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The story of Stevie

WALSENBURG — Once there was a man named Clarence Henry Stevenson. He was best known by his friends and co-workers as Stevie. Stevie came from Minnesota in May 1888, arriving in “Walsenberg”, which he misspelled. Back in the Midwest he had worked in a flour mill, but endured low wages and poor health. In those days, the pure high air of Colorado was considered therapeutic, and he struck out to find a healthy and wealthy place in life. He left his best girl behind. His first letter from Huerfano County was written June 4 and addressed to “My Dear Friend Lizzie”. He signed them “Sincerely Your Admirer C.H. Stevenson”. Through his letters to her, we learn Stevie was an exceptional sort of man, dedicated, clever and hardworking. He traveled by train to Denver, where he was hired by the Colorado Fuel Company to work “at some coal mine . . . I do not know the name of the place.” Four days later he was in Walsenburg, which he described as a place full of rough men, such as Bob Ford. He quickly noted most men wore large belts with large revolvers hanging from them. So he ordered a Colt revolver for himself. When in Rome . . . After a few nights in a boardinghouse, Stevie decided to rough it himself and bought a 10 by 12 foot tent. He purchased some very basic furnishings and made himself comfortable. Stevie had

made his new home in Rouse, seven miles south of Walsenburg. He was earning $3.00 a day and paying $5.00 a week for meals at the boardinghouse. He liked the scenery, the “elegant” weather and dry climate. He got on well with his fellow workers, especially a party of surveyors. The surveyors were in camp because the Rouse coal mine was just being developed and the camp built. In fact, the camp had not yet been named and Stevie’s mail came to Walsenburg. By July 8 Stevie was working 12-hour days building a trestle. The railroad tracks were under construction. In August he joined a camping party that rode over to La Veta, went berry-picking in the mountains and continued on to Stonewall. There they marveled at the stone dikes, caught, and ate, lots of trout and drank ice cold water from the creek. It was good he had a respite, for the rest of the summer was spent finishing the trestle. Stevie even had to do some of the carpentry himself. Before the month was out, he found himself in a health resort in Denver suffering from typhoid. After two months he was well enough to go to a relative’s home in Pueblo. Following a long recuperation, he was sent by the company to one of its properties in Utah. By the following May when he returned to Colorado, Rouse had a name. He was by then addressing his letters to “My Dear Lizzie” and signing them “Truly Your Lover”. They had become engaged, by mail. Now we learn of some of Stevie’s work. His title was master mechanic, but he was also camp timekeeper and disciplinarian. In his own words, he had charge of “everything outside . . . Carpenters, Engineers, Maisons [sic], Blacksmiths”. These jobs were under his supervision, and he was personally designing and building a foundation for a mine fan 20 feet in diameter. Mr. Kebler of the fuel company told him he would be in charge of all machinery at the mine, and Stevie just knew he would get a raise. Actually, he had already gotten a promotion in work and a demotion in pay. This economic disappointment was compounded by the fact he was responsible for paying for all of his own tools, and they were many. In June the new trestle broke down. Since the mine was now in daily production and the company loath to shut down work, all repairs had to be made at night when the mine was idle. Before July, Stevie had 70 men to supervise. He was now engineering and building a pump for the mine. He was also charged with building camp housing and repairing the trestle – again. His new chore was placing a five-ton flywheel and shaft with the assistance of four mules and a hoist. He had to buy more tools, plus technical books to help him with engineering and drafting. In his spare time, Stevie was settling into a larger tent, one with a wooden floor and siding up the side about two feet. He thought this the height of comfort. His salary went to $85 a month and he foresaw the day it would climb to $100. That fall he installed a second fan, a twin to the first. The more machinery placed in the mine, the more repairs he had to make every night. Some of this work was so exacting, he had to fashion his own tools. Oddly, his health continued to improve. In October, production had increased to 80-100 railroad carloads per day, or 1,800 tons. Stevie spent his nights and weekends repairing the boilers and other steam equipment. One night he found himself in the mule barn assigning mules to miners. There seemed to be nothing that was not included in his non-existent job description. Another night he had to move two huge boilers a half mile, using 12 mules. Still another he raised the smoke stacks on the boilers. Even so, he was enjoying a social life at the nearby boardinghouse, and found joy in the first snowfall – until the wind starting blowing. The snow blocked the railroad tracks so the mine had to close down for a few days, giving the miners some rest. It also gave Stevie time to do more work. After his nightly chores he sat down to write Lizzie, but often was even called from that pleasantry at two or three in the morning. In November, he got that $100 salary he’d been anticipating. Stevie kept plugging along. He helped to plan and build the camp school, the water tank, more houses which he then learned to plaster with cement. He convinced his bosses to install an air compressor. General repairs were constant. In between he was sent to Sopris, Walsen and other mines to help out. Despite his promises of a comfortable life in the growing community of Rouse, Lizzie was held back from marriage by her mother, who thought living in a coal camp in the wilds of Colorado no place for a lady. In January 1892 Colorado Fuel Company merged with Colorado Coal and Iron to become Colorado Fuel and Iron. This was the catalyst Stevie needed to make a move. He finally returned to Minnesota, married Lizzie March 16 and by August, Stevie was the superintendent of CF&I’s Spring Gulch coal mine near Glenwood Springs. After two years, he became a trouble shooter and traveled between mines solving problems until 1908. He then joined an independent coal mine in Utah, then quit to establish a lumberyard in Price, Utah, where he continued to design and build houses. Luckily, a grandson compiled Stevie’s letters. They draw a moving portrait of a patient man who saw his job and did it with pride, confidence and not a little discomfort – a true pioneer of the coal industry.