Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sugarite Coal Camp, an early 1900s mining town

“Mining drew immigrants from over twenty different nations. Mining was brutal, low-paying work, yet former residents remember their times …as some of the best years of their lives. Although poor in material goods, they had a rich and interesting community life.” – from the Sugarite Coal Camp Tour brochure

Today’s park event was a tour of the Sugarite Coal Camp that flourished between 1908 and 1941. It was one of nine coal-mining towns in the Raton area. All of Sugarite was contained within just a mile and half square miles.

The guided outing started at the renovated camp post office/postmaster’s residence that is now the State Park Visitors Center. Then it continued uphill past the remains of the schoolhouse, clubhouse, company store, doctor’s office, and homes (all built, maintained, and rented by the mining company). One Italian family built a huge oven – similar to an Indian horno – and baked and sold bread to the bachelors living at the nearby boarding house.

The tour continued on uphill to the mining area, including the dynamite shack, motor and fan houses, the pulley system that transported coal down to the canyon floor. The weight of six coal cars going down the mountain pulled six empty cars back up, so no electric motors were needed. Mules were used to pull the carts inside the mine.

In all it was about a 2 and ½-mile walk and took nearly three hours counting time to listen to the tour guide, look at old photographs of what the buildings looked before they deteriorated, and simply have time to look around.

This afternoon I met Winnie, a 72-year-old solo motorhome adventurer, a full-timer, from Maine. She RV traveling seven-plus years ago in a small Road Trek Class C (similar in size to mine), and after several years she traded for a larger Class A – a Rexhall American Clipper. She’s quite the active and interesting person. She carries a kayak on top of her tow-car, and takes it out every opportunity she gets. She hikes and fishes. This year she – and her cat – are traveling from State Park to State Park in New Mexico, staying the limit of three weeks in each park.