Former Mount Harris resident recalls town, times
In the middle of the drive between Craig and Steamboat is a memorial on the side of the road that commemorates men who died in a mining explosion more than 60 years ago.
The memorial is one of a few structures that remain of the town of Mount Harris that existed from 1887 to 1958. Although little evidence of the town can be seen, Mount Harris thrived as a coal-mining town with a population similar to the towns of Craig and Steamboat.
“It is difficult to find where it used to be — the place where, as long as I live and many others live on Earth, will be called my home,” author Ruth Douglas Johnson wrote in her book “Mount Harris Echoes.”
Johnson was a schoolteacher and eventually became the superintendent at the school in Mount Harris. She wrote about the families of Mount Harris and described the town as a unique opportunity for the families who had their beginnings there.
“People really stuck together,” said Larry Winograsky, former resident of the town. Winograsky moved to the town in the 1940s because his father, Albert, received employment from the Victor-American Fuel Company. The mine provided many people jobs during a time when there was little industry in the area.
James Wadge of England settled the town in 1887 and opened the first coal mine on Wolf Creek. Wadge cleared the land where the town of Mount Harris would be built.
The largest mining facility was owned by the Colorado-Utah Coal Company and opened in 1914.
The mine was located on the same side of the road as the current memorial. The Wadge Mine opened in 1917 and was operated by the Victor-American Fuel Company and was located in the draw across the highway from the memorial.
The town of Mount Harris that included both mines had a business district, school and housing. The businesses were built from nearby sand rocks. Winograsky said that a majority of the miners and their families lived in the town while some lived in Craig, Hayden and a few were from Steamboat.
The Colorado-Utah Coal Company owned a pool hall, a butcher’s store, dry good store and a post office. Winograsky said all miners collected a paycheck but if they took an advance on their paycheck, they would receive “script” money that was only valid in one of the company’s stores. He said families, while living in Mount Harris, could purchase groceries from Craig and Steamboat at a more affordable rate.
The school at Mount Harris only went through the six-grade and then students transferred to the school in Hayden.
Johnson wrote that the school was well supported by the community and that all necessary needs of the miners and their families were provided for.
Being a miner, regardless of the coal company a man worked for, was hard work.
The working conditions were difficult and the possibility of having debris fall in the underground mines was a constant fear, Winograsky said. He said the job required a lot of shoveling and working in many capacities.
He said mining provided a better salary than most jobs but the work was not steady. He said in the summer time when people were
using less coal for heat, the number of coal bids that the mines received declined substantially. He said most people had to find part-time jobs in the summer to provide for their family.
Winograsky said Mount Harris was larger than its nearby towns during the war because of the need for energy surpluses.
After the war, the mines provided a job that was hard to find in a declining economy, Winograsky said.
Miners used mules to help haul coal in and out of the mines on trams.
In the early years of the mines, all provisions were hauled to the site by a team and wagon from Rawlins, Wyo. The trip was only made yearly because of the dangerous roads and the possibility of Indian attacks. The Wadge home was the first structure built at Mount Harris and served as a way station since it was approximately halfway between Steamboat and Craig.
Before U.S. 40 was built, some note that there were Indian petroglyphs on the rock cliffs before they were blasted to build the highway.
Winograsky said as a child he and his schoolmates were fascinated by the finding of a three-toed dinosaur track during the mining process. He said it looked as though the dinosaur had “walked down the mine” because the tracks followed the coal vein. He said the footprints were taken out of the mine and were frequently visited by the children in the town.
The days of underground coal mine slowly vanished as strip mining was developed and created a more economical way to extract coal from under the soil surface.
The Wadge Mine suffered an explosion Jan. 27, 1942, killing 34 men. Winograsky said the mine had naturally occurring methane gas that is thought to have been the source of the explosion.
The Wadge Mine mine and Victor-American Fuel Company were the first to close in 1951. The mine owned by the Colorado-Utah Coal Company operated for another eight years before closing. The houses of the Mount Harris town were auctioned and moved to the nearby towns. The whole town was dismantled or sold, leaving little but people’s memories.
Johnson wrote, “The foliage has again taken over its original domain and though the highway has changed a little, it still runs by the school grounds.”
To reach Jamie Hallman call 871-1810 or e-mail email@example.com
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