People and Places
The arrival and abandonment of the two railroads had a definite effect on the people of Custer County. From 1881 to 1938 each action made a profound change in their way of living.
The “baby” narrow gauge along Grape Creek provided a means to transfer ore concentrate from local reduction mills to smelters out of the area. It was a way to acquire the needed mine and farm machinery, which meant greater productivity for these industries in Custer County.
The stagecoach drivers felt their jobs were secure in this mountainous country. They could not believe they were being replaced by a “Teapot on the Track.” To the traveler, however, it meant a swifter form of transportation and a broader access to other parts of the country. Added to these advantages, a new town named Westcliffe was formed.
When the narrow gauge railroad was abandoned in 1889, people had to once again look to horse and wagon to haul ore and produce in and out of the Wet Mountain Valley. Families had to rely on stage and surrey again to travel from place to place outside of the county
Then the standard gauge railroad was built in 1901 from Texas Creek to Westcliffe, once again bringing commodities used by the ranchers and farmers, and miners and merchants. Shipping agricultural produce and livestock was cheaper than by freight wagon. The mines had a means to ship their ore out of the county to smelters and the people once again gained a more comfortable form of transportation in and out of the valley.
In 1931 agriculture was the chief industry of Custer County. Fifty-five percent of its total area was classified as agricultural land. The agricultural land was subdivided as follows: 90% grazing land, 6.45% irrigated land and 2.98% farming land. The main crops reported were potatoes and oats. Other crops were wheat, corn, barley, rye, sorghum and hay. Garden crops were peas, cauliflower, lettuce and cabbage.
Shipped out by rail were 210 cars of produce, 159 cars of hay, 10 cars of potatoes, 12 cars of lettuce, 49 cars of peas, 14 cars of mixed vegetables, 132 cars of cattle, 3 cars of wool, 25 cars of sheep, 2 cars of horses, and 12 cars of ore. Another 210 cars of produce were hauled out by truck. The ebb and flow of the economy made an impact on the people as well as the success of the railroad.
The People Speak
During the time the D&RG narrow gauge railroad ran up Grape Creek, the mayor of Silver Cliff, Dr. W. L. Bain, was surgeon for the line. An article in the newspaper from Silver Cliff reads: “… Dr. Bain is preparing for the construction of a modern hospital and a sanitarium. No pains or expense will be spared to make it a most delightful resort. Dr. Bain came to Colorado some years ago in an almost dying condition. Having fully regained his health and strength so that he is fully capable to recommend the climate and give others the benefit of his experience.” It is not known if the resort was ever built.
The Stroehkle family had an effect on the development of Silver Cliff as merchants, blacksmiths and miners. Albert and Janette Stroehkle and their four children came to Canon City in 1885. The following year Albert Stroehkle died at age 45. After his death Janette, who could not speak English, heard of the boom town of Silver Cliff. She and the four children boarded the narrow gauge Rio Grande railroad to the mountain mining town. She bought a large building to start the Stroehkle General Store on the south side of Silver Cliff’s Main Street. This was a case where the railroad opened a new way of life for a family.