This story is dedicated to all my friends who attend the Saint Louis Area Narrow Gauge (SLANG) meets, especially John Kalin and Pete Smith.
This structure stood for many years at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Santa Fe Street in Cimarron, New Mexico. Built around 1872, the building served many purposes under multiple owners for over seventy-five years.
Originally called the Cimarron Trading Post, the structure was built by Jack Nobel and Sons to serve the booming wagon trade running over the Santa Fe Trail in the years following the Civil War. The town of Cimarron was a historic waypoint for the wagon crews working the well-traveled section of the route between Raton and Las Vegas, New Mexico.
After gold was discovered in the mountains west of Cimarron, the town became a jumping-off point for the prospectors heading up into the hills. Rumor has it that Nobel lost the building to a lucky miner in a poker game. The building changed hands several times and served as a café, hotel, and boarding house during the turn-of-the-century period of Cimarron’s booming heyday.
The Kalin Era – 1906 to 1915
Spurred on by the growing mining, ranching and timber operations in the area, several railroads soon set their sights on Cimarron. First to arrive was the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railroad. Leading the group of investors was the notorious John Kalin, an ambitious snake-oil salesman from Missouri. Soon after the tracks reached Cimarron in 1906, Kalin purchased the building and renamed it the Railhead Saloon. The locals simply called it “Kalin’s Corner” and the name stuck.
John gave special discounts to the railroad workers, knowing full well that whatever they saved on his watered-down whiskey would soon flow into his gambling operations. He also catered to the miners that came into town whenever they hit pay-dirt.
In 1910, John entered into a highly profitable arrangement with the mysterious Miss Pat, who arrived in Cimarron with an entourage of young ladies from back East. Miss Pat leased the upstairs rooms and soon had a booming business operating as “Miss Pat’s Pleasure Palace.” The young ladies, when not catering to customers upstairs, spent their evenings downstairs in the Saloon, socializing with the patrons at the bar and gambling tables. The two operations helped each other immensely, and soon John and Miss Pat were among the wealthiest business owners in Cimarron.
Birth of the “Friday Night Boomers”
Inevitably, there was conflict between the miners and the railroad men in both establishments. Each group seemed intent on outdoing the other, both in the amount they drank and in the amount they spent to impress the ladies. Kalin encouraged the rivalry, since it only served to increase profits. However, the resulting fights often damaged the bar and the sensitively rigged gambling wheels and slot machines.
To eliminate the threat of damage, John came up with a friendly contest to settle disputes. Since Friday nights were typically the busiest times at Kalin’s Corner, he created a weekly activity that came to be known as the Friday Night Boomers. He obtained a quantity of dynamite from the miners and cut each stick into one-inch long pieces. Into each piece he inserted a length of fuse. These pieces were called “boomers” by the men who used them.
After consuming vast quantities of liquid reinforcement, the two opposing teams would leave the bar and head out into the street – miners lining up on one side and railroaders on the other. Each side was given the same number of boomers. The two groups would light and then roll their boomers toward the others’ feet. Anyone who moved, flinched, or otherwise jumped out of place was eliminated. After all the boomers were used, the team that had the most members still in line was declared the winner. The winners, of course, had bragging rights for the rest of the week and first dibs on the ladies at Miss Pat’s.
End of the Glory Days
Like all good things, the boom times gradually came to an end as the mine revenues dwindled and the railroad work slowed down. The Friday Night Boomers continued to be a great source of weekly entertainment for those who remained in Cimarron. That is, until the “Peg-leg” Pete incident happened. You see, Pete was a grizzled old prospector who was unlucky enough to have a boomer take a bad hop, bounce off his leg, and drop down into his boot. That’s how he got the nickname “Peg-leg.” After that, the others didn’t seem nearly as interested in playing the game.
John felt really bad about Pete’s unfortunate accident and together, they began working as partners. The Friday night get-togethers continued on, but after that, they were more of a drinking and bull session than anything else. Since most of the miners were now gone, the gist of the sessions turned more toward railroad stories. One by one, the remaining railroad men started to settle down. Soon all of Miss Pat’s lovely ladies were married off. In 1915, Kalin sold his interest in the StL,RM&P to the Santa Fe and Miss Pat closed the upstairs Pleasure Palace for good. John and Pete began buying-up deserted buildings and structures – no one could ever figure out what they wanted them for!
The Mysterious Disappearance
As the mining operations around Cimarron continued to fold, Kalin began to buy any used copper, brass and other metals from the bankruptcy courts for pennies on the dollar. With his extensive railroad contacts, he was able to get all of the used metal shipped back to St. Louis for almost nothing.
No one knows for sure just when John, Miss Pat, and Pete left Cimarron. It is well known, however, that they vacationed together at the mineral baths in Ute Park extensively after closing their respective (and I use the term lightly) businesses. Rumor has it that they had a spiritual encounter with a Ute medicine man and obtained a highly secretive elixir from him that would prevent aging and restore lost limbs. In any case, none of the three were ever seen again in Cimarron.
For many years after their disappearance, Kalin’s Corner remained abandoned. Local residents reported seeing ghostly images through the windows every Friday night, as if the Boomers were still meeting there.
Rebirth and Renewal
By the ‘30s, the building had become an eyesore and the local city fathers considered having it torn down. Gradually, a more peaceful type of townsfolk settled the area and the structure was patched-up and once again used a tavern and boarding house. It changed very little over the next twenty years until it was finally destroyed by fire in 1952.
Stories still circulate about Kalin and Miss Pat, especially the part about their rumored romantic involvement. Reportedly, they moved back to St. Louis, where John found a use for all of the scrap metal he shipped back home. As for old “Peg-leg” Pete, rumors are that he had a miraculous recovery, re-grew the missing leg, and was often seen with John musing over the old buildings and structures they had bought together. No one can explain why none of them aged a day in nearly ninety years!
It is rumored that the Friday Night Boomers still convene at their weekly bull sessions, only now in St. Louis rather than in Cimarron, but this cannot be confirmed. However, one rumor that can definitely be discounted is the story about how John became a professional golfer. That is one tale that is truly an exaggeration, to say the least.