Heading to Helper
Across the West you will find some tucked away treasures, like the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper, Utah. Helper was established by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and named for the engines that were needed to assist trains climbing the steep grades to Soldier Summit. Located in an area where coal mines provided important fuel source for the railroad, it was also an area with a large payroll due to the mining company operations.
Helper by 1891 had a depot, roundhouse and a hotel was built to serve the ever expanding coal mining industry. It is a town very much built by European and Asian immigrants and their story is told in the various exhibits at the museum.
The first time I visited the museum, located in the Old Helper Hotel, which was built in 1913-14, volunteers met me at the front door. These older gentlemen were eager to show me the model trains, the mining exhibits, and the items related to Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.
In the basement is a display related to the Castle Gate Payroll Robbery perpetrated by Cassidy with the help of Joe Walker and Bub Meeks on April 21, 1897. They knew that the train carrying the payroll for the Pleasant Valley Coal Company would be heavily guarded and that although they might be able to halt the train in the steep canyon, that terrain also left them with limited escape routes. So Cassidy decided to wait until the payroll was delivered to the coal company office, then with a crowd of perhaps 100 people watching, he climbed the steps to the company office and made the heist of between $7,000 and $8,000.
There is a painting in the basement of the museum depicting this daring robbery, as well as a set of steps that once served the Pleasant Valley Coal Company office. Additional information and photographs are part of the collection at the museum.
Also in the basement you will find mining equipment, a simulated coal mine, blacksmith shop, and details about early policy history and prohibition.
Three other floors are replete with artifacts. You will find photographs of mining camps, a typical mining camp kitchen, memorabilia showing the lifestyles of the immigrants, and displays that represent the company store, the hospital, nurses and dentist office, the school room, a beauty shop, and a display related to a mine explosion at Winter Quarters in 1900.
There are exhibits related to baseballs, a railroad office, steam engines, and a display of paintings related to the Great Depression and created by artists of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s.
Some of the exhibits include photographs from among the 3,500 images dated from 1880 to 1950 in the museum collection including pictures of the mining towns and camps, people who worked and lived in them, and railroad workers and trains. The photographs date 1880-1950.
Besides the opportunity to see these interesting images, artifacts, and displays, you will have a chance to visit with some of the local residents who help keep this museum open.
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