Sunday, March 28, 2021

Last logging railroad in Southwestern Colorado

McPhee plant, company town, allowed moving tracks deeper into the timber

By Rob Carrigan, 

It was a bit of a mad scramble to dig out, log off, and uncover things that had been gone, and almost forgotten for years, back in the early 1980s ... a race to to beat the dam water of McPhee Reservoir. What had been one the biggest towns and largest industry was soon to be underwater.

"The company town of McPhee, Colorado, owned and operated by the New Mexico Lumber Company, lasted from 1924-1948, serving as an important economic and cultural town of the Dolores River Valley. During the industrial town's peak of operations in 1927, it was Colorado's largest and most productive mill town, producing more than half the State's annual lumber. The town featured a lumber mill, housing for approximately 1,500 employees and the last logging railroad in Southwestern Colorado," says historian Lisa Mausolf, in her field notes at the Library of Congress, August, in 1981.

At the turn of the century, after the Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived in the area and Edgar Biggs of the New Mexico Lumber Company began buying up cutting rights to newly accessible timber that now could be shipped somewhere, it was only a matter of time before all ‘woodcutting hell’ broke out in the forests north of Dolores.

“Biggs hired Arthur Ridgway to survey the region for its timber potential. Ridgway’s report estimated that 210 square miles or 134,400 acres of prime western yellow pine were available in the area. He proposed that Biggs construct a sixty-five mile logging railroad with which to harvest close to 135,000 narrow gauge carloads of lumber,” according Frontiers in Transition: A history of Southwestern Colorado. The book was developed for Bureau of Land Management’s Cultural Resource Series and written by Paul M. O’Rourke in 1980.

Biggs, who had worked with C.D. McPhee and J.J. McGinnity of the New Mexico Lumber Company at operations in Pagosa Springs and Lumberton, New Mexico, had planned to harvest the timber north of Dolores without the new Mexico Lumber Company backing. “McPhee caught wind of Biggs plan however, and purchased the Denver-based lumber company which Biggs had hoped would finance the operation. Although Biggs remained affiliated with New Mexico Lumber until 1917, McPhee and McGinnity, after their coup of 1907, took charge of operations in the Dolores River Valley.”
Lumber wood produced at McPhee was rough-cut, finished later at the McPhee and McGinnity plant in
Denver, located at Blake and 23rd Street. 

The lower grades of lumber were made into railroad ties, to satisfy contract with the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. This contract enabled the lumber company to survive the Great Depression.Other lumber from McPhee was utilized for a variety of purposes and reached many destinations.

"Superior lumber grades were used for building construction and were also shipped to sash and door factories along the Missouri River. Additionally, contracts, including one for lumber to build local Civilian Conservation Camps in 1933 and another to manufacture army locker trunk trays during world War II, The McPhees pioneered logging railroads. Their decision to use the logging railroad in this area was a response to the type of lumber which they sought," says Mausolf, in her field notes.

Unlike species like cottonwoods which thrive in river bottoms and can be cut, dumped into a river and floated, the tall Ponderosa pines require dry and well drained soil, normally found on mesas away from river bottoms. Land transportation either utilizing horses or logging railroads was, therefore, the only alternative.

The McPhee railroad was the last narrow gauge logging railroad in southwestern Colorado. The railroad officially came to the Dolores River Valley in 1891, in the form of the Rio Grande Southern. Due to McPhee's relative isolation, the New Mexico Lumber Company decided to link the mill town with the main line railroad as well as construct track or each into the timberlands.

The participation of a mainline railroad in the operation of logging lines was unprecedented in the United States Railroad construction began in 1924, using an incomplete survey commissioned for the Dolores, Paradox and Grand Junction Railroad in 1913.  In 1924, a line was built westward five miles from Dolores, terminating at McPhee. Many logging lines of the region, Colorado and Southwestern, as the McPhee's line was named, were formally incorporated rather than operating under the lumber company name.

As logging operations moved deeper into the timber, railroad spur lines followed. At its peak the company amassed sixty miles of railroad. The New Mexico Lumber Company had five logging locomotives, one geared and four rod. The rod locomotives were mostly obsolete, obtained second-hand from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad with one from Rio Grande and Southwestern Railroad at El Vado.

