Dolores third-graders relived the local history of the Rio Grande Southern railroad and the mining, logging and ranching industries during a well-attended performance Dec. 19.
Dozens of parents showed up to hear presentations and watch lively skits put on by students dressed as miners, ranchers and railroad workers. The historical plays ended with group songs.
Students especially relished stories of train crashes and passengers jumping off to save themselves.
“Jumping off a train is risky, but people would rather jump then die,” noted Ty West.
The Keystone Hill crash outside Telluride in 1909 destroyed locomotives, and the crew all jumped out “in order to survive,” explained another student.
Another train wreck occurred the same year between Lost Canyon and Glencoe, near Dolores, and a man was killed, explained Colby McClellan. It happened because early spring flooding had weakened the bridge foundation. Another student told of disastrous flood in 1909 that took out eight miles of track in Telluride that “caused bridges and wagons to be swept away and livestock to drown.” Students learned the railroad was washed out frequently by floods, mudslides and avalanches, and the expensive repairs led to the closure of the railroad.
The train served the mining camps, students said, and the Camp Bird mine produced 1.5 million ounces of gold. Coal mining was notoriously dangerous, a presenter said, and killed 1,700 men in Colorado. Many only earned $3 a day for their work.
“There was not much focus on safety, the only focus was on making money,” said a student.
The audience also learned that children as young as 6 years old worked in the coal mines and that at one time the population of donkeys in Ouray outnumbered the population of people. Information was presented on the McPhee Lumber Co., which operated near Dolores for 24 years before it was destroyed by fire.
Elementary school principal Gary Livick said the living history museum program gets students more involved in a topic and teaches them to work together. It is part of a larger project-based learning curriculum for the school.
“It’s a wonderful way to get students fired up about local history,” he said. “They researched, wrote scripts, memorized lines and built the sets. When students know there will be an audience, they produce more high-quality work, and that engagement is the kind of learning that sticks.”
In the nearby gym, a sumo-robot event was taking place, another project-based learning class where students built their own robots then battled them against each other using remote controls.