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The History of the Rocky Ford, Colorado Depot

by D.K. Spencer

1876 - The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company built its tracks through Rocky Ford in 1875-76 with operation commencing in March, 1876 between Las Animas and Pueblo, Colorado.

A small, red, sand-painted frame depot was constructed just west of the Nichols Avenue (10th) Street crossing, which was the main road from Kit Carson, Colorado to Mexico. The state of Colorado was ratified in 1876, and New Mexico was not to be a state until 1912; therefore, the road was known as the Mexico Road.

George W. Swink moved his store from the river crossing to just east of the depot and became the first agent for the Santa Fe in 1876. His store and post office became the hub of the area with all kinds of merchandise being brought in by railroad for the big task of building a new city.

1882 - The next construction was a 5 room, 2 story, section house (re-modeled 1907) and a 12' x 16' tool shed. There is a record of a two story dwelling built in 1887 as living quarters for Agent J. W. Baker in the 100 block of Washington Avenue (North 9th), and it is quite possible this building was used as general living quarters for both agent and section foreman with a separate bunk house for the section crew.

1887 - A new combination passenger/freight house was constructed in 1887, being a frame building size 24' x 109' on the site of the present depot. The Santa Fe Town Company had moved the main business area one block west from Nichols Avenue (10thSt.) to Robinson Avenue (Main Street), and Robinson Avenue was re-named Main Street and eventually became the center of town.

1893 - A large stock yard was built on east edge of Rocky Ford just east of the present 15th Street crossing.

1902 - A smaller stock yard was built near the point where the present 4th Street dead ends south of the main line. Both stock yards were well-used by local ranchers, and after the factory was opened in 1900, beet pulp was being fed to local livestock, causing an increase in the stock business. Sam Kitch was the main shipper in 1956. Both yards were removed during the 1960's.

1903 - A small building just east of the Main Street crossing housed a crossing watchman, the last being Mr. Bert Bius. There being no automatic crossing gates, he was required to stop traffic by hand signs as a safety factor. Side tracks usually either had carloads of beets or empty cars stored between campaigns, which effectively blocked view of the main line track.

1906 - This depot was moved westward across 9th Street and remodeled into a new freight house and offices for Agent F. G. Curran and his seven man crew. There was a high platform around the building, fifty foot wide at front, and narrower in the rear, and tracking which allowed the unloading of five cars at a time. Brick side walks had been installed on east and north sides.

A 100 ton Fairbanks track scale was installed on the factory lead track, located between Swink and Chestnut Streets, for weighing sugar beet cars and whatever else was needed. The scale was removed about 1960.

1907 - Down Memory Lane - Daily Gazette picture from August 3, 1976.

1907 - The present depot was constructed by J.B. Betts, probably using brick from Fred Cheek's Brick Kilns, commencing December 2, 1906, and occupied March 26, 1907. The construction was quite rapid, and the Venetian tile roof with Moorish gable work gave an attractive Spanish appearance to the handsome brick building. The Rocky Ford Enterprise describes the interior:

"The hard stucco walls are painted in solid but harmonious tints and the woodwork of hard pine stained in oak. The seating is the best make of station furniture. The electric lights, the steam heating, and the lavatory fittings are all of modern design and devise--the steam heating being a particularly compact and perfect piece of mechanism. The building is divided (by the intervening ticket office), into two commodious waiting rooms, and a connecting corridor, and the (water) closets are available in both men's (west) and women's (east) waiting rooms."

Also in 1907, the Wells Fargo Company (later known as the Railway Express Company - REA) built the red brick building just west of the depot facing west on to 9th Street, replacing a rather unsightly structure whose demise was readily received by the community. The agent was James H. Butterfield.

1908 - A water treatment plant, complete with lime storage house and water storage tank, was built near the Rocky Ford Ditch crossing area; and another tank was placed east of the Main Street crossing for the purpose of filling the water tanks on locomotives' boilers.

1913 - A boxcar type of bunk house, whose location is unknown but assumed to be in the area west of the depot, was established for section crew use.

1921 - An electric powered Wig-Wag crossing signal was installed on Main Street.

1923 - Another Wig-Wag signal was installed on the 10th Street crossing. Both of these signals were placed in the middle of the street with auto traffic to pass to the side of them, and both sat upon a formidable concrete base. Many a valiant auto tried vainly to knock them over; however, they never succumbed! They were removed with great difficulty in about 1980.

1936 - Retired cashier Norman Clifford advises prior to 1936, the freight office crew on 9th Street was moved into the brick depot, resulting in paper work being done at the depot and freight unloaded, stored, and delivered from the old freighthouse.