"The Montezuma Lumber Company, which took over in 1936, decreased the trackage substantially and reduced the locomotives to two. Most of the 45 flat cars came from nearby declining operations• Second hand track was imported from Salida and Pagosa Springs. 
In the 1930s, the Montezuma Lumber Company purchased an 1880 duckbill coach (#311) from the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to transport employees and their families to Dolores behind the regular lumber train. On Saturday nights the train transported the townspeople to Dolores for dances, movies and drinking in the gas-illuminated car with faded red plush seats.," says Mausolf, in her field notes.
"The end of narrow gauge logging in southwest Colorado came in 1932 when the expense of hauling lumber by rail gave way to hauling by trucks. The five miles of track between McPhee and Dolores remained, however, and continued to service McPhee residents. The scrapping of the last of this segment occurred in 1948, after an intense struggle and a brief period of receivership in the 1940's the Denver and Rio Grande Southern Railroad abandoned operations in the area," she wrote.

"The logging operations at McPhee have been criticized for their continued dependence on the railroad and failure to mechanize production. Logging in Colorado as exemplified by McPhee was marked by the absence of mechanical loading devices used on the Pacific Coast. It represented instead a marked dedication to horsepower. Four-horse teams, with either big wheeled rigs or eight wheeled wagons were used to haul the trees to the loading station. Instead of steam donkey engines, Colorado loggers used cross-hauling, by which a team of horses dragged trees up a ramp onto log cars. Seven to ten flat cars made up a train with two locomotives used to haul from forest to mill," according to Mausolf, in her field notes.

A locomotive hauled the loaded cars to the unloading skids at the mill pond. It is interesting to note that most of the hay and grain for the 200-250 heavy draft horses had to be shipped in as no local 50^nj£g£mi^d by the sales agency could regularly meet the demand. 50 Social communities, separate from that of the company town of McPhee, sprang up as new logging camps were established. he sites of the camps moved every few years as logging operations ventured deeper to secure timber. The earliest, Horse Camp, was little more than a construction camp, though it did have a school. Beaver Camp in 1925 represented a more permanent encampment, with a store and post office.

From then on, a small commissary was always moved along with the camp. Lawrence Sullenberger did most of the construction work and establishing of camps for the New Mexico Lumber Company. Small board cabins were built on skids, easily hitched to four or six horses for transportation to new sites. Tent colonies were often constructed at the camps. Entire families often moved to the hills so the head of family could earn a living. Characteristically the camp housed several hundred loggers and their families. No rent was charged in the log camps. During the winter people from the logging camps resided in McPhee, reported Mausolf.

“The town of McPhee was only part of the company’s expansive lumber monopoly,” writesMausolf in her book The River of Sorrows: The History of the Lower Dolores River Valley. “During its peak in 1927 McPhee and McGinnity had five lumberyards in Denver, five in San Luis Valley and five on Moffat Road with 25 branches in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.”
The company originally looked at placing the mill in or near the town of Dolores but local opposition forced them to look elsewhere. That is how they arrived at the 800-acre site of the old Charlie Johnson homestead.

“The town site was originally known as Ventura. It was also temporarily called Escalante. McPhee was situated on the alleged spot where in 1776 Father (Silvestre Velez de) Escalante stopped for several weeks beside a stream he called the Dolores River. The town was given its final name after an influential visit to the site by William McPhee in 1924,” wrote Mausolf.

By 1925, the mill at McPhee was producing 61 percent of all lumber in the entire state, more than 27,445.360 board feet. The mill itself covered a city block with a three-story main building, three-acre pond planing mill and box factory.


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Scotch, war stories and ag journalism

Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” – Mark Twain

" Always carry a flagon of whisky in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.” – W.C. Fields

Lit up like Christmas

By Rob Carrigan,

Once, I had some friends that would get lit up like Christmas on occasion — then badger me into lighting my own tree. After that, they seemed to be able talk me into almost anything. That is why I have sympathy for Captain Lyluph Gilchrist Stanley Ogilvy, or as he was also known as ... Lord Ogilvy. His famous friends had a way.

