History in Focus: Livin’ the Dream
Risk takers, speculators, gamblers, and dreamers fill the history of Moffat County. Whether it was cattle barons, gold or uranium mining, building dams, or even a diamond hoax, people with grandiose hopes tend to gravitate toward our territory. M.T. Streeter and the story of his coal mine is another unique chapter in this strand of Moffat County history.
In late February of 1918 local newspapers excitedly reported that M. T. Streeter, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with other eastern investors purchased a ranch in Axial Basin owned by Joe Collum for $70,000.00. Only 31 miles southwest of Craig, the ranch was on top of a massive vein of coal that had supplied the local area for years. Streeter planned to upgrade this small mine into a large, world-class mine in order to supply the insatiable eastern markets (Moffat County Courier, 2/21/18 and Steamboat Pilot, 2/27/18).
The railroad came to Craig in 1913 and large-scale development was now possible. Furthermore, petroleum exploration was taking place at the Tom Isles ranch, so with the twin pillars of the industrial economy apparently and conveniently located in the geology of the area, Streeter was confident a rail line would quickly materialize. (Routt County Sentinel, 3/1/1918)
According to the Craig Empire, Streeter was a “doer”, and “has made himself solid with the local people by his way of doing things. He strikes one as being all business and no bunk.” (6/12/18). Good paying jobs, wealth, and a thriving economy were on the horizon for Moffat County!
The plans for the rail line boiled down to three general possibilities. The first idea was a rail spur to Craig that connected to the Moffat Road back to Denver. The second headed north on a variety of proposed paths to Wamsutter to link up with the Union Pacific transcontinental line. Finally, the third idea was to lay track west to Salt Lake City to connect the Moffat Road with the rest of the West.
Streeter formed the Axial Basin Development Company, and over the next two years he worked tirelessly to finance a rail line, bring the mine into production, and build a beautiful new company town named, not surprisingly, Mount Streeter. The papers of the era are peppered with exciting and hopeful articles about his confident yet frenetic activity to get a rail line built.
In The Routt County Sentinel, Streeter believed the new rail line could be completed in time to haul coal east by next winter! (4/26/18). In July of 1918, the Craig Empire discovered he was in Oak Creek buying up used rail due to shortages of steel during WWI. In August, Streeter had conferred with the State Highway Commission to at least get a decent road built from Craig to Axial Basin (Steamboat Pilot, 8/21/18).
By December of 1918 the Craig Empire reported Streeter had tried to convince the Federal Railway Board (or War Industries Board according to the Moffat County Courier) of his rail plan (12/11). Upon returning to Craig, Streeter confidently stated, “I will say for publication at this time I have authority to go ahead with my plans and that a new road will be built” (MCC 12/12/18).
Eight months later and still no rail line, the Craig Empire reprinted an article from the Salt Lake Tribune stating Utah Governor George Bamberger was initiating plans to build a line to the Uintah Basin to meet up with Streeter’s proposed westward line (8/20/19). Through these articles you can almost sense the rising anxiety as successive plans never came to fruition.
Undeterred, Streeter continued developing the mine: tracks were laid in the tunnels, a tipple built, and mining equipment purchased with hopes of shipping 8,000 tons of coal per day (Craig Empire 4/16/19). In September, the sleek new town of Mount Streeter was opened, replete with a bank, general store, machine shops, boarding houses, concrete walks, and neat company owned cottages (9/3/19). Soon enough, the new little town had its own band and baseball team! It was dubbed the “fastest growing town in Colorado.”
Very soon the Axial Basin Development Company needed a cash infusion and advertised a “ground floor” stock sale in the March 31, 1920 edition of the Craig Empire. Readers were enticed with the initial $1 offering, soon to go to $2, and possibly $5 (see image).
Sadly, not nearly enough coal was being sold and shipped. The end came in December of 1920 when various creditors seized the assets of the Axial Basin Development Company and the bank was shut down (Craig Empire 12/1/20). The coup de grace came on May 19, 1923 when the entire town and mine were auctioned off including “practically everything to equip a good size town.” Finally, the land Mount Streeter was built upon reverted back to rancher Frank Shaver (Routt County Sentinel, 5/18/23).
Today no sign of Mount Streeter exists as you drive south of the entrance to ColoWyo mine on Highway 13, yet Streeter’s big dreams were just a step ahead of his time. The Collum coal field was purchased again and has been mined for decades. It is currently known as the ColoWyo mine.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School. If you have information or ideas on an interesting topic regarding Moffat County history email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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