Arkins Quarries Started by Union Pacific Railroad
by Kenneth Jessen, Correspondent, on the North Forty News web site.
At one time, a vast stone industry existed along the foothills between Lyons and Fort Collins. One of the most active quarries was located seven miles west of Loveland on the ridge that parallels the Masonville Road. These were known as the Buckhorn or Arkins quarries and were developed in 1886 by the Union Pacific Railroad in an effort to increase its freight business. At the time, only a few ranches occupied this valley.
The railroad needed a large order to get the quarries off to a good start. One potential customer was Kansas City, and samples of stone were shown to town officials. A contract was signed to supply all of the paving stone and curbing for the entire city. This single order amounted to 2,500 carloads of stone.
The Union Pacific, however, had put the cart before the horse. At the time the contract was signed, there wasn't any rail service from Loveland out to the quarries. Work began on the railroad in early 1887, and at the same time, the UP sent men to the quarries to begin extracting stone and filling the Kansas City order.
The number of men working at the quarry soon exceeded 100, and a post office was established that year at the base of the ridge at a place named Arkins. The Union Pacific also constructed a large frame boarding house, complete with a kitchen and dining hall. The kitchen had a spacious brick oven able to bake 70 loaves at a time. The dining hall could seat 280 men and as the number of quarry workers reached that number, six cooks were kept busy full time.
There were bunkhouses for the workers, but supervisors lived in a separate bunkhouse connected to the boardinghouse by a covered passageway. A company store was added to one end of the kitchen. It carried overalls, hats, shoes, groceries and a few patent medicines. A second store, known as the Charles & Smith, soon opened at Arkins.
Building the rail line west of Loveland to serve the quarries was relatively easy. The railroad ran west out of Loveland, past the south end of the Devil's Backbone, then angled northwest crossing the present-day Masonville Road. The railroad climbed up the ridge and after a mile, reached the halfway point. A switchback was used to reverse direction and gain the remainder of the distance to the quarries near the top of the ridge. By using this zigzag technique, the railroad maintained a reasonable grade. The old railroad grade can still be seen stretching across the hillside, and the stone abutments for both the upper and lower trestles across a small ravine are quite evident.
The railroad made its first shipment of 11 cars of stone to Kansas City on April 7, 1887. Business picked up to 15 cars of stone per day. The Loveland depot agent soon reported that overall business had doubled both in passengers and freight service over the previous year.
There were a number of different types of stone shipped from the Buckhorn quarries. Paving stone, flagging and curbing for streets and sidewalks were the primary products, while large foundation stones, weighing many tons, were also shipped.
Each aspect of removing stone and shaping it was specialized. Some men worked at drilling and used wedges to break large slabs of stone free from the quarry face. At the bottom of the face, other quarry workers used wheelbarrows to carry the smaller pieces of stone across the tracks to the block cutters. Other quarry workers operated the numerous pole derricks used to lift large foundation stones onto the railroad cars.
Some 45 skilled block cutters were brought in from Missouri. Most were Swedes and were highly skilled at their trade. A block cutter used a set of three hammers, all stored within easy reach with the heads down. The first step was to score the stone with one of the hammers then flip it over and tap it with a sledgehammer. If done correctly, the slab would break along the score. The third hammer was used to even up the edges. The finished stone was stacked neatly along the railroad track for shipment.
Back in the 1880s, the brake systems on the railroad cars were crude and the quarries were plagued with a constant series of accidents. One of the worst accidents occurred in June 1887 at the upper quarry. Three fully loaded cars began to slip down the hill towards the switch. A worker jumped on one of the cars and began cranking on the brakes. They were defective and when the worker tried the brakes on the next car, they too were defective. The worker jumped as the cars began to pick up speed. At the bottom of the upper grade near the switch, the speeding cars struck another loaded car and wrecked it where it stood. The cars went through the switch, off the end of the track, and were totally demolished.
The contract for Kansas City was filled in March 1888. The four quarry openings used to fill this order were abandoned and the men laid off. By May 1889, a stone crusher was installed, and the quarries were back to capacity shipping a dozen cars a day. Employment returned to 100 men.
In 1904, stone from the Buckhorn quarries was selected for the new Denver Mint along with Tennessee and Vermont marble. Many other important structures in Denver, including the entrance to City Park, the Tabor Grand Opera House and even the State Capitol, were built from Buckhorn stone.
The use of concrete as a structural material replaced stone foundations during the 1920s. Asphalt began to erode the paving stone business, and the industry dwindled to the supply of ornamental stone and flagging.
The Arkins post office closed in 1906, and in 1926, a flood damaged the trestle of the Buckhorn Creek. At this time, 2.3 miles of track was removed and in 1937, another section of track was taken up. In 1965, a heavy rainstorm damaged beyond economical repair the plaster mill at the south end of the Devil's Backbone. The Buckhorn Branch was further reduced in length to Loveland.
Today (Sept. 2001), the Arkins quarry remains in operation, but not on such a grand scale.
For more information about Arkins, refer to Kenneth Jessen's "Railroads of Northern Colorado" and Ansel Watrous' "History of Larimer County, Colorado."