Rancher Bill Sherrod drove early farm tractor to Steamboat from Goodland, Kansas | SteamboatToday.com

Rancher Bill Sherrod drove early farm tractor to Steamboat from Goodland, Kansas

Sandra Sherrod, who grew up on a ranch in the lower Elk River Valley, speaks to an audience Friday about her family history and their close ties with their rural Yampa Valley neighbors. Sherrod's talk was part of the Tread of Pioneers Museum's Brown Bag Lecture series.
Tom Ross/staff

Sandra Sherrod, who grew up on a ranch in the lower Elk River Valley west of Steamboat Springs in the post world War II era, told an audience here July 28 that, while the men on the ranch worked very hard to support their families, it was the ranch women  who “put it all together.”

Sherrod came to Routt County with her parents and siblings from a farm in Kansas. Her folks, Willard “Bill” and Helen Sherrod, had always  dreamed of building a ranch in Colorado. And, based only on a promise and a handshake that they could buy their own place from a family in the productive hay county west of Steamboat, they piled everyone into an ancient pickup truck and headed west.

“My mother was such an industrious person who could cook anything,” Sherrod said. “She had chickens and could put together a pie in 20 minutes. She also made all of her clothes. We did not have enough money to go out and buy clothes.

“All of the 40 percent of homesteaders who made it, made it on the back of the women. They had a child yearly, or at least every other year. They had to make their own soap and wash clothes with a scrubber. They had to garden and can food from early in the morning until late at night.”

Bill Sherrod had survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, but in 1946, he and Helen came to Colorado and searched several valleys to find their future home. They rejected the Montrose area in favor of the Elk River Valley, where they were offered the opportunity to purchase the Clark Family Stock Company. After a long drive from Kansas, traveling between 20 and 30 miles per hour, the Sherrods moved in with the Clark family while final negotiations surrounding the sale of the ranch were completed.

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“Getting settled was difficult,” Sherrod told her audience. “We slept upstairs beneath open rafters, and the snow would come through. Anything left out would be frozen by morning. There were only two stoves in the house, and we had an outdoor toilet. When it gets to 50 below, you can’t imagine how much fun that was to sit on that cold stool.

Ultimately, the acquisition of the ranch was completed with a three-paragraph document drafted by an attorney in Steamboat Springs, and the Sherrods found themselves welcomed by families who were among the earliest homesteaders — the Cullens, Trulls and Hitchens among them.

Bill Sherrod’s fortunes and stature were elevated after a friend back in Kansas alerted him to the fact that there were 30 to 40 acres of abandoned wheat fields growing in the old neighborhood during a time when wheat prices were at the historic high of about $3 per bushel. The farmer must have been a good friend, indeed, for he urged Sherrod to return to Kansas long enough to harvest the wheat.

Sherrod used the windfall to help purchase a new John Deere tractor with plenty left over to bring home the materials needed for indoor plumbing and a source of hot water. The problem was getting both the tractor and his pickup home. That’s where a young hitchhiker named Toby came into the picture.

Toby was happy to drive Bill’s pickup while he plugged along, driving the tractor, all the way from Goodland, Kansas, to Steamboat.

His daughter recalled people stopping on the shoulder of Routt County Road 44 to watch her father use his tractor’s rare hydraulic lift to boost the loose grass hay onto his stack.

Routt County cattle, fed on the lush grass of Northwest Colorado, were in high demand at the stockyards in Denver, and the Sherrod family became firmly established among their neighbors.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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