Railroads, mines, turntables and times | VailDaily.com

Railroads, mines, turntables and times

Tom Boyd

It’s a phenomenon that’s widespread among long-time Minturn residents: In the early morning hours, when all is still dark, the sounds of the old train will come rumbling through the valley. People will wake up out of their beds and walk out to their yards, convinced that the old train, the old lifeblood of Minturn, is coming back up the river for one last run to Tennessee Pass.There’s only one thing: The train isn’t running anymore.”There was one night I thought I was losing my mind,” says Darla Goodell, mainstay guardian of the historic Turntable Restaurant and lifelong Minturn resident. “I woke up, I just knew that train was coming, I felt this train, and I got up and thought it was there. I swore it was there in the middle of the night but it was probably just wishful thinking.”Like any of Minturn’s long-time residents, Goodell remembers the days when the iron horse rode through town day and night, sending little earthquakes through the streets, shaking the walls of the town’s small houses and waking visiting strangers with its rowdy-sounding whistle.As hard as it is for Goodell to admit, those days are gone. Built in 1887 and shut down in the mid-90s, the Union Pacific railroad route through Minturn was a way of life for the people who lived there. The town of Minturn is filled with stories of long-time locals dreaming or half-dreaming that the train is still running, still rumbling through their little town.”We miss the trains, I have trains in my blood, we have cinders in our blood,” Goodell says, referring to the cinder ash that used to descend on the town as a by-product of the old steam engines. “I hated it when those trains left.”For most of its 100-plus-year history, the railroad has defined the town of Minturn even before it was Minturn. Originally named Kingston Town site, then briefly called Booco Station, Minturn was officially named Minturn and made into a town on Nov. 15, 1904.And now the town residents, old and new, are celebrating their centennial with a series of events (see break-out box). Although Minturn has, to a large degree, held onto much of its character and atmosphere, there have been a lot of changes over the past 100 years that have made Minturn into a new and different place than it was back in the golden days of railroad and mining.A sense of communityThe train not only brought sounds and sights to Minturn, it also brought jobs, people, and industry. Railroad workers gathered in local saloons and restaurants, bringing business to the small town.Goodell’s father, like many who lived in Minturn during the early days, worked for the railroad.Goodell, too, wanted to work for the railroad. But as a female, she says, she didn’t have that opportunity.”Smoky” Matheson, who was born in his house right in the middle of Minturn, remembers working on the railroad. At a recent local’s lunch held in the town building, Matheson and a few friends gathered and talked about what things were like back when the railroad and mining were the economic engines of the community, and skiing, television, and other modern-day amenities had yet to arrive.”There were three dances in Minturn every Saturday,” Matheson remembers. “And God only knows how many fights.””Those were the good ol’ days,” laughs Lloyd Martinez, who was born in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, but migrated to Minturn after finding work in the area mines.Debbie Moore Gustafson, who now works at the Turntable with Goodell, remembers those dances, too.”There were so many nice families,” Gustafson remembers. “We’d get together and square dance out at Maloit Park but that’s not what it was called back then.”Gustafson, whose maiden name is Moore, met her late husband Albert at one of those dances.”It was the Gustafsons, the Mays and the Moores that would get together and dance,” she remembers. “Albert was an excellent dancer.”It wasn’t until the 1960s that Minturn finally plugged into the television waves. Early Vail pioneers would make the trip to Minturn to come over and gather around the television to watch the early days of “Monday Night Football” or an episode of “Laugh In.”Although Joyce Bellm has fond memories of those early days of television, she says TV is part of the reason Minturn doesn’t have quite the sense of community it used to.”It was black and white and we had three channels,” Bellm remembers. “We were so excited about it, you couldn’t believe it. But TV takes away from town events. The fire department was a big part of this town, and without TV we’d go to bingo games, and dances, fireman dances they was just a big part of this town.”Bellm