"He was often described as a man of superb education and aristocratic background. His full name was Lyluph Gilchrist Stanley Ogilvy, younger son of the eighth Earl of Airlie and uncle of the ninth, making him a true aristocrat," notes Dick Kreck in a 2017 piece for the Denver Post.

Ag and livestock editor

He arrived in Colorado in 1889 from his native Scotland and fell in love with the wild, wild West. In recounting Ogilvy’s transition to America, Gene Fowler in his reminiscence 'Timber Line' recalled that when Ogilvy went to work for The Denver Post, Harry Tammen, his new boss whom he met during frequent visits to the bar at the Windsor Hotel, reportedly said, "To hell with calling yourself ‘Lyluph.’ I wouldn’t know what it means in a thousand years. You’re the son of an earl, aren’t you? Well, you’re going to work for me, and you’re going to be ‘Lord Ogilvy’ to me, whether you like it or not."

"As the paper’s agriculture and livestock writer until 1945, Ogilvy became the reigning expert on topics such as irrigation, breeding livestock and the worth of farmland. Standing 6-foot-2 and handsome in his black-and-gray beard, Ogilvy was polished, bright and well-bred, all of which Tammen loved. A superb horseman, Ogilvy is rumored to have driven two ponies into the lobby of the posh Windsor Hotel," wrote Kreck.

"By 1902, he decided he had had enough wild living and married Edith Boothroyd, and they settled down on his farm near Greeley. But his wife’s fragile health forced him to sell the ranch and move to Denver, where she died and he lived alone."

According to  Kreck, he was famous among his co-workers for the illegible handwriting in his copy and equally renowned for his careless dressing habits. 

His son, Jack, told author Bill Hosokawa for “Thunder in the Rockies,” his history of The Post, “His uniform at The Post consisted of a blue work shirt 2-inches too large in the neck with a World War I surplus olive-drab tie which extended 4 inches below the four-in-hand knot.” A fellow staffer noted with alarm that his saggy pants often appeared ready to fall to the floor.

In 1945 he retired from his work at the Post and moved to live with his son in Boulder. He died
of pneumonia
in a Boulder nursing home on April 4, 1947. He was also a veteran of three wars, serving in both the US and British military organizations.

A newspaper clipping of April 4, 1947, titled “Captain the Honorable,” remembered Ogilvy as a “Veteran of three wars, Colorado pioneer, one-time bon vivant, in his youth daredevil and roguish prankster, agriculturalist and an expert writer on agriculture.” The article also noted that Ogilvy was an ardent promoter of the National Western Stock Show.

Legendary prankster

According to a biography written by his son, Jack Ogilvy, Lyulph would not confirm or discuss rumored youthful escapades, referring to them as “silly.” Over the years, Ogilvy acquired a reputation as a colorful and feisty man with an affinity for horse racing and pranks. Several legendary pranks occurred at the Windsor Hotel in Denver, at the time a new establishment frequented by cattlemen. One incident involved Ogilvy bringing in roosters to rouse the desk clerk after he failed to wake Ogilvy in time to catch a train. Another time he staged a rat hunt in the hotel, letting loose a pack of rats and then unleashing dogs to hunt them down. Perhaps his most famous prank was staging his own mock funeral, complete with an open casket viewing, in downtown Denver. Once the casket made the trip to Riverside Cemetery, Ogilvy emerged, Scotch bottle in hand, very much alive.

At the Windsor Hotel, he developed a group of friends inclined toward the wholesale consumption of liquid refreshments, wrote Colorado historian Kenneth Jessen.

"One story tells of a meeting with Buffalo Bill Cody at the Windsor. Ogilvy remained at the bar beyond the departure of the last train north. To solve his need for transportation, he spotted a steam roller near the hotel and drove it to his ranch near Fort Morgan, a distance of more than 80 miles. As the story goes, the trip took most of the night, and Ogilvy would stop the slow-moving piece of machinery for fuel and water along the way. Most of the bridges were wooden and due to the ponderous weight of Ogilvy's vehicle, later had to be condemned," wrote Jessen.

