the Blue River at Breckenridge, hopes were high among prospectors who worked the downstream tributaries in Grand County.  However, this lower section of the Blue contained no mineral wealth. 

The Denver and Rio Grand Railroad planned to run a route through the valley and began constructing grades, but the tracks were never laid because Moffatt's railroad crossed the county first.

An enterprising Canadian, 25 year old Willis Charles Call, had been employed as a cook for the grading company in 1881.  When the railroad abandoned the project, Call became a registrar of voters, and in 1886, the county assessor.  By 1890, he had a choice ranch near Kremmling.  His Austrian wife, Mary Rohrocher, was a very popular hostess.  It is believed that they owned the first automobile in the county.

The conflicts between the white settles and Ute Indians came to a climax in 1878 when the Ute leader Tabernash was killed by a posse and the very next day, Abraham Elliott a homesteader on the Blue, was killed in retaliation.  The remains of his ranch can be seen on Highway 9 at mile marker 135. 

Across the river was the ranch of Henry Yust, who settled there in 1885.  Another early ranching family was that of Thomas Pharo, An Englishman from Franham in Surry, near London.  Settling there in 1880, he developed a major cattle and horse ranch. 

The Blue River area was connected with a route west in 1913, when the co-called Trough Road was constructed, beside the Gore Canyon to State Bridge.

Transportation