Museum of Northwest Colorado: ‘Dinkys’ handled a big coal job
Coal production today in the Yampa Valley is carried out with oversized equipment that staggers the mind with its immensity. Colowyo Coal Co. south of Craig has huge haul trucks that dwarf the drivers and carry tons of coal in a single load. Trapper Mine, which serves the Tri-State power plant in Craig, manages its digging operations with massive draglines that can be seen from great distances as they crawl along the hillsides removing the overburden. Early area mines did not have the luxury of such incredible machinery to move the coal, but the coal got moved nevertheless.
The first small mines of the region were referred to as wagon mines because the coal was hauled out in horse- or donkey-drawn wagons. The small operations supplied coal to local homes and businesses in the bitter winter months. Wagonloads of coal were a common sight as the driver delivered his product across town. In those early years, coal production was strictly a local business, as there was no means to transport it to larger urban areas.
With the coming of the railroad to Steamboat Springs in 1908, the scope of coal production in the region changed dramatically. One of the larger coal mines in the area was the Routt County Fuels Co., which operated near Oak Creek. It later became the Pinnacle Mine. This company used pint-sized engines to move the coal from the mine to the top of a nearby hill. Dinkys — as the small trains were called — would plunge into the depths of the mines to haul out the black gold that kept homes heated and the power on. The miniature trains would haul their loads of coal to the top of the hill above the mine, where the loads were then attached to tram lines, which then took the coal out to the rail line on the Moffat Road. Those little trains had a big job to do, and the engineer of the little engines had an envious job compared to that of the miners themselves.
The lore of coal mining in the Yampa Valley still attracts the interests of locals and visitors alike. The Tread of Pioneers Museum, of Steamboat Springs, just hosted a “Ghost Mine Tour” to the Oak Creek area with historian Jim Stanko. The Tracks and Trails Museum in Oak Creek is another great place to learn more about the early coal mines of our area. The Hayden Heritage Center museum features a great display on the long-vanished Mount Harris coal camp. The Wyman Living History Museum and the Museum of Northwest Colorado, both in Craig, feature exhibits with coal mining tools and equipment. Be sure to include a visit to our local museums this summer. It is a great way to beat the heat and enjoy fascinating glimpses into the history of our region.
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado.