Posted by: Howell | June 1, 2010

The history behind Telegraph Trail

Alleged telegraph line was really a telephone line

Don’t let the name of the Telegraph Trail or the associated local weekly newspaper in Durango fool you as to what actually runs up Horse Gulch and over the hill past Grandview: an old telephone line.

Yes, this monumental, earth-trembling revelation is true, as was confirmed this week by the few local long-timers who worked on the lines, were served by the lines, are still alive and are still living in La Plata County.

They're actually telephone poles

Built during the summer of 1906, a group of local investors got the project off the ground through the incorporation of the Florida Mesa Telephone Company with a capital stock of $1,000 dollars, according to Telephony: a Report of International Independent Telephone Convention. It’s line served no more than ten people in the vicinity of the County Road 230 area near Elmore’s Corner.

One of those people was Leland Hill, who said that the line was easy to use despite the possibility of there being as many as nine other neighbors also talking on the line at any given moment. Telephone numbers were only three digits long at the time, according to Edie Bukovec, who worked 25 years for Mountain Bell Telephone Company.

Maintenance of the line was a job in itself, which rested on the shoulders of local wheat and oat farmer John Bukovec, whose nephew owns the Model Tire Store in Durango. Since the line was tied into the Mountain Bell Telephone Company demarcation point at the current site of Building Specialties Store at the Horse Gulch trail head, a Mountain Bell technician named Thomas Price had to train Bukovec how to do repairs on it.

“It was a privately owned thing. It would get trouble in it all the time,” said Price, who worked a combined 30 years for Mountain Bell Telephone Company, and once it was broken up as a monopoly, worked for US West. “And John would call. I was running a test board, and I finally got the old boy out so he could do tests for us and he could chase his trouble out quicker. Kid’s would throw wires over the top of it, and that ruins it, see. It’s an open-wire telephone circuit.”

“We called it a farmer line. And they had longs and shorts and this and that kind of rings on it,” Price said, referring to the number of rings you would hear to determine who was calling, as to not answer one of the nine other neighbor’s telephone calls.

“See we had a lot of open wire. It was open wire to the airport,” Price said. “It was all over. Then we started getting more and more buried stuff. And done away with the open wire.”

Use of the Florida Mesa Telephone line was abandoned in about 1967, said Price, when Mountain Bell took over the telephone service in the area.

Trail made to skirt god-awful gully of telephone line corridor

Before the Telegraph Trail was built leading up to Pautsky’s Point—also known as Suicide Hill or Telegraph Pass—riders used to ride up to the top of Horse Gulch Road before turning right to cross over private property, according to Trails 2000 founder Bill Manning. Manning is now the Managing Director of the Colorado Trail Foundation.

Then they would go up and over a little pass to the south that was very challenging. From there they would get on Sidewinder Road and go west up Suicide Hill to the top of Telegraph Trail, Manning said.

“Then they would descend the telegraph line itself, which is not the current trail. It’s a divot in the hillside; a gully,” Manning said. “It comes from the top of the Telegraph Trail down into the Horse Gulch valley on a perfectly straight alignment.”

“It was really a rough descent,” Manning said. “Being an old historic telegraph line and road, it was really gullied from erosion and every time you descended this thing, it was radically changed.”

“One time you’d find that it was rideable, and the next time it wasn’t rideable cause there’d be some new erosion that was moving the rocks or some tree had fallen over,” he said. “There was something new every time you went down there. It was really sketchy and fun for the upper echelon.”

“But then landowners closed off the little connector from the top of Horse Gulch Road over the little pass. There were little squabbles with landowners. A man named Daryl Crites was a friendly with a big landowner in Horse Gulch, which was Noel Pautsky,” he said. “Daryl and Noel made an arrangement to construct additional trails and legitimize them as ok for the public to go on even though they crossed private land.”

“The first trail we constructed, Trails 2000—with me at the helm—was the Telegraph Trail. I emailed everybody I knew. I made phone calls. I put up flyers at stores,” he said. “The very first work day up there was probably on a Wednesday afternoon. At about four o’clock, I was the only one there. At about 5 o’clock, I was still the only one there. I was the only one that showed up that night. Nobody came.”

Manning laughed at the thought of working up there by himself that day.

“It caused me to grumble a little bit louder for the second week, on the next Wednesday night,” he said. “I tried to deliver a great guilt trip for everybody leaving me to my lonesome up there. Probably on the second Wednesday night about ten people showed, and on the third Wednesday twenty people showed. And it just ramped up from there.”

“It was really hard trail building. The saw work was incredibly hard through that oak brush,” Manning said.

“When the volunteers got there we had sawed an open lane, a corridor, where the brush had been cut. It was some serious digging. We had to pull out great big root balls of oak brush.”

“On the very last day that we finished up the trail, we connected it to the existing telegraph line on a right-hand curve. As you’re going up the hill, there’s one last single track right-hand curve before you phase into the old telegraph line,” he said. “We got there that day, and we had over fifty people working that night. The excitement had grown and grown and people had started to figure out that this was going to be something great. It was a big party atmosphere. We had this little celebration up there. There were lots of fun people with us, many of whom had worked their butts off. It was just a real big plus.”

When Telegraph Trail was finished, the Crites Connect Trail was not built yet, and neither was Carbon Junction Trail. At the time, Manning said, he thought the telephone line running up and over the pass was a telegraph line, so he named it Telegraph Trail.

Telegraph Pass, aka Suicide Hill, Pautsky's Point

“It was kind of a weird trail, cause it got you up to the top and then you could go over the other side. It really didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “It became evident the day we opened Telegraph that we better hustle our tails and get an exit put in,” he said. “Cause a lot of people were going to go up that Telegraph Trail.”

“I built Anasazi in four hours about ten days later,” Manning said. “I went up there and cut some brush, and sort of made it a little bit better. There was an old route through there, but it wasn’t ready for prime time.”

By the end, it was a conglomeration of different trail users that worked hard to build the Telegraph Trail.

“I guess most of the energy for that trail came from cyclists, but not entirely, cause the hikers grasped onto it fairly early. The hikers and runners helped us out in addition to the bicyclists. It was a lot of work putting that trail in,” he said. “The Carbon Junction trail and Crites Connect trail, both of those went much, much quicker than Telegraph.”

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Responses

  1. Good information about Telegraph Trail. However it was used by motorcycles for several years before any mountain bikes existed. The motorcycles would go straight up the hill under the telegraph (telephone) line. One of the first machines with adaquate power and suspension to ride such a trail was the DT250 Yamaha Enduro that came out about 1972.

    The Anasazi decent was a cattle trail along the east sisde of the property line fence. Some of the fence is still visibal on the west (left as you decend) side of the trail as it goes from the top of the ridge down to the first major gully.

  2. Ed, your historical insight is rather fascinating to me. It must have been a tough ride getting to the top of the pass there with a motorcycle.

    Did you motor up that hill with the Enduro?

    I’ll keep an eye out for that old fence you’re talking about.

    Thanks!


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