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Listen to the second episode of ‘The Way it Was’ reporter Erin Udell revisits the 1978 case of Chris Vigil.
Mollie Muchna

The automobile arrived in Fort Collins as the new century was beginning, and its popularity exceeded all expectations. At first, only wealthy people could afford cars, but as more manufacturers heated up, competition prices came down, and by 1908 there were enough cars in town to warrant gathering them together for a photograph. It would not take very many more years for cars to rule the roads.

But drivers had a big problem. Not only were roads not paved; they were narrow, rutted and challenging at best — either impossibly muddy when it rained or throwing up clouds of dust when it was dry. The roads cars were using had long been wagon trails, trod on for decades by horse and wagon, not maintained. Moreover, they often contained the residue of horses passing by.

Roads were in bad shape. Although the need for navigable roads led to the Good Roads Association in 1905, heralded here by a meeting that featured the national president of the association as guest speaker, action was slow in coming. The continued dreadful condition of the roads led to the establishment, in 1907, of an automobile club. One fairly prompt result was that raised railroad crossings were lowered to accommodate cars.

The momentum was there, with an auto club and a Good Roads Association. But who or what would pay to improve roads, much less build more? Not only did existing roads need repair but new roads were badly needed. Farmers had to get their goods to market; travelers had to get from here to there. And it was a long way around, on inadequate roads, to get to resorts in Poudre Canyon; bad roads would not attract tourists. As with all things political, however, governments needed persuading, which took time. Meanwhile, owners often took matters…