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Railroads

What do these photos tell you about why railroads were so important for farmers and ranchers?

A Train Of Cattle Cars

This photo shows a locomotive attached to cattle cars. The men standing beside the loading ramp are loading cattle into the cars.

A Train Of Cattle Cars

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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Railroads were very important to the cattle business in Colorado. Cattle trains like this one made it possible for ranchers to ship their cattle to markets in the east. They could make more money by raising more cattle than were needed locally.

Their Own Words

His [John Prowers] brands were the Box B, and the Bar X. He built up his herds until at the fall round-up of his ranch, the cattle shipment was a matter of train loads, not carloads. Sometimes as high as eight train loads left our ranch for eastern markets. At one time, the fall check-up showed 70,000 cattle bearing father's brands."

Source: Mary Prowers Hudnall, "Early History of Bent County," Colorado Magazine, 22 (1945): 246.

The Railroad Comes To Johnstown

This photo shows people gathered at a railroad in Johnstown, Colorado. They came to watch the first train arrive.

The Railroad Comes To Johnstown

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Railroads also were important to the farm towns of Colorado. Farmers came to towns located on railroads to ship their crops to market and to buy supplies from the storekeepers. Towns that did not have a railroad connection did not survive for long.

Their Own Words

"My father came out the same year [1871] and they both [her brother had arrived earlier] lived in a little shack on the land. My mother and I and two younger sisters come out in March, 1872. We were just one week on the train. As we got off the train at Evans, my father and brother were there to meet us with a big lumber wagon."

Source: Mrs. Jennie Lucas (1934), CWA Interviews, Doc. 343/26, Colorado Historical Society.

Loading a Railroad Boxcar

The men in this photo are loading bags of potatoes into a railroad boxcar. The two children sitting on the ground are watching the men load the cars.

Loading a Railroad Boxcar

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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Railroads were important to Colorado farmers. They used the railroads to ship potatoes and other crops to eastern markets. Like the ranchers, they could make more money by growing crops for distant markets.

Their Own Words

“H. R. Brady, traveling agent of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe [rail] road was interviewed in Denver last week by a [Rocky Mountain] News reporter and made the following statement: ‘Northern Colorado is undoubtedly the best region for potato raising west of the Mississippi River. The Greeley potato . . . will always bring the highest prices in the market. . . . I have been looking over the ground and estimate that the region will send out 1,000 or 1,200 [railroad] carloads of first class potatoes. . . . The output will probably be one of the largest the district has ever known and prices will be satisfactory. The potatoes are shipped in refrigerator cars.’”

Source: Greeley Tribune, November 11, 1897.

Loading Vegetables On a Boxcar

The men here are loading boxes of vegetables into railroad cars. The photo was taken in Longmont, Colorado.

Loading Vegetables On a Boxcar

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The railroad cars in this photo are refrigerated cars. These cars kept vegetables from spoiling when shipped to distant markets. They helped Colorado become an important vegetable-producing region.

Their Own Words

“We did vegetable farming at that time. . . . Mostly cabbage, tomatoes, pickles . . . onions. Then we had some sugar beets, too. You know, back in them days sugar beet was pretty widespread in this area. Then it just all went out. Oh, we raised about twenty acres of sugar beets and then the rest was vegetables, some alfalfa for rotation purposes. . . . We used to hire a lot of Mexican, Spanish people to help on the farm. . . . They used to just come and like chop onions, mostly piecework, pick pickles, chop onions.”

Source: Jack Miyasaki, quoted in Maria M. Rogers, ed., In Other Words: Oral Histories of the Colorado Frontier (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996): 12.

Train Arriving In Paonia

This photo shows a train arriving at a depot in Paonia, Colorado. People are waiting on the platform to board the train.

Train Arriving In Paonia

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Trains were very important to small towns. This photo shows boxes of fruit as well as people on the platform. Trains carried farm produce as well as people from small towns to Denver and other cities.

Their Own Words

“I came to Colorado from Kansas, landing at Kit Carson August 1, 1870. . . . In the fall of 1873 the Arkansas Valley branch of the Kansas Pacific Railroad was built from Kit Carson to the site of the present town of Las Animas. . . . I took a position with Prowers and Hough as forwarding clerk [at Las Animas]. That is, the southern merchants would order their goods from the East, and have them consigned to Las Animas, in care of Prowers and Hough. We received the goods from the railroad, paid the freight, hired teams, mostly ox teams, and shipped the goods in that way to their destination. Las Animas was a very, very busy place in those days, as there was a large territory south not yet penetrated by the railroad. . . ."

Source: P. G. Scott, “Pioneer Experiences in Southern Colorado,” Colorado Magazine, 9 (January 1932): 25.

Train Leaving Nathrop

This photo shows a train leaving the depot at Northrop, Colorado. It is a "mixed train" that includes a cattle car as well as at least one passenger car.

Train Leaving Nathrop

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Trains like this one made it easier for people to live in small towns and rural areas. They helped link people together no matter where they lived.

Their Own Words

“I had my heaviest shipment and sales [of cattle] in 1918, when I shipped and sold 2,200 head [of cattle]. We were in World War I and the market was good. My neighbor and I loaded a train of steers at Debeque (in Mesa County), where we were offered thirteen cents, weighed in Denver. We wired Kansas City and were told they would bring $13,75 per hundred weight down there. Since it only cost ten cents per hundred weight extra freight to the River [meaning the Missouri River], we decided to go down. We fed at Pueblo.”

Source: J. N. Neal, “Ranching in Rio Blanco County,”  Colorado Magazine, 34 (April 1957): 114.