Coal trains, pulling black diamonds out of Huerfano County

by Carol Stevens

HUERFANO- Being a history buff, I have found Huerfano County to be an unending source of history.  In upcoming weeks, you will be seeing a lot of different articles about the history I have discovered.

    Huerfano County has always had a rich source of coal from which the residents earned their living for many years.  Around 1876, Walsenburg was developed as a coal shipping point for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, which hauled the coal to market.  Branch lines and spurs were built to newer mines. The line ran through town after picking up at Walsen mine.  It continued on to Pictou and ran all the way as far as the Kebler/Tioga mine. 

     The old line can still be seen along Highway 69 even though the rails have been pulled up.  It followed along Highway 69 heading north, and along the way, it would pick up Maitland, Gordon, Shumway, Turner, and Strong.  At approximately mile marker eight, the rail crossed Highway 69. This was to reach Spanish Peaks, Major No. 1, Sunnyside, Larimore and Kebler/Tioga mines.

    The Denver and Rio Grande Western was also a cattle transport.  Near the Kebler/Tioga mine was an extremely large cattle stock pen where the cattle were loaded onto the rail cars and then transported to their intended destinations.  Since the railroad followed the arroyo, years of erosion have nearly erased the the cattle stock pen.

    As energy sources other than coal became more popular, labor problems and the cost of extracting underground coal became too costly, and the mining industry closed down. The railroad was no longer needed, and the rails were pulled.