by Kathryn Ratliff Benes
(A special thank you to Donitta Johnson for the photographs of the Welding Shop)

The notice in the weekly county newspaper informed the public that Cow County Welding had sold its inventory effective in January, 2000. Eugene and Marilyn appreciated the years of continued patronage. The welding shop had closed. An era that spanned nearly 50 years had passed.

As I read the notice, my mind was flooded with memories from my childhood. Growing up on a ranch in southern Colorado, 150 miles from the nearest large city, meant that a lot of livestock equipment had to be made from “scratch” rather than purchased ready-made. I remember, as a little girl, going with my dad the 20 miles into town so that he could discuss his latest engineering idea with Gene.

Gene owned the welding shop in Campo, a town of about 200, and people came from all around the county to have him repair farm implements or build equipment tailored to special needs of the farmers and ranchers. Gene was a genius with metal and I was convinced he could build anything. One time he even built a small motorized Ferris Wheel for the children that was used during our annual school carnival. It was a grand creation!

The welding shop was small with two large doors that opened to expose the north side of the building. The shop had bins and storage racks that held various sizes of sheet metal, rods, and piping. On the concrete floor was an array of scrap metal pieces that had been cut from larger projects. I remember being fascinated by those scrap pieces because each one by themselves looked useless. However, when those bits and pieces of useless metal were welded together, they were made into something that hadn’t existed a few hours earlier.T

he scenario was typically the same for my dad and me. After getting to the welding shop, my dad backed the pickup truck up so the tailgate could be opened and he would lift me up on the tailgate so I could watch (with the stern warning not to watch when Gene welded!). Dad and Gene would begin to talk. After a while, Gene would start walking around the shop, scanning the bins and racks for material to frame the project. When he had pulled the larger pieces of metal from the bins, he would start to search through the metal scraps on the floor for just the right pieces necessary to make my father’s idea become a reality. It seemed as if Gene knew the dimensions of each and every piece of metal on that floor. Moreover, without error he could mold and form them into much more than they could have been in and of themselves.

It’s been a long time since that little girl sat on the tailgate and watched her dad and the welder create dreams. Gene’s welding shop is no longer a hub of activity, but those long-ago experiences taught me lessons that continue to impact my life today. I learned from those hours on the tailgate that ideas and dreams can come true if you work collaboratively with the right people. I also learned that beautiful things can be created by the hands of a master artisan. Finally, I learned that often we are standing on and ignore the bits and pieces of seemingly useless material that, when placed in the hands of the master can result in a magnificent creation.

I believe God is The Master Welder. When we work collaboratively with Him, great things can happen. With our cooperation, God can form us into people who serve Him through our love and care for one another. God knows each “bit and piece” of humanity in His “welding shop” and none of them are useless. Through our own power, we often fall short of the dream He has in mind for us; however, by His mercy, He calls each of us by name and forms us to work in communion as the Mystical Body of Christ.We’re going through some tough times in this country. As I sit on the “tailgate” and watch, I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. It seems that we cannot pick up a newspaper, watch the news on television, or log onto the Internet without seeing only division and hatred. That is not who we are as proud Americans! The “framework” of our country, the Constitution, given to us by our founding fathers, entrusted to God, and preserved by the men and women who have laid down their lives so that we can live in freedom, must not be taken for granted. We cannot be divided into “bits and pieces” of humanity, so that we remain, as such, on the “floor” of the welding shop.

Tomorrow is election day; a privilege not enjoyed by many around the world. It will result in an outcome that I’m sure will be divided, regardless of who wins. But it seems to me that it would be a good idea for each of us to be in conversation with the Master Welder, praying that we may work together with Him, to honor those who have come before us and ensure that the United States of America is a country that reflects our love for God and for our neighbor.

NOTE: I had this ready to go in Nov 2020 and forgot to hit the publish button. Whoops.

Ruts of the Santa Fe Trail: The Aubry Trail Cut Off — By Jim Womack

Special thanks to Jim Womack for sharing spectacular photos as well as the following about the historical Santa Fe Trail  which passed through Baca County:

One of the few remaining places you can see the wagon wheel ruts on the Santa Fe Trail; this is the Aubry Cutoff a few miles southeast of Campo, Colorado used in the 1850s. Original marking stone in pictures.  Excerpt from an old research paper about Santa Fe Trail-

One such branch of the trail divided from the main trail at a point about twenty miles west of the 100th meridian (presently the sight of Cimarron, Kansas), while the regular route continued on westward to Bent’s Fort in Bent County, Colorado. The Cimarron Cutoff, as it was called, is also known as the water scrape. The supply of water on the Cimarron Trail was notably scarce. After leaving water on the Arkansas River, travelers had to cover sixty-six miles until they again reached water, this time at a point on the Cimarron River. Nevertheless, the Cimarron Cutoff became extremely popular. Even though it was dry and subject to Indian attacks, it was considerably shorter than the regular route and this feature was highly prized by the traders. They wanted as short a route as possible to the wealth of Santa Fe and then wanted the fastest route home again so they could reload their wagons and go after more money. Francois Xavier Aubry- A dedicated young man who helped to make the West more accessible to the East was one who searched the area along the Santa Fe Trail to find an even faster and safer route to Santa Fe, and he continued to use this new route on all his trading ventures to Santa Fe thereafter. The shortcut he established was more accessible to water and there was less Indian trouble along it than on the regular Cimarron Cutoff. This cutoff, known as Aubry’s Route, an army fort and a town named in his honor, and Aubry himself combine to make one of the most interesting stories of the settlement of the West.

I love the comments from Jim’s post in one of our Baca County Facebook groups who commented on Jim’s post as well.  Stephanie Hund reminds us of the how hardy those travelers were:

This is so awe inspiring! I remember looking at those ruts, thinking about the hard journey so many made along that trail.

Ginger Hartman’s comment makes me think we don’t always recognize history so it is important to record it, share and passed it down:

I always thought wagon ruts looked like a field road; however, not far from me in Kansas on the Santa Fe Trail, we have Charlie’s Ruts, where the ruts are harder for me to see. The wagons traveled at least four abreast so there are these strips of depressed ground where the wagons went and swells between the strips. Here is a link if you want to see the difference.

Finally, I have added a link to more information and maps of the Aubry Route here.

Thanks again for reminding us of a great piece of Baca County History.

Santa Fe Trail Marker