by Delbert Trew
solve history's mysteries
purchased our Alanreed Ranch in 1949, and one or the other of our
family members have lived here since.
Mother was a "yard person" and the early years of ownership brought
about many changes in our yard design.
Two areas of the back yard became mysteries because one area, about
20 feet square, would not grow anything planted. The other area, about
the same size and adjoining the barren spot, produced a horn of plenty
with little effort. There seemed to be no explanation for the differences.
About 20 years later, the mystery was solved when a former cowboy
resident named Skeet Brown from Groom came to visit. Skeet was working
for Charlie McMurtry when dad bought the ranch. During the visit,
mother was showing off her beautiful yard. She pointed out the barren
spot and the fertile spot wondering about the difference.
Skeet thought a few moments, turned around to get his bearings and
tried to remember how the yard was located in the past when he lived
there. Then, pointing to the barren spot, he explained. "This is where
we dumped the wood ashes from the stoves and stored the trash barrels.
This is also where the outdoor toilets were located and we changed
locations occasionally. We also poured all used oil and lye soap water
down the toilet holes."
The spot was actually a toxic dump before the term was invented.
He pointed to the fertile spot and said, "This contained the chicken
house and pens for more than 40 years. It should be well fertilized."
So, the mystery was solved, just like Ellery Queen.
mystery existed on the ranch at Rockledge, a booster station site
and side track for the defunct Rock Island Railroad. The mystery spot
was by the old railroad track and marked by different grasses and
weeds from the nearby grasslands. The ground area drove a metal detector
into a frenzy, with my sons uncovering every kind and type of metal
A chance visit with old-timer Hartley Davis of Alanreed solved this
mystery. When the railroad was built in 1901 and 1902, a two-room
frame shack was built at the site to house a section foreman supervising
a section crew. A storage shed built of used railroad ties also was
constructed for supply storage.
His story led us to find the cistern used at the time, which was before
the advent of windmills on the plains. Each of the section houses
were provided drinking water hauled by a tank car attached to the
trains. A metal pipe was placed from the cistern to a spot adjacent
to where the water tank car would stop, a hose connected and the cistern
filled to capacity.
Over a period of 30-plus years, bits and pieces of metal were accidently
added to the soil around the house and storage shed. There, another
mystery solved simply and easily by a contact with the past.
There is always an answer to a "history mystery." Just find the right
person to ask.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
September 13, 2006 Column