Willoughby: Where all good things come from | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Where all good things come from

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Heavy rod mill on a Coleman truck being transported to Midnight Mine up Queens Gulch in 1930.
Willoughby Collection/Courtesy photo

There was a chicken-and-egg conflict when horse and buggy switched to automobiles. Cars could go faster and did not need a grazing area, but appropriate roads were a prerequisite. As an example, it was long after people had cars in Aspen that it was faster to go by car than by train to Glenwood or Denver. The car road lengths were longer than the railroad tracks between those locations. Winter complicated the formula since railroads had a system for clearing the tracks of snow, but road plowing capability lagged. Trucks helped speed up the transition.

Ford manufactured the Model T beginning in 1908 that made cars affordable. They did not make trucks until 1917 when they introduced the Model TT. That was the year Aspen debated buying a truck to haul fire equipment to fires. There were companies building truck fire engines, but they were much more expensive. The Mesa Store on Main Street bought a Ford Model TT in 1921. There are few trucks mentioned in Aspen ‘s papers until late in the 1920s, but in 1923, Brand’s Garage, a Firestone dealer, advertised that you could buy solid and pneumatic truck tires.

In addition to the Ford Model TT, there were other manufacturers delivering in Colorado. The Kissell Company, that began manufacturing trucks in 1907, sold one in 1919. There were REO trucks that began manufacturing in 1910 with a Colorado delivery in 1920. The Graham Company in Indiana opened for business in 1919 and sold in Colorado in 1920.  International Harvester and GMC entered the Colorado market in 1922.

In 1926, trucks began to be more common, and many favored trucks built by the Colman Corporation. In Moffat County, four Colemans were purchased to haul gilsonite in six-ton loads to Craig from Utah. A Coleman was delivered to Salida where it was to be used for hauling granite. The Chase Transfer Company bought a Coleman, and the Gwin Coal Company in Oak Creek bought some.

The Oak Creek Times reporting explains why the Coleman was gobbling up the market. The trucks could haul five tons at 35 miles per hour. It had 8 forward speeds and 2 in reverse. Most important, to Colorado, you could get a snowplow for it, and it could plow snow up to two feet deep. It was a four-wheel drive truck.

Those were the practical reasons, but the paper also divulged the emotional reason: “best thing, made in Colorado where all good things come from.”  Coleman’s manufacturing location was in Littleton.

Pitkin County bought one for snowplowing in 1927 for $4,330 ($61,000 in today’s dollars). After driving it over from Littleton, the driver said, “best truck that has pulled into Aspen.”

In 1929, the Midnight Mine borrowed the County Coleman because it had a very heavy load, four tons, to haul to the mine. This was before the Midnight re-engineered the road up Queens Gulch making the grade less steep. That original road followed the bottom of the gulch all the way up. The Coleman trip took two hours. It was the first time a car or truck had made it to the camp. This was done in late November, and the road was muddy in sections and icy in others; four-wheel drive proved its usefulness. The Midnight said, “it was a remarkable feat when it is realized that it takes a team of four horses all day to make the severe climb with only one ton for a load.”

A year later, the Midnight borrowed the truck again. This time for an even heavier load, a rod mill for the mill being constructed. At that time, a load that heavy had never been hauled over the mountains from Denver. It would be handled by railroad. 

My father was the driver for that expedition. One of the biggest challenges was that the bridges at that time did not have load-limit signs like today, and seven bridges were suspect, so Father had to go off the road and through the river instead of using the bridges. It took him three days.

Roads got better, and trucks took over. The Coleman, pun intended, paved the way

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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