House moving a chore
Published: Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003
House moving is not the most causal job in the world. In the summer of 1950, Homer Bennett and his six-man Clovis crew of house movers went to Dawson up near Raton to move the homes of 2,500 people. Bennett’s job was to jack up and move out all the buildings to buyers all over the country. The reason? The coal town of Dawson had just been closed following the shutdown of the Phelps Dodge-owned coal mine, on which the town had depended for 50 years. Dawson was a company town, and the company was officially called the Stag Canyon Fuel Co., which originally owned the town lock, stock, and barrel. A work order had been issued by the company for all residents to vacate their houses by June 30. Bennett and his skeleton crew of six, plus their families, set up camp at the dead city of Dawson, once the largest town in northern New Mexico. It was to be hauled away, house by house, building by building. Six of Bennett’s house-moving trucks were used. Dozens of native people — but not Dawson people — were hired to help Bennett and his men. Bennett estimated it would take about a year to do all the moving necessary. He would only stop working if bad winter weather forced him to stop. But for the first time in a half-century that winter’s snow did not slow Bennett down. He finished the job on time. Dawson was 14 miles northeast of Cimarron, on the Vermejo River. From 1895 to 1900 the little town was known as Mountainview, but got the name Dawson when it established a post office there in 1900. It was named for the Dawson brothers who settled there in 1867. Rich coal deposits were discovered, and in 1899 a mine was opened. In 1901, the Dawson Fuel Co. was organized with the backing of Charles B. Eddy, the El Paso, Texas, railroad entrepreneur who built a railroad from Tucumcari to the newly laid out townsite of Dawson. The Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the property in 1906, and the great demand for coal made the community prosper. At one time over 9,000 people lived and worked there. Many years later the market for coal faded. Trains had switched from coal to diesel fuel. Phelps Dodge then sold out to the National Iron and Metals Company, which in 1950 agreed to dismantle and sell Dawson. Only a big, lonely cemetery remains at Dawson, a reminder of two of the worst accidents in the history of American coal mining. An underground explosion killed 263 men on Oct. 22, 1913. On Feb. 8, 1923, another underground explosion killed 120 men. (Most of the miners were from southern and eastern Europe.) Homer Bennett got started in the house moving business in 1942. Born in 1910 in Oklahoma, the Bennett family moved to the Claud community north of Clovis in 1914 where Homer went to school. At age 16, Homer’s dad died and he became the man of the house and operated the farm for about four years. He moved to Clovis and soon owned the Pontiac dealership. He then started the Homer Bennett Trucking Company, and on the side pursued a rodeo career as performer, founder and promoter of the championship roping events in Clovis. Homer Bennett was a big man, over 6 feet tall. He did big things. He died in 1969, but today his son Joe carries on the house moving business. Don McAlavy is a history buff who lives in Clovis.
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