Rabbitbrush Rambler: On the road

Call it a Pageant of Transportation.  On the highway through my town, there is a constant parade of dusty old sedans like my own and shiny new hybrids, 16-wheelers and pickup trucks, wreckers towing wrecks, RVs towing all sorts of appendages from ORVs to boats, buses that are actually spiffy year-round motor homes with a car behind, daredevils on motorcycles, vintage classics en route to parades and Early Iron, and law-enforcement and emergency vehicles.

This Pageant of Transportation has been changing ever since Native American traveled through the Valley on horses towing travois behind them. Wheels made the job of moving people and things a lot easier.

Moving stuff, large and small, around on wheels is such an important part of daily life today that we just take for granted USPS, UPS, FedEx, all the other delivery services, Bill Clark and other truckers. And there have been airplanes and the traditional kinds of buses too.

Go back only a couple of generations and an iceman with a horse-drawn wagon was delivering a block of ice to my own mom’s ice box in her kitchen, or the Jones dairy’s brand new truck was delivering bottles of milk to a little box on the doorstep of each customer.

Then keep going back further to the D&RG’s iron horses, hauling mining and agricultural freight, mail, passengers, and the stuff loaded on the Railway Express Agency’s carts. Today’s agricultural freight and tourism with its two seasonal excursion trains are what now remain of olden-time rail transportation in the Valley. Both of those functions still are vastly important economic assets, as elsewhere in the state and nation, but other transportation has taken over the rest.   

Before there were the trains, there were traders’ wagons and ore wagons from mines, especially Summitville, congesting the dusty and often muddy street in Del Norte, where towns and enterprises thrived. The wagons needed streets so wide that they now can accommodate bicycle lanes and curbside parking.

And before the trains and the wagons, there were stagecoaches. In an outstanding article in “The San Luis Valley Historian” in 1998, Frances McCullough wrote about the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Line in the San Luis Valley, accompanied by Yvonne Halburian’s fine map.

Before the railroad and its crossing of the Rio Grande to the future town site of Alamosa, the stage line provided transportation on the north side of the river, through Wayside as well as other stations and points north, northwest, east, and south. Until a few years ago, a log barn stood north of Alamosa’s golf course at the corner of North River Road. The barn was the only remaining part of the Wayside Station’s complex, until the barn was moved for restoration and preservation. Another stage station was on the west edge of Del Norte, and it was moved and preserved to the present location near the town hall.   

And before toll roads and freight wagons and stage coaches, there were carretas, the wooden carts with wooden wheels that came north from New Mexico with the first settlers and announced their arrival with a lot of thumping and screeching of wood on wood. And let’s not omit the burros that pulled the carretas the burros and pack mules that soon were carrying the supplies to the gold-seekers and the mules and horses that pulled the U.S. Army’s wagons.

Does anyone remember what the Motorways building in Alamosa once was used for? Trucks. But what can you do with a white elephant like that besides tearing it down and using the land for another parking lot?

Well, how about a world-class museum focusing on just one aspect of transportation in the Valley as it relates to trucking, wagons, coaches, camping or RV-ing, motorcycling or biking, farming or ranching. How about the kinds of jobs performed by railroad workers on narrow-gauge and standard-gauge lines, past and present. The last one especially should be a natural for an old railroad town like Alamosa.