also grew up in Minturn, and five generations of her family were born and raised in Minturn. She remembers when current Mayor Hawkeye Flaherty was just a child a child with the mumps, no less. Hawkeye, who didn’t know better at the time, ended up giving all Bellm’s kids the mumps.”He was a fun kid, he’s always been a fun guy,” Bellm remembers.Everyone agrees that those days were different, and each of the people interviewed for this story lamented over the loss of community that came in those days.”Everyone was so close at that time,” Bellm says. “Everybody watched each other’s kids. It was a different world.”The changing of the timesAlthough TV may have played a big role in the unraveling of Minturn’s old-time community, there were also a few big, local changes that sent Minturn down a different track.The closing of the railroad, of course, was a big change for the people who had become accustomed to having the train (and the people it brought with it) roaring through town.But there were also the mines, which offered less and less work as time went on, and were offering very little work by the late 1960s. Then, in the early 1980s, the town of Gilman shut down and changed the surrounding communities forever.”A lot of people moved out (when the mines closed), and a lot of new people have moved in,” Martinez remembers. “We don’t know hardly anybody anymore.”At another table during the lunch at the Minturn town building, other long-time locals were nodding their heads.Lottie Ruder remembers being brought down to Minturn fro m Red Cliff, where she was born, so she could roller skate on Minturn’s sidewalks (Red Cliff didn’t have any sidewalks at the time).”We’d come down in a great big ol’ wagon, drawn by horses,” Ruder recalls. “Then, later on, dad was in logging and he had a truck.””It was good days,” says Candelario Cordova, who worked in the mines after coming to Minturn in the 1940s. “It didn’t take too much to make your living there wasn’t much to spend your money on.”The WarPart of the reason Cordova enjoyed that era so much, he admits, is because he had recently returned from the war. As a soldier in WWII, Cordova remembers storming Omaha beach, in the first wave, in the attack on Normandy during D-day.But he doesn’t like to talk too much about that day. Unlike many of his fellow soldiers, Cordova survived and went on to campaign in France, Belgium, and Germany. He was also in Sicily and England during his service in the war.”In the war you’re sweating everything out, there’s someone shooting at you every five minutes,” he says. “You’re sleeping in a foxhole, all wet It was better here in Minturn working in the mines.”World War II had a powerful effect on the people who lived in Minturn at the time even the young girls.Marcella Carter was born in Oilman in 1926, and she remembers feeling deep sorrow for the young men who were headed off to war.Back then, Minturn was a pretty major railroad stop, and trains full of soldiers would come through town on their way to the West Coast for shipping out to the Pacific.”All of us girls used to get together and go see the soldiers over at the train depot, and see the soldiers and wave and get all dressed up together that used to be so fun,” she says. “I don’t know how we found out the train was coming, there were no phones. They were all getting shipped out, and it was sad, we thought we could cheer them up just by waving, talking to them, we used to write to them and one guy I wrote to ended up dying.”When the war was over, the people of Minturn were very happy to get back to their lives in the mines, and working on the railroad, or tending to the bustling grocery and general stores that used to line Minturn’s streets.But it wasn’t to last too long skiing was on its way in and mining was on its way out.Vail and The TurntableThe past 40 years have brought a lot of change to Minturn. As mining work became scarce, many families moved away. But some found work in hotels or other tourist-related industries. Cordova, for example, worked at the Holiday Inn for several years after losing his job in the mine.Minturn has always had a love-hate relationship with Vail and the rest of the valley. They know that, economically, they’d be lost without the ski industry. Yet they strive to hold onto their identity, and remain different than Vail, Beaver Creek, and the modern-style suburbia that has overtaken much of the main valley.”We don’t mind ’em,” Matheson says, “So long as they stay on that side of the Mountain.”For Goodell, business from Vail is her only hope to keep The Turntable alive. She runs a hotel, which is attached to the restaurant, but she is having trouble drawing guest s even at very low prices because