Museum of Northwest Colorado: 1950s “big box” lumber store

Mary Pat Dunn/For the Saturday Morning Press

Chet Klock was a nationally known cartoonist who would travel from town to town, creating a series featuring cartoons and brief stories on various businessmen of the town. In 1956 he came to Craig and created a six-month series which ran from July through January of the following year in The Craig Empire Courier. In the column titled “Familiar Faces,” Klock would give a brief description of the person along with a cartoon image, and then let the readers guess who he was featuring. That wouldn’t have been that difficult in a town the size of Craig, which boasted a population of just over 3,000 at the time.

Sixty years later the Museum of Northwest Colorado is taking a look at those businessmen and the columns, which talked about them. In the decade following World War II new businesses were opening in Craig, as young veterans looked around for places to settle down with their families. Northwest Colorado, isolated as it was, had a clear recreational advantage with its great outdoor opportunities, especially when it came to fishing and hunting. Situated on Highway 40, which spanned the nation, Craig seemed to be on the road to everywhere, offering opportunity for aspiring business persons.

Ray Johnson, too young to have served in World War I — and too old to enter the service in World War II — moved to Craig just at the close of the war with his Wyoming born wife, Elsie and their 9 year old boy, Chuck. Ray, son of a cabinet maker in Wisconsin, must have retained an affinity for wood from his childhood years. With the help of a business partner from Denver, Ray built a structure near the foot of Yampa Avenue by the railroad tracks and opened the Moffat County Lumber Company. While catering in particular to the construction business, the lumber store carried a great deal of hardware and stock needed in the trade. Ray invited young oil rig worker Fred Mason to come on board as his assistant.

Ray spent almost 30 years with his business before he retired in 1972. Elise and Ray’s son Chuck completed schooling in Craig and went on to Denver University, graduating in 1957. After Ray’s retirement, Fred Mason bought the store and managed it until 1998. Moffat County Lumber closed its doors in 2004; today the building stands empty.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado is located in downtown Craig and is open Monday through Saturday with free admission. The museum staff is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of our special corner of Colorado. Include a visit to the museum on your calendar and enjoy a nice cool hour or two learning more about our regional history. The museum is currently hosting a photographic exhibit by regional photographer, Rod Hanna.

Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig.

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