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Thirty Italians and 500 goats

AGUILAR —  The coal camp of Berwind got off to an inauspicious start. The mine was located in Road Canyon south of Aguilar in Las Animas County. The mine was “officially” opened in 1888, and a camp of sorts was established. The miners built their own residences and a motley lot they were – log and adobe cabins about the size of garages, but uglier. According to a contemporary source, these were the worst “human rat holes” in America. In 1889 the Road Canyon Railway built a right of way to the mine, and in 1891 this became the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf. Later the Colorado and Southern took over the line. Residents used the railroad to reach the other camps in the area, which were many. Colorado Coal and Iron bought the mine property in 1890 just a few years before it merged to become Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). The new mine was first named El Moro #2 and its sole aim was to provide coking coal for the ovens at El Moro 11 miles to the east. Shipping began in October 1890. The camp soon was renamed for Edward J. Berwind, president of the CC&I before its merger, and chairman of the board afterward. The Berwind

was known as CF&I No. 3 mine. On March 10, 1892 – 123 years ago – the new post office of Berwind was established. By late 1901 the mine had 398 employees. John Aiello owned and operated the camp store and those old adobe homes were being demolished to make way for coke ovens. A CF&I newsletter in 1904 showed the 1899 photo of the hovels, entitling it “30 Italians and 500 goats”. The old goat ranch went, too, and was replaced by a two story school building. A Federation of Women’s Clubs chapter had been formed, and it was operating a circulating library. The camp was determined to lose its “30 Italians and 500 goats” image. Not, of course, that it had any fewer Italians, but the goats were gone. At the same time, a nearby mine was being opened by CF&I. It was Tabasco, first seen as Tobasco, and it began production in 1901, at the same time as its post office became operational. The two camps were less than one mile apart and shared the new school and other facilities. Tabasco’s coal was almost all earmarked for the coking process that reduced impurities and prepared the coal for the CF&I steel mills. From its 302 ovens, 90 percent of the coke went straight to Pueblo. 1902 brought more improvements to the camps. A new, larger school was planned to accommodate the growing population. It was the Corwin School of four big rooms. It was formally opened that September with a program and dance featuring an orchestra from Trinidad. Special trains were run for the event. The old school was later converted into a boardinghouse for Japanese miners. Water was always a problem for these camps. Berwind made do with a water tank above camp, but at Tabasco, a lot of water witching went on to find a source. A well was finally located next to the new Colorado Supply company store. In 1903 a pipeline was built from Aguilar to bring in domestic water, but that was hardly sufficient either. It wasn’t until the pipeline was rebuilt in 1917 that a dependable flow was assured. What the camps lacked in water they gained in education and entertainment. The CF&I had inaugurated its Sociological Department. This program was based on a “happy miners make productive miners” philosophy. The department introduced kindergartens (for all ages), language, arts, domestic science and manual training classes. There were lectures, programs and musical events. Basic health and hygiene, physical exercise, and knowledge of the English language were stressed. Berwind had one of the earlier kindergartens. Enrollment was steady in the early days at about 40-50, split almost evenly between children of various ages and their mothers. Besides learning the language, these students cooked, made rugs (on looms constructed by the manual training boys) and baskets, sang and gave plays, and got the rudiments of math. The Aiello store gave way to Colorado Supply Company Store No. 37 in early 1904. F.X. Rinkleman was manager. The Aiello family sadly moved to Trinidad. The winter of 1903-04 brought a strike that closed the mine. Superintendent John Jennings went to Trinidad to speak with Santa Claus and remind him of all the little children in Road Canyon waiting for him and his bags of goodies. Not only did that work, but the mine was reopen by February when one resident wrote, “the clatter at the tipple and the blast of the whistle sound like sweet music”. In 1916 John D. Rockefeller, owner of CF&I, donated enough money to make construction of a new Catholic Church a reality. It was of Spanish-style architecture, cement blocks with a white stucco coat, and identical to the one later built at Morley coal camp. On July 29, 1916, the camps got a big new stone Young Men’s Christian Association clubhouse to replace their old frame one. It included a huge lobby for meetings, a women’s parlor, bowling alleys (two), reading room and billiard room where, at special times, women were allowed to play. One C.A. Lockwood was in charge. Right off the bat, telegraphy classes were offered to adults as well as first aid for boys. A little boys basketball team was organized along with the mens bowling team. Twenty-five new cement houses were added that same year. Wages were up to 68 cents a ton for miners, from 55 cents just two years before. In April 1918 CF&I purchased the Toller mine near Tabasco from its owner, Giacomo Toller. With a number of improvements, the existing camp, consisting of a store, clubhouse and dwellings, was brought up to the company’s standards and Toller joined Berwind and Tabasco to enjoy CF&I’s social facilities. One of the first occasions to gather was a visit from the Rockefellers. Following World War I some 600 people of the camps turned out for a massive welcome for the safe return of those who had served overseas. Soon after, the new Italian band of Berwind rendered a concert for the advent of the new year of 1919. By 1920 the three camps had three schools. One was a two story, six room building housing the grades from fifth to second year of high school. The third and fourth years were instituted in 1921 and ’22, respectively. High school enrollment in 1925 was 56. Two, two-room schools sat side-by-side for the lower grades. The three CF&I mines, along with the independent Bear Canon, later Vallaroso, nearby, eventually had a peak population of about 1,500. All good things, they say, must come to an end, and so it was for Berwind, Tabasco and Tollerburg. The coke ovens at Tabasco ceased production before 1920, and Mine No. 37 was closed down by 1925. The mine at Berwind shut down in 1930 and the next year even the post office was discontinued. It had produced more than nine million tons during its lifetime. Tollerburg, the post office that served the Toller mine, opened in 1909 and closed in 1931. Except for Valloroso, whose post office remained functional until 1954, Road Canyon was a ghost town full of concrete foundations scattered across the hillsides.