Come Back To Our Valley
The Rio Grande Southern Railroad is referenced 39 times in my mother's book, "Come Back to My Valley". It obviously played an important role here in the Mancos Valley.
I rode that train only once and that was when I jumped on the train with a couple of other boys about two miles to the northwest of town and rode quite unwelcomed to the depot. I was also with my parents when they picked up baby chicks from the Galloping Goose, a truck on rails. My most vivid memory however is of the huge icicles that formed on the water tank during the winters.
I remember listening to my uncle Henry Johns talk about the railroad. He started as a section hand and worked in the Mancos area. He was able to earn more working for the bridge gang, which would keep him away from home for days at a time. Much of his time was spent between Dolores and Lizard Head because there were twenty railroad bridges in that area. He later got to run the motor car and accompanied his boss on inspection trips. He said the worst part of the inspection trips was around Ophir, between Telluride and Trout Lake, where he saw eleven snowslides in one day and was ever so thankful to make it home safe and sound.
One winter Uncle Henry worked on the thousand foot long snowshed close to Lizard Head and wondered why that type of work couldn't be done in the summer because it was cold and stormy nearly every day.
All kinds of stories were told about the RGS but I found this one particularly interesting. Uranium was discovered in 1896 and Pierre and Marie Curie were later able to isolate radium. The Curies needed quite a supply of radium and the ore that supplied it was hauled on the RGS to Durango. For 25 years all of the radium bearing ore in the world was carried on the RGS. Then years later, in 1943, the United States Army appeared on the scene in Durango and they over saw the milling of the uranium ore that went into the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of that ore had been carried (through Mancos) on the RGS. My father was quite anxious to have one of the uranium rocks that were later carried on trucks and one day, when a driver stopped for a bite to eat, a group of men coerced him to go into the Columbine with them and have a drink. Once they were inside, my father climbed up on the truck and came down with two good-sized rocks, one of which went to the group of men and the other to my father. He kept that rock on the porch for many years and enjoyed having people listen to the loud buzzing when he would put it close to his Geiger counter. It was one hot rock and may actually have done harm to him over the years.
Coal was of course a big requirement for the smelters in Durango and the roads on the Menefees that became more visible after the fire last summer led to numerous coalmines. While some of that coal stayed in Mancos, most of it went by way of the RGS to the smelters in Durango.