In the first decades of the 20th century, sugar beets were the primary business of Northern Colorado. The first beet processing plant was built in Loveland in 1901, followed by Greeley, Eaton, and then Fort Collins and Windsor. Others would come after them.
Local beet farmers counted on migrant workers to help with the seasonal work. The beets were left in the ground as long as possible to maximize their sugar content and then, sometime in October, they had to be harvested and rushed to the processing plants. It required a coordinated effort between farmers, railroads, and the plants.
One of the critical links was the rail sidings where the beets were transferred from the farmer’s wagon to a railcar. The earliest sidings had shovel dumps. Farmers parked their wagons on a dock, adjacent to an open-top railcar, and then hand-shoveled their beets into the railcar.
When Northern Colorado began raising sugar beets, Carroll beet dumps were the rage. These beet dumps consisted of a ramp and a mechanism to tip the wagon load of beets into a rail car. Timothy Carroll had invented and patented the dump in California but, in 1901, he came to Northern Colorado to install his new dumps for the Loveland sugar beet factory. Here is an excerpt from the October 17, 1901, Fort Collins Weekly Courier:
“On Monday the workmen finished the beet dump [in Berthoud] and went to put in the machinery for the dump in Longmont. Mr. Carroll is putting in several of these dumps for the Loveland sugar factory, by which a load of beets can be placed from wagon into the car in two minutes. . . . The new dumping machine was quite an attraction to those who had time to visit it.”
If a farm was within eight to ten miles of a beet factory, the beets could be delivered by wagon directly to the factory by the farmer. Any farm farther away needed access to a beet dump, so dumps sprang up all over Northern Colorado.
This is the kind of beet dump you would have found had you lived in Northern Colorado in the first part of the 1900s. This one was in Johnstown, Colorado around 1909.
A wooden ramp, this one long enough for multiple wagons to cue up in front of the dump platform, brought the wagon loads of beets above the level of the open rail car. When a loaded wagon was positioned on the platform, the wagon wheels were locked and a hoist raised one side of the wagon bed to dump the beets into the rail car. It was a very safe and efficient system.
Here’s what the weight-master of the Johnstown dump had to say about the Carroll beet dump’s performance during the 1902 sugar beet harvest. The quote is from then the May 20, 1903, Fort Collins Weekly Courier:
“We dumped 4,749 wagon loads, making 396 railcars. The dump worked perfectly. [One day] we weighed, dumped, and weighed back 43 wagon loads in 41 minutes and after dark at that.”
Here is a closer look at the platform on a dump in Brush, Colorado, circa 1909.
Since the framers were paid by the pound, accurate weights were important to the sugar beet companies. Loaded wagons were weighed-in before they started up the ramp. As shown in this photograph, as the beets were dumped they struck a metal grate called a grizzly. Any debris or dirt on the beets fell through into a hopper. After the wagon came down the ramp, the hopper was emptied into the wagon and the wagon weighed-out. Subtracting the second weight from the first weight gave the weight of the sugar beets in the wagon that would be credited to the farmer’s account.
This real photo postcard shows the Wellington beet dump, circa 1910, and the rail cars used to transport the beets. Notice the wooden extenders on the tops of the car. Since sugar beets were relatively light, extenders were often added to the cars to increase their capacity.
In the 1920s, trucks started to replace horses and wagons on the farms and longer trips were possible and fewer dumps were needed. As early as January 1921, the Fort Collins Courier mentioned the introduction of “power dumps with scoop conveyors,” By the 1930s, mechanized beet pilers were taking the place of beet dumps but I’ll cover them in a future post.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post and click the “Sugar Beets” category to see all of my sugar beet posts.
Also, you can watch for Thursday’s post, a photograph of a circa 1915 auto parade on Pine Street, one of my favorite streets in Fort Collins and one that isn’t often seen in old photographs.