Tales from the Tread: Black gold — ghost mine bus tour
Steamboat Springs — The Tread of Pioneers Museum strives to preserve the rich, colorful and diverse history of the region and to bring history to life through exhibits, programs and education.
History came to life on July 11 when the Tread of Pioneers Museum and local historian Jim Stanko took 27 participants on a three-hour Ghost Mine Bus Tour from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek. Along the journey Stanko delighted visitors with his extensive knowledge of coal mining, the rise and fall of company towns associated with the mines, the railroad and the historic rivalry between Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek.
The history-filled ride focused primarily on five mines: Arrowhead, Haybro, Keystone, Juniper and the Perry/Moffat mines. Along Highway 131, the bus stopped at key sites where Stanko shared historic photographs and pointed out the weather-worn remnants of tipples (mine structures that loaded the extracted coal for transport) and other mining structures that remain to this day. Evident at all the mines were piles of black refuse coal, known as slag, that still litter the valley in areas where mines once flourished.
“(The town of) Oak Creek was created by coal. Even before the railroad arrived, the economic and social life of south Routt County was clearly linked to the development of ‘Routt County Gold.’” – The Historical Guide to Routt County
Tour participants learned that the Oak Creek mines date back to 1887 when small wagon mines opened in the area. The south Routt mines were the first to close in the 1940s after the railroad switched from coal to diesel-powered engines, and the underground mine tunnels became so extensive that production became too costly. The closing of the company towns throughout the county had a severe negative effect on the local economy, and the Haybro mine was the last to close in 1952.
When the tour bus arrived at the Tracks and Trails Museum in Oak Creek, museum volunteer and esteemed historian Mike Yurich, led a personal tour of the museum and mesmerized the crowd with his family history, as well as stories of Oak Creek’s historic gambling and prostitution district.
Highlights of the Tracks and Trails Museum tour included a replica of an 1890s classroom, three-reel slot machines, and historic pins and coins. The finale was the original jail cell in the back, where several people took souvenir photographs of themselves as “prisoners.”
For the return trip, the bus took an alternate route past Stagecoach Reservoir. This new scenery prompted Stanko to explain the short-lived history of the Stagecoach Ski Area, as well as fascinating aspects of the area’s rich agricultural history. As the bus rolled back into town, Stanko recounted the history of Mount Werner and other intriguing local history facts.
In the fashion of a true performer, Stanko saved the best story for last. As the bus passed Fish Creek Falls Road, Stanko recounted a tale of his high school antics, involving 3.2 beer, skinny dipping and watching from the comfort of his car as his friends ran bare naked into the woods to escape the spotlights of the town marshal. When the bus returned to the Tread of Pioneers Museum, passengers were full of smiles and brimming with new knowledge of the storied past of coal mining and so much more.
Sergio Portesan is serving as an intern at Tread of Pioneers Museum and Candice Bannister is the museum’s executive director.
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Explore a mix of in-person and virtual events happening this weekend in Routt County.