I put together this website
to uncover the stories of the people who built and worked at
the ore terminal and aerial tramway. Here is a
list of the people involved with the operation, of whom I'm aware. I'm sure it's an incomplete list, but I'm consolidating
all their stories into this page. There may be others involved,
but I don't know them yet.
As of 7/04, most of what I know of the people involved comes
from Farmer Jennings' unpublished memoirs.
Carlos Moser was the President of the del Carmen Mining Company.
Farmer Jennings referred to him as the "promoter." He was a freelance
mining engineer and a naturalized US citizen from Germany. He
lived in San Antonio up until 1909, with offices in Suite 312
of the Alamo Bank Building. In 1910, he was living in a hotel in
Brewster County, presumably to be closer to the operation.
Jennings, the company ran out of money after the tramway was
built. It sounds like Moser solicited small investors, many
of them most likely cattlemen from San Antonio like Jennings.
According to Jennings, in a two day meeting at the Southern Hotel
in San Antonio to discuss the dire money situation, these investors
"gave the deal to Moser." I assume this means Moser bought out
the investors by giving them back their money, but I'm not really
Moser's wife, Aimee L. Moser, was 23 year younger than he. He
died in 1915 and she may have remarried. His death may have also
been the reason the tramway was sold. Could he have sold it before
his death, or could the executor of the estate have sold it?
Paul Paulfrey was Farmer Jennings' boss. Jennings referred
to him as a "resident director" of the company.
Farmer Jennings is the only person cited by name in the Big Bend
history books that I've read that mention the ore
terminal and aerial tramway. That citation was in Gomez's A Most
Jennings was a cowboy and probably one of the last of the generation
or two that make up our modern idea of cowboys. His family were
cattlemen and his well known dad, Robert Jackson Jennings,
probably went up the Chisolhm trial.
He built the road that lead to the terminal and was stationed
in Marathon to make sure all the supplies reached the terminal.
While an integral part of the operation (and an investor), it's
still an open question in my mind how much Jennings was involved
in the actual building of the towers and the terminals; he doesn't
mention them much in his memoirs. It may be that building them
was simply all in a days work to this rugged cowboy, or it may
mean that his main job was building the road.
I was extremely fortunate to speak to one of Farmer Jennings'
daughters, Mrs. Eleanor Eilenberger of Palestine, TX, who's the
source of Farmer's memoirs. She had him dictate his life's story
before he died in the late '50's. I am grateful to her and her
son, Robert Jackson Lucas, for being so kind as to give me permission
to publish portions of her dad's memoirs for the first time ever.
Mrs. Eilenberger did say her dad thought the whole thing was a
scam, even though he writes about it being built and going through
a test run. Sounds like the small investors got cold feet when
the del Carmen Mining Company hit a few bumps. According to Gomez
and other history books, the tramway was profitable.
Still, it sounds like Jennings left after the first test run,
which sounds like it could have been 1908 or 1909. According to
the Alpine Avalanch, it didn't begin operation until 1910. After
he left, he returned to ranching.
On a side note, Mrs. Eilenberger told me she thought the tramway
her dad built was in Sanderson, or Dryden, which is east of the
actual location. She even went with her late husband searching
for the tramway, with no luck, futher fueling her dad's impression
that it was a scam. However, matching the details up in Farmer's
memoirs with the few details I know from other sources, I believe
they were simply looking too far east.
She also told me that people used to kid him about "Farmer" being
his name, seeing as he was a rancher. Farmer was his mom's maiden
Copyright 2004 by Eleanor Eilenberger and Robert Jackson Lucas
[This is the portion of Farmer Jennings' memoirs that deal with
the ore terminal and aerial tramway. I have left the punctuation
and spelling as in the original text. My commentary is in brackets.
"It is now the summer of 1907 and I am driving towards my 26th
birthday. I visit for a while with my sister and her family who
lived at 138 Crofton Avenue, San Antonio. Along about this time
a mining engineer, a German jew named Carlos Moser, came along
and sold a large number of San Antonio and Houston people on buying
stock in the Del Carmen mine deal which he was promoting. Uncle
Bill [W. H. Jennings, I believe] and most of his friends had bought
stock so I put in $300.00 of my savings and went to Marathon, Texas,
which was the nearest approach to the mine which was across the
Rio Grande and in Mexico, about four miles out from the river to
the Carmen Mountains and the mine. This mine had once been worked
but the mining company had folded up as the difficulties of getting
the ore out and to the railroad were insurmountable at that time.
"The ore was zinc and silver and was valuable but so inaccessible.
