Priscilla MangnallTHE WAY WE WEREGrand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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April 11, 2013
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THE WAY WE WERE: Chronicle of farming, ranching history in Plateau Valley: Part 2

This is part two of an excerpt from "The Productive Plateau Valley," a book by Scott Walck, longtime Plateau Valley farmer and rancher.An interesting item I discovered about getting goods to market was parcel post. In 1914 the postal administration changed the rules on shipping by parcel post. For a parcel size of 50 pounds or under, the cost would be 5 cents for the first pound and a penny for every pound thereafter. Producers started shipping tons of produce through the local post office as it was much cheaper that the regular freight. Produce sent was honey, berries, meat and butter. Grady Pruett sent several tons of spuds to Denver by mail. After a short time the U.S. Postal Service saw that this was too good of a deal so on Nov. 15, 1916, the department took final action and notices were sent out to postmasters that unusual shipments of 200 pounds or more in one day would not be accepted.Tons of dressed turkeys were sold through a co-op, delivered to Grand Junction, dry picked and undrawn. Chickens were sold as fryers, stewing, roasting and bartered live for magazines and other wares that traveling salesmen would sell door to door. One news item mentioned that a Collbran merchant shipped 1,000 dozen eggs to a wholesale house in Grand Junction. All the ranches had a flock of laying hens to produce eggs for the family and took the surplus to the grocery store to trade for groceries.In 1904 Jim Baldridge hired 30 boys from the Indian School in Grand Junction to pick dewberries; they picked 985 crates and sold them to McKay & Stroud in DeBeque. His berry patch was just east of the Assembly of God Church in Plateau City. There were a lot of berries raised in the valley until the late 1930s. Carloads of strawberries and dewberries were shipped out of the Mesa area. In 1918, Pruett shipped five big cars of honey. There was tons of honey produced and shipped by rail and parcel post. In 1914 Tom Pitts shipped 15-20 cars of apples and Ingram's shipped 2,200 boxes.About every ranch had an orchard from an acre up to 20 acres in size. Most of the apple trees were of a variety developed for shipping and storage. Ben Davis and Gano were two varieties I remember, they were hard as baseballs and about as tasty. When stored until spring in a good dirt cellar they would mellow up and make a fine pie. Head lettuce and cabbage was grown in the upper elevations where the weather was cooler and the ground had more humus in it. These areas included Little Creek, Salt Creek, Vega and Smalley Gulch. These crops came off later in the growing season and were sold mostly in the Grand Junction market. Many acres were planted to potatoes and the harvest yielded tons of good potatoes. Some of this crop was shipped to cities both east and west. The local stores on the Western Slope purchased large quantities and we ate a lot of spuds.After things cooled down from the turn-of-the-century sheep wars, a few small farm flocks started to show up. By 1930 larger bands were being run by local ranchers. After the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, and sheep permits were issued on the forest, more bands of sheep were showing up. By the late 1940s there were an estimated number of 20,000 sheep in the valley, most using Forest Service permits for summer grazing and private land for the remainder of the year. Sheep provided two paychecks, the wool in the spring and the lambs in the fall. At one time Angora goats were raised on private land. The mohair sheared from them was in high demand for weaving. The pelts were tanned with the mohair on and made into chaps, worn by cowboys as a fashion statement and also for warmth in cold weather.Many acres of small grains were grown, both for sale and for feed. Since all the horsepower was horses, they were fueled by oats. Barley was a good grain for fatting animals and wheat was the chicken feed. In the late 1930s into the 1960s, there were five or six men running threshing machines doing custom work. Many of the larger ranches had their own machines and on occasion, if their work was caught up, would help a neighbor by threshing his grain. A news item from 1903 tells of the YT Ranch hauling 15,327 bushel of oats and 327 bushel of wheat to Grand Junction. They used three wagons with a four-horse hitch and one wagon with a six-horse hitch. This was before the Plateau Canyon road was no more than a trail with many creek crossings.When the horse-powered balers came into use in the early 1900s, grass hay was baled and hauled to market. The DeBeque and Grand Junction livery barns paid a premium for this good, high-altitude hay. These early horse-powered balers would put out bales weighing 100 to 150 pounds so it was easy to get a heavy load without much bulk and a back haul of coal made the trip profitable.Corn was another crop grown, some for grain but most for silage. There were a number of upright silos for storing the ensilage. There are still three or four still standing but haven't been used for 60 years. Most of the silage was put up for supplemental feed. There hasn't been any corn raised in the valley for 40 years.There were two flour mills in the Plateau Valley area. The first in Molina about 1901 and the second one at Collbran in the 1930s burned down about 1942. These mills bought grain outright and processed it for on a percentage basis. Some housewives swore by the flour these mills produced and some swore at it.Another product that may or may not have been produced was Moonshine whiskey. I have not seen any documentation on this product, only heard rumors so I cannot credit or discredit its monetary worth to the economy at this time.All of the ranches in the Plateau Valley were highly diversified, producing many products for the home and market. All of these big production years were before Vega Reservoir. There were a lot of good irrigators, livestock men farmers and just plain hard workers. Got a memory or picture to share? Call me at 970-260-5226, or email

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