A tailing tale of our first ranch and wheat harvest

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From “Life in the Early Days” By James K. Ramstetter (1910-1996). Permission of use granted by Mary Ramstetter.

During the late summer of 1917 there was much excitement in our family as we were moving to our first ranch. During the early years we had moved about quite a bit as our father made his living by working horses. He owned several large draft horses and a few smaller horses for riding and pulling light wagons and buggies. We also had our mother’s piano which she had acquired shortly after finishing high school. We were now going to settle down to our own permanent place raising livestock, crops, and a family.

At the time there was nothing to indicate how floods, heavy snowstorms and fire would affect our future at this new place. A small house and about 400 acres of land made up the ranch. Our father, uncles and some neighbors helped build a large log barn. This barn had to be completed before we could move as a place was needed to store harnesses, saddles and other equipment. Shelter was also needed for the horses. When the barn was finished we moved to the ranch which was about five miles from Golden, located on the Crawford Gulch branch of the Golden Gate Canyon Road. To get to the place, we had to leave Crawford Gulch Road and go over a good sized hill and then down into a valley where the house and barn were located.

The house was in need of quite a bit of repair. It had two rooms with a gable roof with a T-shaped addition on the west end where the hillside had been dug out to make room for it. It was possible to walk on to the roof right from the hillside. The roof had a gentle slope and was covered with rolled roofing. The other part of the house had regular shingles. The house faced the south and on the east side down the hill a ways was located a creek with a nice spring where we could get good water. As usual, this meant the water had to be carried uphill to the house.

There were many chores to do that were about right for kids. These were left for our sister Frances, and my twin brother and me. We were willing helpers when it came to carrying water from the spring and bringing in the wood for the kitchen stove. The time needed to do the chores still left us time to do other things. There were certain days that were more demanding than others. Our mother had a day set aside for washing when all of us would carry buckets and buckets of water from the spring. There was also another day devoted to baking bread, cakes, and cookies for the week. Our little brother Walter, who was about four years old, seemed to be a bystander and spent most of his time staying out of the way.

We had been at the ranch about two weeks and our father realized that we needed a better way to get to the Crawford Gulch Road. A gulch went by the house and continued on till it ran into Crawford Gulch. There had never been a road up this gulch, so our father decided that was a good way to go with a new road. This would only be a half mile in length and all down grade, but would require about a month’s work to complete. Our father had a scoop that could be pulled by one horse. This was used to move the earth around and create a level place for the road. My twin brother was a big help, as he would lead the horse around while our father would handle the scoop. With the exception of rocky areas that required blasting with dynamite, the job did not take long.

The blasting required drilling holes in the rock. Our father taught my twin brother and me how to hold and turn a drill, and then he would hit it with a heavy hammer with all his might. For a while we were afraid of this task, but our father said he had to do the same thing when he was a kid. I was always afraid he would miss the drill and hit our hands while were holding and turning it, but he never did. When the hole would get about eighteen inches deep, he would put a half stick of dynamite down it and set it off. This would usually shake about a ton of rock loose. As boys, we felt important for doing some real work. The road was completed and we had an easy way out of the place.

We had another big task ahead of us. During World War I, wheat was bringing a very high price. Even though less than a fourth of our place was farmable, it was decided that all such ground would be planted in winter wheat, which meant the planting had to be done in the fall. The wheat was planted and came up in the late winter. The stand was excellent and ready for harvest in July.

We borrowed a binder to harvest the wheat. It was a wonderful machine. Pulled by three large draft horses, it had some large rotating vanes that would bend the wheat stalks toward the cutting bar and then fall on a conveyor belt that kicked the wheat out in seventy pound bundles bound up with a single strand of twine. The bundle of wheat would then be dropped on the ground for the hay wagon to pick up and haul to the threshing machine. It took about three days to get the wheat harvested.

The next task was to haul the bundles of wheat to the barnyard where it would be stacked up to be fed into a threshing machine which would separate the wheat from the straw. The wheat was stacked as high as possible so that it would be a downhill throw to the threshing machine. We ended up with several high stacks which were waiting for a big threshing machine to come from one of the neighbors.

The area near the haystacks became a regular playground. It protected us from the wind. However, one day all four of us were playing by the stacks, when our two dogs started barking in a peculiar way and all of a sudden ran away from the stacks. We figured there was something wrong, so we got up and ran, following the dogs. It was a good thing we followed them, as the wind blew over two of the stacks, which landed right where we were playing. Thanks to the dogs we did not get buried under tons of wheat straw!

From Maggie: If you have any interesting stories about family or acquaintances who have lived or still live in Gilpin County or the surrounding areas, please contact me. You can reach me at 303-881-3321. Email me at, or mail me at P.O. Box 746495, Arvada, Colorado 80006-6495.

Be sure to check out my website for past columns at

The first two books in my Misadventures of the Cholua Brother’s Series are available on my website, on, and for $12.99 ea. + shipping. They can also be bought through the Gilpin Historical Museum and Mountain Menagerie in Central City. Watch for the release of the third and final book in the series Bonanza Beans available in late March or early April.

Cholua Brothers Mining Company specialty coffees can also be purchased at Mountain Menagerie in Central City or from their website at

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