Years after this story appeared, his son Jack set the record straight by saying it was not a steamroller, but rather a steam tractor of equal size. It was purchased by Ogilvy to dig a ditch near Fort Morgan. Jack says his father drove the noisy machine home at night to avoid spooking teams. 

"The bridges had to be replaced, but in Lyulph's mind, they needed to be rebuilt anyway," according to his son.

Early Life

Lyulph Ogilvy was born in 1861 as the second son of David Graham Drummond Ogilvy, Tenth Earl of Airlie (a Scottish Peerage), and Henrietta Blanche Stanley Ogilvy. Educated first by governesses, as was the custom among the Scottish aristocracy, Lyulph later attended Eton College. He left Eton early for military training, likely with an eye toward service in Queen Victoria’s British Empire. The British followed the system of primogeniture, in which only the first son inherits, so as a second son Lyulph had few opportunities outside of the armed forces, the church, or imperial service. His family’s overseas ambition, however, eventually took him to the American West.
After the American Civil War, interest in the American West grew both at home and abroad. Several English companies promoted land sales, including the English-owned Colorado Mortgage and Investment Company (known as the English Company) and XIT Corporation, which bought, sold, and leased ranch land from Texas to Montana. In 1874 the Earl of Airlie, along with his son Lyulph and daughter Maude, visited Colorado with Lord Dunraven when he negotiated the purchase of Estes Park. Like other members of the British aristocracy, Lord Airlie eventually had many holdings in the western United States. In 1879 he decided to tour them again with his son and daughter. The trip ranged from Texas to California and Oregon. At its end, Lyulph decided to stay in the United States, and in 1880 his father bought 3,500 acres of land in Weld County, northeast of Greeley on Crow Creek, where the family established a cattle ranch that Lyulph managed.

Lyulph’s father died in 1881 after getting sick while visiting New Mexico. The Earl had not yet legally conveyed the Crow Creek Ranch land to his son, and Lyulph waited seven years for the estates to be sorted out before he could acquire title. During that time, he and some partners established the Polled Angus and Swiss Company on June 6, 1883. The next year, on a visit to his mother in Scotland, Ogilvy arranged to bring the first Aberdeen Angus cattle to Weld County, a breed that is today one of the primary sources of beef cattle. He also brought in stallions—although not from abroad—to breed larger draft horses for farming and ditch building.

Irrigation Work

From 1880 to 1898, Lyulph Ogilvy did part-time contract work with local ditch builder Edward Baker, building portions of many ditches including the Ogilvy Ditch northeast of Greeley. The ditch that bears his name was built in 1881 to bring water to Crow Creek Ranch, which Ogilvy managed after his father’s death as he waited for legal title to the land. Originally known as the Baker and Ogilvy Canal, the ditch was engineered by Baker, one of the original Union colonists who also helped build the Greeley #2 Ditch.

The Ogilvy Ditch, along with others, was built in the wake of the Desert Land Act of 1877, which encouraged economic development in the arid western states. The Ogilvy Ditch’s first water right dates to 1881, and a second right dates to 1986. The Ogilvy Ditch is the last irrigation diversion on the Cache la Poudre River before its convergence with the South Platte River southeast of Greeley. Today the ditch is within the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area and provides water for thirty-three shareholders of the Ogilvy Irrigating and Land Company, formed in 1883 with Lyulph Ogilvy as president.

Initially, the ditch brought some prosperity, and Ogilvy built a two-story ranch house at Crow Creek Ranch in February 1885. But he soon lost money on another ditch project (the Platte Ditch), as the natural springs in the area prevented the use of standard construction methods. These losses, coupled with a string of disastrous winters that killed the open-range cattle industry, forced Ogilvy to sell Crow Creek Ranch in 1888 to Franklin Murphy, secretary of the Percheron-Norman Horse Company. Ogilvy bought a smaller farm closer to Greeley. After the sale of his ranch, Ogilvy worked for a while as a ditch rider, controlling head gates and the release of water onto shareholders’ lands for one of the Greeley ditches.

