Saturday, August 22, 2009

Footprints in the Sugar: A History of the Great Western Sugar Company

Since the beginning of 2009 when I started writing up the series on the northeastern Colorado sugar beet factories, a remarkable book has been published, which I first learned about two months ago.

Footprints in the Sugar by Candy Hamilton (2009, Hamilton Bates Publishers) is a 695-page masterpiece on the history of the Great Western Sugar Company, including all of its western factories (CO, NE, KS, WY, and MT) and sites, its leadership personalities, and the rise and fall of the industry itself. A real highlight of this book are the hundreds of pages devoted to the the farm and factory beet workers themselves, including the immigrants from German-Russia, Japan, and Mexico, and also the prisoner-of-war (POW) labor used during World War II (Longmont residents are probably familiar with the story of Italian and German POW's being housed in the former Great Western Sugar hotel).

From a Longmont perspective, here are a few interesting things mentioned in the book about the Longmont sugar beet factory:
  • After the factory was shut down in 1977, a lot of the factory equipment was sold and shipped to South America. At the time of closure, some of the larger pieces of equipment were actually less than five years old. Makes you wonder if some of this gear is still running down there.

  • Upon the sudden factory shutdown, 100 full-time workers were immediately out of work with no prospects for working at other factories, leading Longmont Chamber of Commerce manager George McCune to say "When you have that many people in that style of vocation, you've got problems". Of course, it was more of an eggs-in-one-basket problem than vocation style. Longmont would learn this lesson again twelve years later in the high-tech sector with the Miniscribe crash, and to some extent, when StorageTek left town in the mid-90's.
Ten years in the making and loaded with hundreds of pictures, this book is a great read for anyone interested in the general history of our area, sugar beets, agriculture, and those with beet heritage in their families. More information about Footprints in the Sugar can be found on the author's web site for this book.

The Longmont Library has two copies; one for checkout and one in the reference section, and many other local libraries have it in circulation as well.

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