Friday, October 8, 2010

The Relief Train

 For some, inventory can be daunting. For myself, Collections Assistant at the Telluride Historical Museum, it is fascinating. Each museum’s collection has its own story, its own local history. Sometimes, even in this small town museum, our own quirky history surprises us with a story and influences others beyond local lore to call upon our stories for a smile.

During my inventory adventure, I have delighted in many objects from turn of the century. Anything from celluloid vanity sets to dog collars, grand wide brim hats we only see in historical movies, and even late 19th century roller skates. But what has caught my interest of late is the story of a flood, a mountain town that was subject to starvation, and a man who thought salvation was beer. Yes beer.

Telluride’s most notable historian of the era, Harriet Fish Backus, recalls in her book Tomboy Bride the 1909 Trout Lake Flood that washed out 30 miles of train tracks to Ridgway, the only community about an hour south of town (by car) and the only supply center to Telluride. The flood wiped out telegraph and phone communication, as well as supply lines to the mining town of 5,000 residents.
“With the railroad gone and the roads washed out not even wagons could be used.  Mules were the only possible saviors of the situation.  They could bring in enough necessary rations, it was hoped, to ease the pangs of hunger.  What food the stores had was rapidly disappearing with no means of replacing it.  It would be two months before the railroad tracks could be restored.  So French Alec with his mule string was taken from his Tomboy trail and sent to Ridgway for supplies, and all of Telluride eagerly awaited his return.  Ten days later Telluride rejoiced when the mules entered the canyon.  The first load of food...hurrah!  Telluride, saved by the mules!  For some the joy lasted but for others it burst like a balloon.  Each mule carried fifteen cases of beer, and that was all.”
Shortly after this incident, Anheuser Busch produced colorful advertising posters of a man and his mule train, packed with barrels of beer, making their way over a trail beside a washed out rail line in the mountains titled, “The Relief Train.”
I had recently heard the outlandish tale during one of our historical programs, and chuckled a little to myself thinking, “We should obtain a copy of that advertisement.” Just a few days ago, I came across a 1912 chromolithograph of the advertisement hiding in our archives. As well as the original photograph taken of the “relief train” which looks strikingly similar to the Anheuser Busch interpretation!
As a testament to the benefits of inventory, you never know what might be a treasure, even if it seems at first just to be a beer advertisement.

~ Cameo
Telluride Historical Museum
Collections Assistant

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