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Southern Colorado Land Navigation & Transfer Co.



          The Southern Colorado Land Navigation & Transfer Co. as a model railroad is dated 1950.  It was established in 1850 by Tobias Abraham Bontrager as a wagon freight and stage line to service remote settlements in Southern Colorado and into New Mexico from the north.

          In 1876 T. A. Bontrager signs an enormous 100-year land lease agreement with the federal government.  In exchange for a commitment from the SCLN&TC to be instrumental in the development of transportation services of the leased area, the government agrees to grant all mineral and energy rights to the SCLN&TC and gives an option for the company to purchase the lease within 30 days of the expiration date of the lease (January 1, 1976).  This agreement specifically states that the price of the option to purchase will not exceed an appreciation in value of 1% per year for the duration of the lease, based on assessed value of the land at the time lease was signed.  Since the area was considered a wasteland at that time, the assessed value was extremely low, actually next to nothing.  Believing in the future of rail transportation, T. A. immediately begins construction of a narrow gauge line from Durdy Dawg south into the wilds of New Mexico, which was completed in several years.  He also began construction of a narrow gauge line north of Durdy Dawg, but due to the rugged terrain it will take some time to get it completed.  Many people thought T. A. had suffered a massive attack of senility, and the agreement quickly became known as “Tobe’s Folly!”

          In 1900 the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad opens a narrow gauge line to serve the lumber, mining, and agricultural needs of the area.       T. A. Bontrager is now retired and his son, Abraham George Bontrager, is running the SCLN&TC.  A. G. begins building a rail line from Cuchara to Durdy Dawg.  The SCLN&TC rail lines, in conjunction with the D&RGW opens a direct route connecting these desolate areas with Pueblo and Denver.  Observers view all this as totally ridiculous and nick name A. G.’s endeavors “Abe’s Desolate Disaster!”, but A. G. begins a promotional campaign to open the area for tourists and vacationers, and upgrades passenger service.  In conjunction with this plans are underway to develop facilities for travelers in Durdy Dawg, Chugwater, and Westcliffe.

          In 1925 Abe’s wife, Mary, gives birth to a son, Oliver Henry Bontrager.  Little did A. G. know at this time that his baby son would eventually lead the Southern Colorado Land Navigation & Transfer Co. to a magnitude of success extending far beyond the dimensions of his imagination.

          In 1930, by spending much time with A. G., as a young boy Oliver Henry is already seeing how a railroad should be operated, as feeble as the railroad may be.  During periods of solitude O. H. daydreams about future times of grandeur for the SCLN&TC.

          Between the years 1935 – 1940 the Arkansas River Valley Timber Co. establishes a lumber mill in Westcliffe, Colorado, and simply names it Westcliffe Lumber Company.  Until now the obscure Westcliffe branch carried little more traffic than exiguous passenger traffic and livestock for the local ranchers.  Sidings were promptly laid to adequately serve the new lumber mill and a new line run to Wild Wash outside of Westcliffe to better serve the rancher’s needs for shipping livestock.  Profits were previously marginal, but now with the increased traffic, not only freight, but also passenger service, the Westcliffe line has become quite profitable.  Westcliffe, once looked upon as a wild and unruly town saturated with drunken cowboys, hooligans, and lascivious ladies, is now in the process of becoming a respectable community, but it must be noted, much to the disappointment, and even despondency of some.

          In 1944 O. H.’s wife, Lucy, gives birth to a son, David Allen Bontrager.  Oliver Henry is already quite active in assisting A. G. with the operations of the SCLN&TC.  He has learned well from A. G. and in keeping with family tradition, enjoys being in the spotlight as a businessman.  In fact, O. H. has created quite a reputation for himself as being a showman of sorts, actually flamboyant in his style of running the company.  He developed an aggressive manner in expanding the operations, consequently, his name became widely known, although not always spoken of favorably.  His first major project was to upgrade the line between Durdy Dawg and Westcliffe.

          During the years 1948 – 1950 Oliver Henry upgrades the facilities along the line in Durdy Dawg, Chugwater, and Westcliffe to better serve travelers.  These included food, lodging, and entertainment.  His establishment at Durdy Dawg was quite elaborate for the time and became widely known as a place to have a good time.  This facility was simply named “O. Henry’s”, but several of the women working there simply stated, “Oh Henry!”

          In 1950 O. H.’s young son D. A. is already tagging along just about everywhere O. H. goes and actually learning the business.  O. H. states an intent to establish the Colorado & Western Railroad Co. as a subsidiary of the SCLN&TC.  The C&W would be standard gauge and would be first built between Pueblo and West Pueblo.  It would be 10 years before any construction south of West Pueblo would be started.  As with O. H., during periods of solitude D. A. daydreams about future times of grandeur for the railroad.

          In 1960 the name Colorado & Western Railroad Co. became a formal subsidiary of the SCLN&TC.  Construction of standard gauge track is begun at West Pueblo south to Durdy Dawg.  Due to the terrain this will be a monumental undertaking, so dual gauge trackage is laid first to keep the line open.  In 1976 the Colorado & Western absorbs the SCLN&TC.

          Taking into consideration the above history, 1950-1960 is the heyday of the SCLN&TC.  It has been a very successful railroad and will continue to be so.  Most of the narrow gauge locomotives and some of the rolling stock will be preserved at the Durdy Dawg Historical & Restoration Society’s museum in Durdy Dawg after standard gauge is in full operation.


D. A. Bontrager