The livestock industry in Colorado had its origins in the early 1870’s and saw rapid growth due to increasing demand for meat throughout the United States. By 1879 it was estimated that there were 900,000 head of cattle and 2,000,000 head of sheep in the State. The Denver and Rio Grande railroad responded by building five ‘fleets’ of stock cars between 1873 and 1882 providing an alternative to driving herds along trails, a costly and sometimes dangerous occupation. These cars were 26 feet long and could haul up to nine horses or thirteen cattle.
The fleets lasted until 1904 when the last survivors were scrapped, a change in railroad legislation by the Interstate Commerce Commission made updating them to the new standards not worthwhile. Instead the D&RG ordered 350 new 30 feet, 25-ton cars from American Car and Foundry. Built in 1904-05 they were numbered 5500 to 5849 and cost $685.99 each. The ICC introduced further safety legislation in 1911 standardizing placement of running boards, handholds, steps, coupler cut bars and other items.
In 1926 the railroad rebuilt the cars making improvements to the doors, strengthening the structure and changing the paint colour from a shade of red to black. Much of the variation in the location of the side slats occurred at this time due to the work teams initially not having plans to work from, so they built them as they wanted; about a third of the cars are affected thus.
Our cars are examples of both sheep and cattle cars. 5564 is a double-deck car used for hauling sheep and hogs while 5627 is a single-deck car used to haul cattle and horses. The cars were used intensely during the periods of the ‘stock rush’ in the spring and fall, where they would transport livestock from winter to summer pasture and vice versa. The spring rush started in June and run through July. Fall movements started in October and ran through November and the first snow falls. Outside of these periods these cars were used to haul lumber, which could be loaded through an end door, ore and commodities unaffected by water.
The D&RGW built the last stock cars in 1923. Numbered 5900-5999, the were also 25-ton cars but were longer at 34 feet to accommodate two 16 foot lengths of lumber end to end.
Livestock movement on the railroads started to decline in the late 40’s when improved motor transport and better roads were able to undercut railroad prices.
Durango Railroad Historical Society is comprised of a dedicated group of individuals who are united by their interest in narrow gauge railroading and focus on the preservation of southwest Colorado’s railroad history.
The Durango Railroad Historical Society is a non-profit corporation in Colorado and is a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.