A Mr. Paul Palfrey was made resident director and I was to work
under him. The proposition here was to grade a new road from a
point called the cable terminal on the U.S. side
[Was the terminal built prior to Jennings building
the road, if the location already had a name? There was nothing really close to the terminal, except a small village called La Noria,
a few miles away.]
along the side of
a low mountain range up to the Persimmon Gap, where the cut went
through these hills and on, over the old wagon road to Marathon
a distance of about 90 miles. This old established road ran
from Marathon to Boquillas, Texas but turned off from the shorter
route we were seeking to make at the Gap.
[The Persimmon Gap is the location of the current Northern park
entrance and state highway 385, which is most likely built upon
those 90 miles Jennings refers to. I assume the rest of the road
is what's now referred to as the "Old Ore Road", which is only
accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. What's the shorter route?
Is he simply referring to the road that goes from the current
Ernst Tinaja #2 campsite to the ore terminal?]
Due to the ruggedness
of this particular area you could not get from the terminal
base to Boquillas only on horseback on a trail winding through
[He must be referring to the trail you can see winding up the
canyon when standing at the last standing tower. It's no longer
maintained and only appears on some maps, but is clearly visible when looking over the big canyon from the last standing tower.]
We gathered a large number of Mexican labor and started our road
building with pick and shovel, wheelbarrow, and mules and scraper.
Except for the cuts along side of the mountains where we had to
form benches for a base for the road we got along fast enough and
reached the Gap in about sixty days as after we got through the
high hills we got along rather fast. Another month and we had dressed
up the old road on into Marathon to where it was serviceable to
our use. The engineer on the road was a German, whose name I do
not recall, he could not speak English only Spanish and German,
so we held what conversation we had with him in Spanish. After
the road work I was stationed in Marathon as forwarding agent for
the materials needed by the cable engineer as he needed it. I got
all kinds of frieghters, some even driving as many as six burros
to a wagon, some mules and horses and what not but I managed to
keep up with the cable engineer and got the materials he asked
for to him on time. This cable was two miles from the river on
the American side and four miles on across and on the Mexican side
to make a six mile stretch. Towers had to be built to support the
cables some windmill height and some twice that height, the object
being to keep the cable on as even a keel as possible. The load
carrying side was an inch cable, the empty side was a 3/4 inch
and the power cable which ran endless was half inch, making a total
of 24 miles of cable to place.
[Three cables doesn't make sense to me, because the tramway
looks like it's a design that became popular in the previous
decade that uses two cables. The top cable is the load bearing
track and it doesn't move. Instead, grooved wheels that support
the boom that's attached to ore cars roll over it. The other
cable, called the traction cable, moves and the boom clamps to
it. This way, the ore cars can be detached from the cable for
easy loading and unloading. This cable is lower and needs rollers
on the towers. These rollers are clearly visible in the historical
The photos show four lines, two on each side. These are actually
two lines, because they're both looped, making a complete round
Maybe the the third cable is actually a communications line,
or a power line. In some of the historical photos, it looks like
there are two insulators on top of the towers, to which a wire
would be attached. This would account for the three cables.
Also, if the tramway was a total of six miles long, two lines,
looped would total 24 miles. (Each line was a total of 12 miles,
round trip). So, three cables would total 36 miles.]
When it got time for the cables
to be sent down an arrangement had been made with a tractor company
to send out a tractor two oar cars and a flat car. The first
pass we made with the tractor, handled by a man the tractor firm
sent along, was too bad. We had loaded the flat car with one of
the spools of cable, about 6,000 pound spool, and in making a turn
to cross the railroad tracks the tractor man becoming provoked
at the way the tractor was slipping on the rails and not taking
hold, he opened his gas throttle and was successful in ripping
the mechanism out of the tractor and leaving the thing across
the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. We had a short
stretch of cable for towing purposes, secured a pulley, attached
one end to the tractor, passed it through the pulley which was
tied to a post we found handy and on to the front of the engine
and in that way we pulled our ??? off the mainline. We had on hand
a four inch Studebaker wagon, its strength I doubted considering
the load it would be required to hold up, but I was told to load
it and I did so. The wagon held for about 20 miles and there an
axle broke. I again sent an S.O.S. to San Antonio and they sent
me out a flat bed Carter-Mulally transfer wagon guaranteed to hold
30,000 pounds. It did and I was able to get the 24 miles of cable
to the terminal. The larger spools weighed up to 12,000 pounds
and required ten good mules to pull it but we found a Mexican freighter
who had such a team and he eventually got there with the last of
the materials without once breaking the flatbed and/or float down.
I stayed on and forwarded provisions down as the engineer needed
them and he eventually got the 24 miles of cable up and in working
order and a trial run was made for about a week getting some ore
to the American side. This mammoth work had taken about a years
time and had cost $100,000.00. Now they were out of money and
called a stockholders meeting at the Southern Hotel in San Antonio.
