We Took Out For Colorado

Ralph Weller was the founder of Weller Tractor Salvage. His story is the story of thousands of men and women whose uncommon lives make our lives and businesses possible. His story has taken us all over the beautiful state of Kansas --- from Paradise to the Gyp Hills --- as well as a detour into the frozen reaches of Canada. This time, 8-year old Ralph and his family head for Colorado, where they experience life on the prairie.

"We're moving to Colorado," Ralph's father, Webster, announced to his family in 1924. He'd returned to Palco, Kansas from a visit with relatives in Colorado with the deed to a 160-acre farm just north of Shaw, Colorado in his pocket. On a whim (and probably with the encouragement of his traveling companion and father, Elijah), he had purchased the property.

Besides 8-year old Ralph, Webster's family included 6-year old Bob, 4-year old Dale, 12-year old Eva and his wife, Iza. Iza was a teacher, a Nazarene minister, and a strong woman. The move to Colorado took her by surprise. A lot of things Webster and his father came up with took her by surprise. But she loved her husband and was always willing to follow his dreams. This move was no exception. She listened to Webster's descriptions of the abundant crops growing on the land and the house and outbuildings he believed would be the start of his Colorado empire. And she began to pack.

Iza packed the family's belongings and Webster rented an immigrant car from the railroad. Immigrant cars were the U-Hauls of the early twentieth century. The box car was delivered to a siding at the Palco, KS depot. The family loaded household goods, a team of horses, four milk cows, farm machinery, and food for the animals into one end of the car. The other end held two cots and a kerosene stove. Ralph and the hired hand would ride in the car and tend the animals while the rest of the family drove a motorcar to Colorado. The little boy was thrilled with riding in the boxcar and the adventure of moving. Ralph was a third grader and here's how he remembers the move to Colorado:

"After everything was loaded, we took out for Colorado. We had to feed the livestock and we had a kerosene stove to cook our meals on. Every time the train stopped, everything inside the boxcar shifted, including the animals. Several times during the trip, they put the car on a siding and we had to wait for the next engine going to Colorado. When we got to Genoa, Colorado, we unloaded the horses and the wagon, loaded the wagon with household goods and farm equipment and took off across the prairie with the cattle and Shetland ponies trailing along.

"When we got to our property it looked almost as good as Dad described it. The house was a sod house that had been improved with a wood frame and wood siding. Besides the barn, corrals and house, our property had a granary and a car shed. There was a hand dug well with a big wooden wind mill. The well had stone sides and an elevated tank. The farm was free range and free grazing. As soon as we got settled we started to work. We grew beans and corn and let our cattle graze on the range.

"Dad and I worked hard all summer getting the farm going. When school started I went to the fourth grade. We were picked up by a "school bus." It was really an old truck with a canvas awning stretched over the back. My sister, Eva, 

and the other girls rode in the cab. My brother Bob and I rode with the boys on benches in the back. When it started getting really cold we suffered in the back. One day we decided it was so cold that we needed some heat. We put a geography book over the back window so the driver wouldn't be bothered with what we were doing and started a fire in the bed of the truck with some paper. We were enjoying the warmth and everything was going fine until the truck turned a corner and a strong gust of wind blew the fire right out of the truck. We watched as the prairie behind us began to catch fire.

"The bus driver didn't see the fire blow out of the truck but when he turned the next corner he saw the fire, stopped the truck and came back to check on us. We acted very surprised. When we got home the smoke was hanging thick over the whole area. We went and hid in the haymow and watched the prairie burn. We just knew Dad would know who was responsible for this huge fire. Finally, Dad called us in to the house. We said we knew nothing about the fire but he gave us some advice about what was going to happen. Then the teacher at the school called us down there and gave us some more advice on what was going to happen. That was our last bus ride in Colorado.

"Praire fires weren't the only thing we figured Dad could give us advice about. My brother Bob decided to break one of our Shetland ponies, Doc, to pull a cart. Bob was only six but he came up with a plan to hook the horse up to a metal washtub to get him used to pulling. Bob stood in the washtub holding the reins and urged Doc forward. Suddenly Doc took off. The washtub began to heat as it picked up speed. Pretty soon Bob's bare feet were burning. Finally, the heat and pain were too much for Bob and he jumped out of the tub. Bob's feet were covered with blisters and he said they hurt but he didn't complain too much because Dad would have had some advice for him if he had.

"My Dad was a wonderful man with a lot of good advice to pass on but sometimes his plans didn't work out as well as he hoped. Our move to Colorado turned out to be a hard time for our family. The lush crops my father saw when he purchased the farm were probably the first and last time that 160 acres of prairie ever saw a great crop. We had to work hard to get anything out of the dry, windswept farm. Less than a year after we moved to Colorado my father came down with rheumatic fever. The doctor told him he couldn't make a full recovery unless he stayed in bed. This left me, a fourth grader, in charge of the farm work for over a year. 
My Mama would help me hook up the team when I had to plow and I had some help from hired hands, but most of the work and responsibility was mine. I didn't mind. Mama made sure I went to school and I liked the hard work. But I was glad when Dad was well enough and we moved back to Kansas in 1927."

It's hard to run a business in these times. When it gets tough around here, we remember the nine year old boy who plowed the fields, planted the crops, cared for the livestock and still laughed and fooled around and found life to be a fascinating adventure.

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