By Ruth E. Lambert
During the dark days of the Depression, the residents of La Plata County struggled to survive, and in the rural areas, families helped to sustain themselves as they made the most of their farm produce and livestock.
In the Allison area in the southeastern corner of the county, local families developed an innovative enterprise to help them get through those difficult economic times.
The small community of Allison was originally founded in 1881 as the first Denver & Rio Grande Railroad westbound siding and stop in La Plata County. Originally named Vallejos, the siding consisted of several facilities, including a warehouse, section house, bunkhouse and, later, a small passenger and freight depot.
In the early 1900s, the town was renamed Allison and had a post office in Young’s Store, a school, a community church, gas station, a grange hall and a Catholic church. During the 1930s, the railroad warehouse was acquired by the Turkey Packers Co-op. The co-op was an agricultural cooperative venture that was directed by local officers and involved many area farmers and ranchers. It was founded to provide income for farm families during the Depression.
This operation included the transport of turkeys grown on local farms and ranches to the co-op, where they were packed for shipment to the East on the railroad. One early resident remembers turkey-filled farm wagons lined up outside the warehouse. Other residents recall plucking turkey pin feathers to prepare the birds for sale.
As operations grew, the warehouse was expanded to include shed additions with wire window screens where turkeys were held for shipment. The co-op was most active during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when as many as 13 railroad carloads of turkeys were shipped out. The turkey operations continued during the Depression and throughout World War II. After that, the price of turkeys dropped, health standards changed and the turkey business was discontinued.
Today, many of the historic buildings still exist in the town. The 1½-story Turkey Packers Co-op tin building is visible on the west side of Allison along County Road 329 next to the old railroad grade. Tin sheets flap in the wind and the wire screens on the windows are torn. The loading dock along the abandoned railroad line is empty and the double tin doors are locked.
Although the building may go unnoticed, it stands as a reminder of the enterprise and hard work of rural county residents. Many of the turkeys that graced the festive holiday tables of families in the East had their origins in the Allison area.
Ruth Lambert is the cultural program director at the San Juan Mountains Association. Reach her at ruth@ sjma.org.