In the first decades of the 20th century, sugar beets were the primary business of Northern Colorado. Farmers planted beets, counting on migrant workers to help with the seasonal work. Processing plants were built in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and in many other area towns, to process the beets into sugar and molasses. The railroads linked the process together, moving the raw vegetables to the processing plants and the finished products to the end users.
Anything that made the process more efficient helped everyone, from the farmers to the sugar beet plants to the railroads. Sugar beet demonstration trains were an early way improve sugar beet yields through the sharing of best practices.
Below are some images of the demonstration trains that visited Northern Colorado’s “sugar bowl” between 1925 and 1927.
The demonstration trains ran through the sugar beet areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana. The trains included display cars and an auditorium car that could be used for meetings when the weather was bad and for dinners that the railroads hosted for farmers and their wives.
There were instructional presentations at each stop made by a combination of experts from the Colorado Agricultural College, the agricultural departments of the railroad, and the experts from the Great Western Sugar Company. The trains even carried German and Spanish translators.
According to the local newspapers, the crowds were “several hundred strong, with fully 90 percent of the farmers . . . visiting the train.”
Each year the train used a slogan. In 1925 and 1926, the slogan was “Another Ton Per Acre.” The experts calculated that one extra ton per acre in Colorado would result “in upwards of $1,000,000 annually added to payments to beet farmers.”
The 1927 slogan was changed to “A Record Yield for Every Field,” and emphasized getting the yield up on each farmer’s lower producing fields.
The display cars were the heart of the train. One article said, “Live and growing sugar beet plants from the seedling stage through the harvest period are displayed to illustrate how best to obtain increased yields per acre.” The 1925 and 1926 displays stressed the basics – early irrigation, plant spacing, and thinning. According to the local papers, the efforts were successful with increased tons per acre of 26 percent in 1925 and 20 percent in 1926.
The 1927 train focused on better use of labor, stressing recruitment, training, and supervision of beet workers. Worker housing was a major element, the 1927 speakers saying that “no phase of the beet labor problems has been more neglected than this.” They suggested better housing, performance contracts based on beet yields, and better supervision of the workers to increase a farmer’s tons per acre.
Many people visited the trains beyond the sugar beet farmers. The sugar beet industry touched many people in the local towns, from merchants to pool halls to churches and schools. Local high schools sent their students to visit the trains. These three young ladies may be part of a class visit.
Sugar beets industrialized many of the small towns in Northern Colorado. In future posts, I’ll show images of sugar beet dumps (which transferred the raw beets from wagon to train) and the sugar beet processing plants that were critical to the sugar beet industry.