the hotel is in need of renovation.The Turntable is on railroad property, and ever since the railroad shut down, Goodell has been searching for a way to bring customers in large enough quantities to pay the rent.”The motel needs help,” she says. “I don’t have the money to do it, but nobody wants to sink a lot of money into this, because with the railroad you’re dealing with them on a month-by-month basis. They can change things and they don’t bother to tell anybody.”But to get her out of The Turntable, she says, “My fingernails are going to be dragging. They’re going to have to drag me out of here.”While Goodell recognizes that she needs to upgrade if she’s going to attract business and stay alive, she also doesn’t want to change the feel of the place she doesn’t want it to look like other places in the valley.”People are scared. We don’t want to have happen to us, what happened to Eagle. I go to Eagle and I can’t find where things are anymore.”It’s a paradox that plagues much of Minturn. A recent attempt to revitalize the town’s economy an RV park was recently voted down by the citizenry. Yet, without something to revitalize the place, they’re bound to begin losing their land, their jobs, and their homes, and new waves of people are bound to take over. The old guard hesitates to change, but they know they must if they are going to find a way to stay.As Bellm puts it: “Time goes on. You either go with it or you get left behind.”Only time will tell if Minturn will find a way to hold onto its past without forsaking its future. VTTom Boyd can be contacted at tboyd@vailtrail.comMinturn MagicA poem by Darla Goodell & familyI look up at the lioness, she’s still thereFill up my lungs with cool mountain airAs I walk the streets of townI feel Minturn magic all aroundHear that train whistleSee the steamOh! I wish thisWasn’t a dreamWalk by the roundhouseHear the engines hissingSeveral town folksHave railroaders there missingIs that music from Boo’s Caf and BarThere’s a back room poker game not too farA jilted fellow, poor thingAnted up his engagement ringEagle River InnOwned by B.D. PriceFood and accommodationsComfortable and niceAcross the bridgeThe mine bus is stoppingFine, proud minersUp the steps are hoppingMr. Lovato comes to mindA nicer gentleman you’ll never findAll of our hearts are filled with loveFor all those miners working the mines aboveNext stop is Mr. Sandy’s Barber ShopMany heads of hair he did chopA bunch of men sitting aroundDiscussing what’s happening in townWilliams Motel and liquor storeLeidy’s Gambles store next doorStop in Oris Goodales Drug, it’s a dandyFill our belly’s with penny candyOn the corner is William’s CafBest food in town people would sayNorma and Opal did their bestPeople came to town, their pies to testThe grand Minturn MarkCan’t help from stoppingSee all the fine ladiesDoing their grocery shoppingStop at the post officePick up the mailInto Jolens/Carters ClothingSee what’s on saleWalking by Sinclair’s storeShoes for sale and much morePull into Ralph’s fill up with more gasRalph will charge if you’re short on cashOn the corner the Minturn show hallWe watched our heroes rise and fallNext door Easter’s dry cleaning storeYou can smell the fumes coming out the doorNext block the Sugar BowlAfter school we rock and rollAcross the street pay your utility bill to MollyShe will make you day by golly!On the street behindIs the house of Polly and BusGot to move on’Cause Polly over here doesn’t want us to fussUp the hill to Minturn HighWhere the purple and white Panthers flyDown the hill to Gus Warrens motelFriends living there doing quite wellNext block Hoaglunds and Baldoffs garage for your carIf you needed repairs, it wasn’t too farThe bowling alley turned into Super Foods storeNecha cut meat and entertained customers galoreTwo great old churchesGrace this blockTime races by as ICheck the church clockUptown gas stations owned by OlliesMorelands and Abe, to name a fewIf one was closedThe others would doHave to mention Raymond HernandezA beautiful manHe gave to MinturnA wonderful clanStop by RiverviewLook up aboveThank God for this peaceful placeFor all the friends and family we haveOh, for those daysAt the Rod and GunPicnics, rodeos, softballAnd fun! Fun! Fun!Now I’m back at the TurntableWhich is now a cafHave a famous Boo’s burritoOn the wayAs I sit in the boothLooking aroundI realize how fortunate I amTo have Minturn as my home townI snap out of my daydreamWith a startMinturn Magic will always be in my heartSorry I couldn’t mention all the beautiful folks and placesJust look around and envision their facesWhat’s so wonderful can’t you see?Your Minturn Magic glimmers for me

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