Come Back to Our Valley

Ever wonder how the horses were tied to keep them from wandering off while their owner shopped or took care of essential tasks? There used to be hitching posts up and down Grand and Main in the business part of town. Early on these were actual posts with an iron ring to slip the reins through and then tie them. Later on the rings became a part of the sidewalks (There are still a few in the sidewalks on Grand.) and then there were also hitching racks. It is easy to see what they looked like since one is still in existence on the north side of the road between the Mancos Valley Bank and the Bauer house.

A big clash came as autos began taking up parking places. More than a few people felt the cars scared the horses and took up the best places for avoiding the mud. More than a few people objected saying that this is a frontier town and that autos should be parked out away from the business section of town. Time however was in favor of the autos and with them came a need for decent roads.

A highlight during the winter of 1923-24 was the pushing of snow off the road between Mancos and Cortez. Cars could use the road all winter and it dried up much earlier than other roads. Plowing snow off the roads was not a correct terminology back then since plowing had a rather different connotation to the farmers and ranchers in the valley.

Mail and school routes became a priority in the county and during the years of 1927-1929 considerable graveling of roads was done throughout the county.

I was two years old when the first paved roads started to appear. That year (1936) the First National Bank building was torn down and for the first time the road to Durango (Highway 160) went east out of Mancos (becoming East Grand) instead of going to the south on Main and then at Montezuma turning east and heading for Durango.

It wasn't until 1937 that paving became the thing to do throughout much of the county. Grand Avenue had been paved before that and joined up with the paving done east of Mancos to the top of Mancos Hill. Three miles of road west of Mancos were paved and that was a relief to those who traveled to Cortez. Then to the pleasure of travelers between Mancos and Cortez most of the Mancos-Cortez highway was paved before winter set in. Sadly, all of the paved surfacing between Mancos and Cortez turned to mush during the next two winters and travel to Cortez was once again an adventure.

I was still in the Air Force when the highway was routed to the north of Mancos. Town administrators had tried to keep the highway going through town but the bypass was another wave of the future. In our own time, good roads continue to be a necessity.

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Many of us know that a railroad went through Mancos so it seems timely to follow with the railroad after writing about roads.

The Rio Grande Southern was built through Mancos in 1891 and operated for 60 years. It started in Ridgway and went to Telluride to Rico, Mancos and ended up in Durango. The changing times seemed to end its usefulness but the end, even though very costly, could have been avoided.

The beginning was filled with hopes and grandeur. Otto Mears went to New York and raised four million dollars and nearly another million was raised before any construction ever got underway.

Mears built his Rio Grande Southern in just two years. It was 172 miles of spectacular mountain railroading. It circled and climbed over four mountain passes between Ridgway and Durango, the highest being Lizard Head Pass at 10,250 feet. It required 142 bridges and trestles.

Costs, construction with green lumber, and the dramatic fall in the price of silver early on along with a burdensome interest rate, devastating wrecks, floods and snow slides all added up to a loss that even six decades later was still considered poorly timed and totally unnecessary.

Cass M. Herrington had overseen the railroad for a number of years and even though there were enormous hurdles ahead he had high hopes since he had brought it safely through WWII. His great plans for the railroad ended in March of 1948 when he was killed in an automobile accident in New Mexico. Totally unforeseen, that accident left the system with no authority to pay the bills. Already in deep financial trouble, the railroad quickly went into receivership.

There was not a cent in the treasury of the RGS that was not a loan from the DRGW railroad. The interest on the bonds was eight years in default and the taxes were nearly two years in default. The very last run was a freight from Durango to Mancos and a return on Dec. 27, 1951.

The petition for abandonment was filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission on Jan. 18, 1952.

Wrecking operations started that spring and in a few months all the rails had been taken up and all other tangible assets of the railroad were disposed of. Two cars and a caboose went to Knott's Berry Farm.

It is of course unfortunate that the D&RS is gone. Another Otto Mears with the ability to persuade investors into putting up millions might very well have made it into a legitimate and functioning business that would have become a pleasure and wonder for the entire country.