Traversing Wolf Creek Pass with a liquored-up wagon train master

We continue with a first-person account of the first crossing of Wolf Creek Pass in 1916, the year it opened.

The group we are talking about is in a caravan of cars headed from east to west. Crossing from west to east is a caravan of covered wagons. The road is too narrow for the caravans to pass the same point at the same time. The liquored-up wagon train master has buckled on his revolver, taken charge and ordered the auto drivers to back up and get out of his way.

We continue with his drunken tirade:

“‘Take the outside of the road, as my horses are not dependable. I’m giving orders to be understood and followed and I’m going through if I have to shoot the last — to make way for my wagons.’

“He was so angry and unsteady we could not even guess what he might do. Finally, the men of our group told him to shut up and get in the wagon, until they could find a workable plan, or they’d pitch him down into the canyon. He sat.

“Then came the most terrifying experience of backing inch by inch on that narrow, slick, steep grade. David always believed in going forward, so was not an expert at backing — especially under such conditions. Joseph’s experience in the Cadillac garage paid off. He showed real efficiency in this case. Finally, one by one, we managed to pass each other.

“When we got down into the first flat lowland, there was no road at all; just mud and water-soaked trails, each driver making his own guess which set of workmen’s tracks to follow through the willows until he could connect with the next section of ascending road up the mountainside.

“At Box Canyon we had to wait until fifteen heavy dynamite blasts tore away a section of the rock, then all this debris had to be cleared away before we could attempt to cross over. At one place, a steam drill stood against a rock wall, and we had to drive around it on the point of broken rocks. The Cadillac was too long to make the turn around the drill, so again Joseph had to see-saw inch-by-inch to make the turn. Just as we got around, the whole point slid off into the stream below.

“None of the other cars carried food, so when we found a slightly dry spot under a spruce tree, the Hatchers and we invited the group to eat with us, as we had an ample supply from our camp. Every man had shoveled, pushed and lifted, and worked his best for everyone who needed help. We had showers all day long. There seemed to be no bottom to the road with this rain on the new construction. When we began to climb, the road was so slick, or again so sticky, it took the five cars three hours to cover only a quarter of a mile. Added to all of these delays, the Chalmers and Cadillac each had a flat tire. Now, night was coming on and we were still two and one-half miles from Mr. Logan’s work camp. The lighter weight cars passed through the mud holes all right, and drove on towards camp, but the heavier cars just sank. Marguerite and I walked the distance through mud and rain to the road camp for help. Mr. Logan sent four big horses to assist, but they couldn’t move the cars. When this didn’t work, Eugene Hatcher backed their Vellie from camp carrying heavy log chains. With the horses and chains the cars were pulled out.”

This story was posted on April 27, 2017.