They cussed and discussed for two days and all of them agreed they
would not put up any more money, sending what they had put in down
the drain. There, as before stated, a great many of these stockholders
and their interest, individually, was small so they elected to
give the deal to Moser who was only a promoter after all and the
cable remained intact but suppose by now it has rusted out and
possibly some of the towers have fallen down and so ended my mining
career and I am back in San Antonio."
[These memoirs were written in the '50's.]
To provide a more complete picture of Farmer
Jennings, I've quoted his submission to The Trail Drivers of
Texas, compiled and edited by J. Marvin Hunter. First published
The Trail Drivers of Texas, was published
under the direction of George W. Saunders, who was the President
of the Old Time Trail Drivers Association. Saunders was a legend
in San Antonio. He was a rancher and founded the San Antonio stock
yards. He helped found the Old Time Trail Drivers Association to
keep alive the memories of the old time cattle drives. Membership
was open to those who "went up the trail" between 1865 and 1896
and their sons.
Farmer Jennings was elected Secretary of the
Association in 1919.
There is no copyright notice in the edition of The
Trail Drivers of Texas, which I have, so I feel confident
that I'm not violating any copyright. Contact me at "webmaster
at joelandkaren.com" if you believe that I have and I will take
this off my website.
THE SON OF A WELL-KNOWN TRAIL DRIVER
by Robert Farmer Jennings of San Antonio, Texas
The Trail Drivers of Texas
"My parents are Robert J. and Dorcas Ann Jennings. I was born
September 30, 1881, in Gaudalupe County, Texas, and when I was
three years of age my parents moved to Frio County, where they
resided near Pearsall until I was fifteen years old. The following
three years I attended school in San Antonio,after which I went
to Childress County and spent six months on the Shoe Nail Ranch,
which belonged to Swift & Co., meat packers, where I worked
as a cowboy. My father at the time was manager of this ranch. In
July, 1899, I returned to South Texas and began to collect a bunch
of cattle of my own, and ranched in the Dimmitt, La Salle and Zapata
Counties for the following five or six years, during which time
a drought prevailed over the country and I lost all of my accumulation
of cattle. I went to Mexico in 1907 as manager of the Piedra Blanca
Ranch and remained there until April, 1909 then returned to Texas
to engage in buying and bringing cattle out of Mexico. At the time,
of President Madero's assassination, I was on General Trevino's
La Bahia Ranch to buy cattle, but we could not agree on the price.
General Trevino sold several thousand head of cattle to other parties
and lost the reaminder entirely through being at enmity with Carranza,
who confiscated the Trevino cattle and had them driven to Piedras
Negras in great herds and killed for his soldiers. Out of 40,000
head General Trevino lost outright probably 25,000.
I ranched in Texas until 1916, when some associates and myself
bought the majority interest in the Piedra Blanca Cattle Company
of Mexico cattle, and I went to that ranch as manager. I stayed
there for one year, but on account of having no protection from
the bandits that infested that region, we sold these cattle and
brought them to this side of the Rio Grande in Texas. I returned
to Atoscosa County, where I was interested in cattle, and have
spent the remainder of the intervening time in South Texas.
I was married to Miss Ella Alberta Lowrey in December, 1917, and
am now residing in San Antonio. I have cattle interests in La Salle
and Dimmitt Counties in connection with W. H. and J. D. Jennings.
In September, 1919, I was elected Secretary of the Old Time Trail
Driver's Association, which position I still hold. Being the son
of an old trail driver, I complied with the request of Mr. George
W. Saunders, the president, to give this brief sketch of my life.
Farmer Jennings mentions a German road engineer,
who spoke only German and Spanish. I have no other details.
Farmer Jennings mentions a cable engineer who
was responsible for stringing the 24 miles cable. I have no other
information on him.
According to the March
17, 1910 Alpine
officer Rutledge moved to the ore terminal.
According to the October 14, 1909 Alpine
returned from vacation with his wife. At that time, he was most
likely working at the customs house in Boquillas, TX, a few miles
away, where the older KSARCO cable was operating, bringing ore
over to the US.
I have no other information on Customs Inspector Rutledge.
The tramway and terminal was most certainly built
using Mexican laborers from Boquillas, although I have no information
on them. Farmer Jennings mentions "...a large number of Mexican
Labor..." that were hired to help him build the road. Again, no
other information on them, either.
These are most likely the men that erected the
towers and the ore terminal and were instrumental in assisting
the cable engineer in stringing the cable across the vast canyon.
Most certainly Mexican freighters from Boquillas,
or more likely, La Noria, a village a few miles away from the cable
terminal on the American side. They would have hauled the ore form
the cable terminal to Marathon. No information on them in particular,
although there is quite a lot of information on freighters of that
area through many of the history books. Apparantly, Mexican mule
teams were thought to be better than the American mules.