In the late 1800s, David Moffat wanted to take a railroad west from Denver and through the formidable Rocky Mountains.
The New York native bankrupted himself spending millions to finance the railroad and died before it was complete, but the railroad, now the Union Pacific, eventually made it to Craig in November 1913.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado will tell that story and all that has followed in the 100 years since the railroad changed Craig. It’s new exhibit will open along with the start of Grand Olde West Days, which has become something of an unofficial start to the summer season for the museum, as well.
“Can you imagine how remote it was out here, trying to get over the mountains?” said Mary Pat Dunn, of the museum. “That was a huge obstacle. It’s hard to imagine what a tremendous day it was for people (in Craig). The world opened up for them.”
The museum’s exhibit will consist mostly of photographs, information and dioramas about the railroad coming to Craig, and the many ways it benefited the area after arriving.
“We’re going to focus on how the railroad has served our area over the past 100 years,” Dunn said. “It will highlight decade by decade what was happening (on the railroad) and how it changed. Even today, it still plays a big role in agriculture and energy. You wouldn’t believe how vital it still is today.”
Dan Davidson, the museum’s curator, and the rest of his staff are excited about the exhibit because it started out as an idea to celebrate 100 years but became more interesting with every nugget of research.
“This is the one thing, there has been no thing that’s had a bigger effect on Northwest Colorado than the railroad,” Davidson said. “The old freight point for Craig was Rawlins, Wyo. When the railroad made it to Steamboat, that’s about the time a huge amount of Steamboat’s old buildings went up, too.”
Davidson said some of the railroad’s importance may go overlooked because it hasn’t brought people out to the Yampa Valley since 1968. So while it hasn’t had the direct impact for many people, it has been a major player in the economy ever since it arrived.
“All our coal still goes out on trains,” he said. “Every boom we’ve had here, the driving engine of it has been the railroad. The supplies for the power plant came out on the rail.”
The railroad exhibit will be up for several months, Dunn said, and will have additional dioramas arriving throughout the summer.
“It’s going to be something sort of fun, something different than ones we’ve hung up before,” Davidson said.
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org