Museum of Northwest Colorado: Disappearing boom towns
Living in a remote community brings incredible opportunities and sometimes daunting challenges. The Museum of Northwest Colorado has learned more about the two isolated oil camps of Hiawatha and Powder Wash. These two communities in the northernmost region of Moffat County developed after the early oil boom of the 1920s. After the recent story about these camps ran in the Craig Daily Press in June, former residents of both towns contacted the museum to fill in some of the details about life in those out-of-the-way burgs.
Floy and Paul Bochmann lived in both Hiawatha and Powder Wash camps in the 1950s and ’60s. During their 12-year stay out there, their children attended school in Powder Wash. The Bochmanns have very fond memories of their time out in that area. There was a great sense of camaraderie in the camps. Families would become friends with one another, and those friendships were often deep and long-lasting. The Bochmanns mentioned several people whom they are still in close touch with even after five decades away from the camps.
The two communities frequently got together for softball games, dances, parties and other social events. In the winter, of course, because of road conditions, travel in the area often was restricted greatly. At times, they were snowed in and could not get out at all, but the oil company made a great effort to keep activities going for the families to alleviate boredom and help make living out there attractive despite the isolation. The company would build an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter months, and in the summer, it groomed ball fields and other recreational areas for the residents.
There were 22 homes in Powder Wash in addition to the teacherage. Many families would stay for a number of years, but others would move on, many times because they couldn’t deal with the extreme isolation and the weather-related challenges. But like many of the long-term residents, the Bochmanns thought it was a great place to raise a family free from negative factors often found in larger urban areas.
Hiawatha was shut down in 1968, and all of the buildings were sold off. Powder Wash continued to operate into the 1990s. Some of Craig’s teachers started out in Powder Wash, including Robbie Estus and Dino Avagares.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado appreciates those people who took the time to share their stories and photographs of life during the boom and bust cycle of these two tiny communities. These stories and images help the museum document the fast-fading history of isolated areas while shedding light on a different type of boom-town lifestyle. Be sure to include the museum on your to-do list when you have out-of-town visitors this summer! The museum, located at 590 Yampa Ave. in Craig, is open Mondays through Saturdays with free admission.
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado.