Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 1998 Summer Enchantment. Grant Gray died Nov. 4, 2015. See his obituary here.
By Ellen Miller-Goins
Although it has become a popular spot for vacationers, Ute Park wasn’t always that way. When Grant Gray moved there with his family in 1934, it was a train depot and a pit stop for tourists on their way to Eagle Nest or Red River.
“There were no summer homes,” Gray says. “The reason for Ute Park, really, was the end of the railroad and, of course, the tourist traffic. When we moved up here the Baldy Mine was in operation and, likely, one of the real reasons for the railroad.”
Gray’s family was living in Levi, New Mexico, outside of Wagon Mound, when his father got a job handling green railroad ties for the Continental Tie and Lumber Company.
“There were sawmills in several different places that hauled railroad ties into Ute Park. I assume one of them was in the Moreno Valley. After we had lived here two or three years, he quit handling railroad ties and went to work at the gas station delivering gas to Red River, Questa and Taos. At that time the train had quit and the gas was hauled in by truck from Borger, Texas. I worked for them also hauling oil and kerosene up to Baldy.”
Gray went to the seventh and eighth grades at the Ute Park school (“one teacher, 12 pupils, eight grades”) before going to Cimarron.
“Of course I stayed in Cimarron,” he says. “I was living alone in a room in the garage of the Methodist parsonage. Driving back and forth was a little much for a 12-year-old. The railroad had quit coming daily, so I used the mail truck to come home on weekends. When my sister started school, dad decided driving back and forth was the way to do it. The year they started issuing driver’s licenses in New Mexico, I was 14, so I was able to get a license to drive back and forth to school.”
Gray says he drove a 1930 Chevrolet that nearly swallowed him.
“When I started high school, Cimarron was noted for its basketball team so the coach weighed and measured me and I was five feet and 100 pounds! When I finished high school I was probably 5’10” but I grew so fast… I was kind of clumsy.”
A hard worker
When asked what he did for fun, Gray admits there wasn’t much time for play although he did fish and go horseback riding occasionally.
“Essentially work was a full-time responsibility,” he says.
Gray worked for the depot agent at Ute Park in addition to his chores which included fetching water and firewood and retrieving ducks.
“If the river came up, the ducks would end up downstream and then they were unable to swim back. Mother was afraid an animal would get them so that was one of the things I got stuck with was going downstream to find the ducks and walk back with them. And you know how slow ducks walk!
“I worked one summer in Red River then came back and worked at the pea shed (processing peas from the Moreno Valley) until it closed. I had the job that was, ‘Do something somebody wasn’t doing.’ I handled the ice, crushed the ice, and loaded and unloaded the trucks
At 17, Gray owned a filling station before leaving in 1940. He worked for Western Union Telegraph and the Santa Fe Railroad before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he finished college and worked for a civilian company at Kirtland Air Force Base from 1954–1983.
Gray says he bought property at Ute Park when he was in college.
“My family never owned land here,” he says. “I bought this a couple of years after it went on sale.” Prior to that, Gray says the land was part of the Maxwell Land Grant (by then owned by a Dutch Corporation). “Their agent laid out lots during World War II. The deed I have to this lot still has that Dutch Corporation on it.”
He and his wife Ruth moved to Ute Park permanently in 1983.