Saturday, May 15, 2010

I just can't wait to get on the road to Rico again


“People on horses look better than they are. People in a cars look worse than they are.” __ Marya Mannes, 1958

Back when I didn’t know any better, we would fly down the highway from Rico to Dolores. I think the record was about 45 minutes -- and the road has been improved since then. Such ‘flights’ and speed was not always possible. Transportation on that stretch of the upper Dolores River has always been a challenge – one that travelers of various eras have risen to accept. Improvements have come in fits and starts.
“After the current contract on the Sullivan-Gould grade on the river road is completed and about 3 miles from the West Fork bridge down is constructed, our road won’t be half bad to travel,” wrote longtime Rico columnist Hart Lee, in the Dolores Star on Jan. 21, 1949. “One will be able to pass a car or truck most any place along the line without being sideswiped or being rammed into a head-on.”
Lee was always a booster of the route and noted that, “even under present conditions, the out-of-state traffic almost doubled last year over 1947.”
If not the road itself, weather could also be factor. A week later Lee reported, “Due to the blizzard that got off to a darn good start early this morning, I don’t know of a single person trying to leave town or entering, even the mail truck hasn’t shown up.”
But at that time, they still had the train in a pinch.
“Due to the heavy snow and drifts, the mail truck Monday was forced to turn around at the Gould grade and return to Dolores, however the following day two engines with a couple of box cars managed to get thru bringing in mail, express and freight. Thanks again to the old rusty rails. We’re always mighty grateful when we see the smoke drifting up the canyon.”
The following week, Feb. 4, 1949, Lee relayed the bad news.
“The latest report out is that the famous Galloping Goose will discontinue to gallop for an indefinite period, however we are still enjoying daily mail service by truck, while freights are still taking care of the concentrates.”
It hadn’t been that long since the days of horses and wagons.
“I was born in 1923, and we moved to Rico so my dad could mine, Trouble was his life. They didn’t have cars or trucks. They only used horses and wagons. The dirt road to two had two big ruts that your wheels went in,” according longtime Rico miner Myron Jones in Colorado Mining Stories: Hazards, Heroics and Humor ( by Caroline Arlen, 2002).
“One time my dad met some other guy coming the other way in the ruts. The other guy said ‘Pull over.’ My dad said, ‘You pull over.’ So they got out the whips and started whipping each other’s teams. It was such a mess of whips and horses, it wasn’t really clear who gave in.”
Jones described to Arlen the method of transportation in Rico in his early years there.
“In Rico we got around on donkeys, horses, snowshoes and skis. Skis were different in those days. They were just a couple of boards with the ends turned up. Probably weighed about three times what skis weigh now. However you got up the hill to the mine, you packed your skis up with you and went down on them. You had to enjoy skiing a lot then.”
With the arrival of cars, that did not end hazards of traveling to Rico however.
“While enroute to home from an extended trip to California Thursday night, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Calloway encountered the most unusual experience,” wrote Hart Lee in February of 1949. “Driving up the river road near the Ross Thomas ranch they noticed the lights of an oncoming car. Figuring the road might be a little narrow, decided to stop. Well just about that time a big bull elk came galloping down the road and instead of keeping to the right as the law provides for, landed right on the hood of their car and while scrambling over the top, poked both hind hooves through the windshield. For an instant they thought sure that the fool animal would be occupying the back seat, but their steel top stood the racket. Joe decided it wouldn’t be any use to call the Courtesy Patrol so came on home and called it a day.”
Perhaps talking about the same (or at least similar) incident in Colorado Mining Stories, Aubrey “Blizzard” Lillard, who also mined in Rico in the late ‘40s, had the following account.
“She was going down the road to Cortez, one time, and a bunch of elk run near over the top of that brand new Buick she had. That was really sickening to her, but it tickled a lot of other guys,” he said according to Arlen’s book.
“Hardly anybody else had a car. Every time you would buy a new car, the dang mine would shut down, and you couldn’t make your payments. So people would drive their cars over that steep place and call it an accident. I thought about it, but I loved my car. And they’d have caught me just as sure as thunder.”
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