1939 - A separate implement dock was built west of the depot between the old freight house and the main line. The dock was originally 20 feet wide by 120 feet long, and in the late 1960's was shortened due to deterioration. This was built to replace the dock that was removed with the freight house in 1941.

1941 - A freight room and dock (including a scale and foreman's office) was added to the depot in 1941, and several other depot improvements were made, including removing three partitions surrounding the ticket/telegraph office, installing a modern counter, and placing new brick paving in front of the northwest door.

With all functions now being handled at the brick depot, the old freight house on 9th Street was demolished.

1961 - A new asphalt roof replaced the beautiful, but aging tiles, that were damaged in the June 1, 1961 hail storm. Other improvements included lowered suspended ceiling, fluorescent lights, and painting the inside of the depot. About this time, the furnace was converted from coal to natural gas.

Depot at Rocky Ford, Colorado 1978

1979 - The depot was closed permanently January 16, 1979.

The Santa Fe official list of agents from 1890-1979 include the following:

  1. P.O. Rudolph
  2. J.B. Pearce
  3. C.A. Nickles
  4. W.G. Lewis
  5. J.C. Foulk
  6. J.E. Lawson
  7. A.G. Compton
  8. G.A. Rose
  9. F.G. Curran

10. W.K. Robertson
11. W.J. Wiley
12. W.W. Johnson
13. G.F. Johnston
14. J.E. Austin
15. F.M. Lucero
16. J.F. Bart
17. D.K. Spencer

However, these were the men assigned on January 1 of each year, and many other unknown persons, which are not named, served as agents, including the afore-mentioned Swink and Baker.

Among the residents of Rocky Ford at time of dedication are those employees, active and retired, that served in the depot:

  • Norman Clifford, cashier
  • D.K. Spencer, agent
  • Joe D. Baublits, operator
  • Robert Wheeler, operator
  • Victor Hudson, trick operator

Financially, REA and Santa Fe freight were ranked third in Colorado. For many years, Rocky Ford cantaloupes in crates known as "flats" were shipped nationwide, as well as any item needing expedited service. REA ceased operation on September 20, 1968 the last agent being F.M. McCown, and actual building ownership passed to the Santa Fe, for the first time.

Track maintenance was handled by a section crew, and each crewwas supervised by a Section Foreman. Our foreman's house faced onto 7th Street directly north of the tracks. In 1906-1912, Albert Yates was foreman. About 1958, the section house was removed, and Foreman V.W. Leake, moved to La Junta.

Agriculture and related industries have long been prominent in the rail operation. With the establishment of the Sugar Factory in 1900 and subsequent branch offices and sugar beet piles from Rocky Ford to Holly, we were the original western terminal of the"Arkansas Valley District", and traces of this roadbed are still visible, beginning on Chestnut Street near the Sugar Factory, extending north across river, and east near Ryan's Ponds. We also had sidings nearby at Fayette (west) and Krammes (east), plus a line that extended south of Newdale to Roberta and Hawley, and all were sugar beet loading/storage areas. Campaigns lasted 60 to 120 days, and 3500 to 9000 carloads of beets could be handled. One severe winter, 350 carloads were still frozen in the cars when the factory campaign ended and eventually were fed to cattle in the area, when thawed enough to unload.

Being irrigated farmland, Rocky Ford had little grain handling, but it kept busy with onions, melons, seeds, potatoes, lettuce, sugar (dry and liquid), beet pulp, molasses, and alfalfa meal, to name a few, and all of the related industries, such as implements, fertilizer, containers, etc.

As you spend your time here, listen closely for the wail of the steam locomotive whistle as it glides through the Arkansas Valley, racing with the wind or the click of the telegraph key, bringing news of the outside world to a new city, blossoming on the plains! Listen for the joyful sounds of travelers departingand arriving, perhaps to attend the famous Arkansas Valley Fair!


D.K. Spencer
August 19, 1987

The restored Santa Fe Depot now houses the Rocky Ford Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce has been in the Depot since 1987. The old freight room has been restored, and the plaza has been planted and is used for community activities. The building is also used for art shows and a meeting place for various clubs and organizations. It can also be reserved for family gatherings such as weddings, receptions, reunions, etc., or any other typeof functions.

Scottie Aschermann
Executive Director

May, 1992

This page of the history of the Rocky Ford, Colorado depot was written by D.K. Spencer and presented at the dedication of the restored Santa Fe Depot in 1987. It is republished on the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society with the permission of D.K. Spencer.

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