Thursday, March 24, 2016

Navigating Across Wyoming

George Wyman was navigating across southern Wyoming following the Union Pacific "Transcontinental Railroad."   Wyman rode along the wagon trail that followed the railroad tracks after having breakfast at the Bitter Creek boxcar restaurant that Monday morning, June 1, 1903.

At any point along the way he knew were he was and how far it was to the next bit of civilization.  Wyman carried with him a map and the UPRR Official List, Officers, Stations and Agents, Table of Distances traveler's guide.  This publication, listed in table form, contained all the points along the Transcontinental Railrail from Ogden, UT to Omaha, NE along with distances and elevations from San Francisco.  The Central Pacific RR version covered San Francisco to Ogden.  See this CPRR Official List, 1884 example)

He crossed the Red Desert and passing by several of the railway sidings listed in the guide.  He was making excellent time over sections of good road.  Near the Creston siding Wyman stopped to take a picture of the "Greate Divide" signpost using his Kodak "Pocket" camera.  (He took many pictures during his epic journey. Sadly, only those published in "The Motorcycle Magazine" and "The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review" survive to this day.)

Between the Creston and Daly's Ranch sidings, Wyman stopped to take another picture.  This time, of the abandoned prairie schooner that was made famous in the first edition of "The Motorcycle Magazine."  Pressing on, Wyman stopped for gasoline in the bustling railroad town of Rawlins.

Ft.Steele Bridge Tender's house
It was late afternoon when Wyman approached the ruins of Fort Fred Steele.  Although the fort was abandoned, the Fort Steele community was sparsely populated with merchants serving the sheep ranchers wool harvest and a logging industry providing the UPRR with bridging and railroad tie lumber.

Fort Steele lay mostly on the west bank of the North Platte River.  The UPRR had completed a new bridge across the river a couple of years before.  Previous bridges had suffered damage in yearly flooding and fires from cinders belched out by the coal burning locomotives of the day.  Wyman would normally cross rivers over the railroad bridges if they were available.  But, the new trestle over the River was guarded by a UPRR Bridge Tender.   So, he took the "old immigrant trail" across the River just to the northeast of the fort.

By the time Wyman arrive in Walcott, at 6:15 pm, he had traveled over 90 miles across southern Wyoming. Walcott was the lay-over point for two stagecoach lines.  The Walcott Hotel, fairly new in 1903, was favored by stagecoach travelers and is the likely place Wyman stayed the night.  While fixing the spokes of his motorcycle, outside the hotel, he remarked, "I found some interest in automobiles here, and, after inspecting my machine, the natives fell to discussing the feasibility of running automobiles on the stage lines, instead of the old Concord coaches, drawn by six horses, that are now used. One of the stage drivers said that if anyone would build an automobile that would carry 12 or 14 persons and run through sand six inches deep. He would pay from $3,000 to $5,000 for it. I told him to wait awhile."

Read Wyman's account of his ride from Bitter Creek to Walcott, Wyoming, on Monday, June 1, 1903:

     "After having breakfast in the boxcar restaurant, I left Bitter Creek for Rawlins. In this stretch, about 20 miles from Bitter Creek, I crossed my third desert, the Red Desert of Wyoming. It takes its name from the soil of calcareous clay that is fiery red, and the only products of which are rocks and sagebrush, and they will grow anywhere. There is a Red Desert Station on the map, but there is nothing there but a telegraph office, and the same is true of Wamsutter and Creston, the succeeding names on the map. I took a snapshot of the road in the desert near Bitter Creek and wrote on the film: "Who wouldn't leave home for this?" East of Red Desert the road improved considerably, and from Wamsutter to Creston it was really fine.

      It was along this fine stretch, just before reaching Creston, that I came to the Great Divide and took a picture of the signpost, which marks the ridgeline of the great American watershed. Standing there and facing the north, all the streams on your left flow to the west and all those on the right side flow toward the east, the waters of the former eventually finding their way to the Pacific, and the latter to the Mississippi River...  

      From Creston to Rawlins there is nearly 30 miles of downgrade, and, as it is a fairly good highway of gravel, I made lively time over it. After leaving Creston there come Cherokee and Daly's ranch before you get to Rawlins, and it was between these places, both mere railroad points, that I got the picture of the abandoned prairie schooner that was printed in Motorcycle Magazine.  Rawlins, where I stopped only for gasoline, is a town of some size, having more than 2,000 population.  From there the country becomes rolling again, and after passing Fort Fred Steele, I began to ascend once more. It is a great sheep ranch country all through here now from Rawlins. At Fort Steele there is nothing left but the ruins of abandoned houses. I now follow the old immigrant trail that winds across the River Platte, and am fast approaching the Laramie Plains, over which my route lies to the Laramie Mountains. Beyond Fort Steele I enter White Horse Canyon, which got its name, so the story goes, from an Englishman, one of the sort known in the West as "remittance men," who drank too much "Old Scratch," and, mounted on a white horse, rode over the precipice and landed on the rocks 200 feet below.

USGS Topo Map c.1900

      At 6:10 p.m. I reached Walcott, a "jerkwater" settlement, composed of two saloons, a store and a railroad station. It is made important, though, by the fact that two stage lines come in there. The hotels at places of the sort are generally clean, and they are kept more-or-less peaceable by the policy of reserving an out-building for the slumbers of the "drunks," so I concluded to tarry."

G.A.Wyman, "Over the Rockies and the Great Divide to the Prairies", The Motorcycle Magazine, August 1903

The Fort Fred Steele Historic Site has joined The George A. Wyman Memorial Project as a hosting location.  The Site is operated by and is part of the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails.