Morley, the Town That Was
Part II
by Kristen Spinning

This is part two of two.  Click here to view part one.

Morley was comprised of four major groups. There were people of Slavic decent, Italians, Mexicans and English. Many workers were first generation immigrants. One's ethnicity determined what type of job you could get. The English had the best jobs: managerial. They lived in the neighborhood known as “Silk Stockings.” The Italians had the jobs that kept things working, like running the schoolhouse, the YMCA, the boiler room, the operation and maintenance of mine equipment and buildings. The Slavs and Mexicans held the manual labor jobs, like digging & loading coal and fixing of roads, “honeydipping,” and maintaining the tracks. Along the railroad, every 6 miles or so was a section hand building. Section hands, primarily Mexican workers, were responsible for maintaining the track. As the ties would settle, they would have to jack up sections, backfill and tamp it down to keep everything level. They also greased the switches, and, on tight turns, would grease the tracks so as not to wear out the train’s wheels.

In the mines, men worked in two-man teams and were paid 43 cents a ton of coal, which was one ore cart. Teams were expected to produce one cart per hour. Being paid for only what you produced meant you were not paid for getting there, and a miner could walk as much as 2 miles underground from the entrance to his work site.

Though we all like to think of Morley as “ours”, please remember that it is private property and due the same respect we have for any other Ranch owner’s property.

By 1937 the union finally gained some ground and wages were increased to 56 cents a ton, and the men were paid portal to portal. A maintenance man might make $4.50 a day, and that was considered good wages. During the Depression though, everything slowed to a crawl. Most of the men got only 4-5 days of work a month. Morley’s coal deposits were extensive, but not particularly thick seams. The mine’s entrance was called an adit, a fairly horizontal broad tunnel dug into the hill. From this, primary haulage tunnels split off. To mine a particular area, two parallel tunnels called drifts were dug perpendicular to the haulage tunnel. They would then work back and forth between the drifts to remove all the material. Some columns would be left to support the ceiling, but eventually even these would be removed, generally collapsing the “room” they had created. Material would be loaded into the carts, transported to the main haulage tunnel, and hauled by mule to the surface.

Water was collected from an area on the other side of the highway, and pumped to a cistern on a hill above town. Morley Creek (aka Raton Creek) was fouled by waste and debris, so though it flowed pretty well year round, it could not be used as a water source. Most homes only had outhouses, and wash water drained out of pipes into yards or to the creek. Garbage was hauled up the canyon past the mine and dumped. Still today one can see plate shards and broken bottles poking out of the curious mounds along the little creek.

For entertainment, there was a dance hall at the Wooten Ranch, and folks would often go up there to whoop it up. Unfortunately, the road to Wooten went through a narrow tunnel on a sharp curve (still visible at exit 2). That curve saw a lot of accidents over the years and a number of people died there, prompting a cross to be carved into the asphalt.

Partly from European tradition, and partly due to poverty, many people brewed their own beer. Typically they would brew it on Monday, and drink it by the next weekend. There were also sources of hard liquor. “There was this one old gal. She was a bootlegger,” Matt recalled. “She’d sell a pint of booze for a dollar and ten cents. It was Sunnybrook Whiskey, and I used to have to get it for a lot of these guys. They sent me for it, they didn’t want anyone to know. I was a paperboy you see. I delivered The Morning Light, the paper from Trinidad. It was a nickel a week. So I was always going ‘round to everybody, and I knew everybody, so these guys would give me money to get their booze. No one would be the wiser. Oh, that lady, she was married and all,” he continued, “but her husband, he was pistol-whipped you know. He didn’t say nothing. She ran the show. She was a little Eye-Talian woman, and by God she had a strong will. Her kids, why she’d holler, and that’s it. They were in line.”

With drinking a popular pastime, fights erupted frequently. There was no fighting on company property, i.e. the whole town. Therefore the fights were taken down to the railroad tracks. Many an argument or drunken brawl was settled on the tracks. Matt had a friend named George whose father had been a boxer. “George’s father made him and his brothers learn to box. He wanted them to be able to take care of themselves. Oh, he trained them hard. One brother, he liked it, but George didn’t. They trained practically every day. I don’t think anyone picked a fight with any of those boys. Years later George was in the War, and he ended up a hero at Normandy.”

“I remember there was the Sopris Eye-Talian,” Matt began, out of context. Turns out he was neither from the town of Sopris nor Italian. He just dubbed himself that. Filbert Gonzales was his real name. He was a tall, lanky fellow who Matt said, “just seemed to float along as he walked.” And walk he did, all over the hills and canyons of SFTR, and on to other towns. He was an itinerant plumber and handyman who would work for home brews just as well as a dollar. Matt continued, “You could say to him, ‘so I have this pump I need fixed, what’ll it cost?’ and the Sopris Eye-talian would look at it and say, ‘Oh, that’ll be a two bottle job.’ Folks would give him food, too, and he would be on his way. He’d often be found snoozing under a tree somewhere.” I suspect the home brews had something to do with that.

The afternoon had faded into night and Matt was winding down. I knew there were many more stories, and I was sure he’d gladly share them on another occasion. I packed up my notes and his sketches, and left with a whole band of characters to populate “our little ghost town.” Gone may be Mr. Simpson with his mule teams, Piggy Joe, the bootleggers, and the brawlers. But I suspect if you stand real quiet some day in Morley and close your eyes, when you reopen them, you may catch just a fleeting glimpse of kids playing baseball or old men playing boccie. And some day when you are splitting firewood, and the wind carries the faint hint of stale beer, you may turn and catch the Sopris Italian napping under a tree. So give a nod to those who were here before us, and think about the stories we will pass on to those to come.

A final note: One might get the wrong impression about Matt as his speech reverts to that of the time period he is describing. He left Morley at the age of 16, determined to get out of the pattern of following one’s father into the mines. He served in WWII and fought at Iwo Jima. After the war, he got an education and went on to build bridges and tunnels around the world, including his last project, the Chunnel from England to France. He now lives on his daughter’s ranch in Benson, Arizona.

Meet the author: Click here to learn a little about the author.

Click below to view addition pictures taken in 1929: