According to an article in The Valley Voice March 15, 1983: “The kilns were constructed shortly after the D&RG laid its narrow-gauge track up the Arkansas River Canyon in 1880. They were built of rock and brick and originally had barrel staves around them. They were used to burn pinon wood just long enough to convert it to charcoal; the charcoal was then loaded into railroad cars and hauled to Salida, Leadville and Pueblo for use as fuel in the smelters and refineries. The pinon wood was cut north of the river and hauled to the kilns in huge wagons with teams of two or four strong work horses. When use of the charcoal stopped, the operation came to an abrupt halt.
Harold Willoughby’s family came to Howard in 1904 and he once recalled that there were three rails laid on the railroad bed then so they could be used by either narrow or standard-gauge trains. The kilns were still being used then and Harold estimated they were used until around 1917.
A few more interesting facts about the kilns are: (1) railroad passenger cars always had charcoal burners to keep passengers warm in the winter; (2) after WWI, there was no longer a need to burn wood to make charcoal for military gas masks; and (3) in the 1920s to 30s, CF&I and the railroad used the kilns to store ice, which was taken by rail to Calcite for day-to-day operations.