Soldier and Journalist

In 1898 Ogilvy enlisted in Company D, First Colorado Infantry, during the Spanish-American War. He later served in the Boer War in South Africa as a British cavalry captain. In 1902 Ogilvy bought a ranch in LaSalle known as the Ogilvy LaSalle Ranch, which he owned for eight years. In 1902 he also married Edith Gertrude Boothroyd, whose English family had settled along the mouth of the Big Thompson River near Loveland. Edith died six years later, leaving her husband with a daughter, Blanche, and a son, Jack David Angus Ogilvy. Jack later became a professor at the University of Colorado and wrote a series of articles about his father.

After the death of his wife, Ogilvy left his children to be raised by their maternal grandparents on their farm in Loveland and moved to Denver, where he took a job as a night watchman for the Union Pacific Railroad in 1909. There he was reacquainted with Harry Tammen, a former bartender at the Windsor Hotel. Tammen co-owned The Denver Post and, wanting to attract rural readers, offered Ogilvy a job as an agricultural journalist. Ogilvy turned that into a thirty-six-year career, with a two-year break for an additional military enlistment, serving with the British army in World War I. Tammen introduced his new journalist to readers as “Lord” Ogilvy, which stuck with him, though coworkers called him Captain in recognition of his rank from the Boer War.

SLW Ranch 

Today, Ogilvy’s Crow Creek Ranch, originally 3,500 acres, is part of the SLW Ranch. In 1889, one year after Ogilvy sold Crow Creek, new owner Frank Murphy deeded the property to John M. Studebaker of the Studebaker Wagon Company and Lafayette Lamb, a director of the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company. Together they expanded the Crow Creek Land Company to 22,000 acres and built an enormous barn to service 2,400 head of brood mares.

The same year, Studebaker, Lamb, and Harvey Witwer incorporated the SLW Ranch Company. Witwer was John Studebaker’s nephew and a salesman for the Studebaker Wagon Company. Witwer was responsible for selling and leasing 80- and 160-acre parcels with water rights to the Ogilvy Ditch. He also worked to establish a Hereford cattle herd, making SLW one of the oldest continuously operating Hereford ranches in the country. Eventually Harvey Witwer acquired sole ownership of the ranch, which remains in the Witwer family today.

Education of aristocrat

According to Biographical note on Lyulph Ogilvy, he was born June 25, 1861, the second son of the Earl and Countess of the Scottish House of Airlie. His early education was through governesses. He attended Eton College but dropped out at the end of the fifth form to prepare for military training. His father, the Earl of Airlie, had purchased lands in the Western United States and in 1879 decided to visit those holdings. He brought his daughter and second son, Lyulph, with him. When the Earl decided to return to Scotland, Lyulph decided to stay and his father set him up with a cattle ranch on Crow Creek northwest of Greeley. 

For most of his life Lyulph remained in the Northern Colorado area where he became a notable and colorful Colorado figure until his death in 1947. Lyulph was an accomplished horseman and rancher, gaining some notoriety from his pioneering work on Weld County and other Colorado ditch irrigation projects. He was also noted for his extracurricular activities, demonstrating a wild streak that somewhat belied his noble heritage. Despite his occasional antics, he was reportedly widely respected by those who knew and worked with him.

In 1898 he left Greeley to join the Spanish American War, serving with what was to be later known as Torrey’s Rough Riders. Then from 1899 — 1900 he served in South Africa in the British Calvary during the Boer War.

After returning from Africa he became a sheep rancher, settling outside of LaSalle. In 1902 he married Edith Gertrude Boothroyd and their son, Jack D.A. Ogilvy was born in 1903. His wife died in 1908 which caused Ogilvy to sell his ranch and move to Denver. Later he procured his wife’s family’s ranch near the mouth of the Big Thomson, called the Three Waters Ranch. Over several decades he visited there frequently and experimented with various growing techniques. In 1914 he enlisted in the Northumberland Regiment where he spent two years training troops before returning again to Colorado.

For fifteen subsequent years he worked as an agricultural columnist for the Denver Post, while spending time both in a home in Denver and at the Three Waters Ranch.