Bull Whackers and Mule Skinners
Discovery of gold and silver in the 1870s in the San Juan Mountains south of Montrose created a demand for freighting services to haul equipment and supplies into the mines and carry out ore bound for outside markets. Packing and wagon-freighting quickly grew into a business that at its height employed thousands of men and animals.
Early freighters A. E. "Uncle Bud" Buddecke and Richard Charles Diehl formed what was to become a lucrative partnership in Kansas in 1882. They each purchased a six-mule team, loaded their wagons with groceries and merchandise, and set out for the Uncompahgre Valley shortly after it opened for settlement.
The Greatest Freighter in the West
Operating from a location on the corner of North
First and Rio Grande in Montrose, Dave Wood built
a million-dollar freighting and stage line that
flourished as a railroad end-of-the-line
for a decade during the late 1800s. To serve
outlying mining communities not yet connected by
railroad lines, Dave Wood used wagons designed
for heavy service, carrying up to 4,000 pounds of
freight and pulled by teams of six mules paired in
The Coming and Heyday of the Railroad
To serve mining needs for faster and more efficient transportation, the Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) Railroad reached newly-established Montrose in 1882. The picturesque narrow gauge track through Montrose was part of the Denver/Salt Lake City east-west main line until 1890 and provided the foundation for permanent settlement and increased mining, farming, fruit growing, and ranching. The railroad provided a vital link between southwest Colorado and important markets of the state and nation.
Clinging to high mountain cliffs and overhanging the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon, the narrow gauge route provided passengers with plenty of thrills.
Completion of other narrow gauge lines to the mining communities south of Montrose assured Montrose's status as a railroad center for many years.
The Railway Station in Montrose
In addition to the D&RG Railroad Depot built in
1912, the early Montrose railroad yard included
several features to serve the needs of the narrow
gauge trains. Facilities included a water tower, ice
house, a repair facility, stockyards, and a section
house used to house railroad workers. Today, the
handsome depot building houses the Montrose
County Historical Society Museum and stands as
a symbol of the important role played by narrow
gauge railroads in the early days of Montrose
The Demise of the Narrow Gauge
In 1890, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad established a
primary, standard gauge line north of Montrose through Grand
Junction. Although no longer a main east-west route, the
narrow gauge railroad through Montrose continued to serve as
a regional railroad line. A feeder line between Montrose and
the main line in Grand Junction continued to provide
southwest Colorado's mining, ranching, and agricultural
industries access to outside markets.
The slow-down of mining, the advent of automobiles, and the
building of better roads eroded the need for narrow gauge rail
service in the region. The Great Depression of the 30s and the
paving of roads in the 40s struck the final blow, and the
narrow gauges in the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Valleys were
doomed. By 1953, the little trains were gone altogether. Old
grade lines can still be seen along Highways 50 and 550
in many places, fading reminders of the glory days of a
Denver and Rio Grande Railroad narrow gauge Engine #278
and cars may be viewed twenty miles east of Montrose at