Your Story

Dirty Old Men and Other Aspen Bands

I played the tuba in a few Aspen bands in the seventies, including HEIDI AND THE BARVARIAN BUSHMEN, ALBERT FLOSSMAN'S BAVARIAN BAND, and the DIRTY OLD MEN JAZZ BAND.  Those were great years, teaching skiing and playing polkas and dixieland and dance tunes. 

But my time with Aspen's famous Dirty Old Men is a story I share often with my musician friends here in Wisconsin:  Aspen Ski School supervisor, Bob Knight, invited me in December of '68 to bring my tuba to the next rehearsal of the DOM at Cliff Brelsford's house.  Upon arrival, I met Cliff, Dr Baxter, Dr Whitcomb, Bill McEachern, and an old fellow whose name I don't recall - the owner of Aspen Construction. 

Each such Wednesday evening rehearsal began in Cliff's living roof with about forty five minutes of whiskey and talk.  That's about how long it took to solve the world's problems and loosen up our musical instincts.  Then down to the basement to gather around the piano and play some jazz.  Great guys, I mean I really enjoyed these fellows, but the music - well, it was a little rough.  As Ulfar would say, rrrather RRRRustic.(roll the r's)

I took the bandleader, Bill McEachern (director of the Aspen High School band), aside after a couple of Wednesday nights and hinted at my concern for the quality of the music.  "You see", he said, "I'm rather a pro on the piano, so I play the tenor sax - to fit in with this band. And Bob Knight is a professional trombonist, so he attempts the piano with this band.  Now you, Jerry, is there some other instrument you might play?"  "I've always wanted to play the trombone...." I said,  "I think you get the message," said Bill.

One year in the early seventies, I learned a tough lesson while we were playing for the Annual Hospital Benefit.  I think it was at the Aspen Inn.  Besides gaining trombone experience, I was using my DOM time to sharpen my vocal presentation in front of people. After delivering a (pretty good, I thought) rendition of Pennies From Heaven, I was somewhat hurt by some very lukewarm applause, but attributed it to the chatty atmosphere in the room - they were too busy having a good time. 

A few songs later, Dr Whitcomb had the microphone for his favorite: Talk Of The Town. - The last line of which is "Everybody knows you've left me, its the Talk Of The Town."  Now, from the moment he starts croaking it out, the audience is on their feet, clapping and screaming,  it was like Frank Sinatra and his "bobbysoxers".  Now this was less than ten minutes after I had just poured my heart out with Pennies From Heaven, and my ego was slipping lower by the minute.  This ate away at me the rest of the night, till as we were packing up to go, I mentioned my discomfort to Jay Baxter.  The good Doctor saved my ego and my ulcer with these kind words:  "Look, Jerry, You didn't have a chance.  You see, that other singer delivered about half the people in the audience, and delivered the babies of the other half!"

I could go on, but........


Jerry Dunn

Red Onion Tales

RED ONION TALES

 

My family moved to Aspen in 1956, when I was nine, and the Red Onion soon became the hub of many of our family activities.  My mother, Rose Crumpacker, worked as the "one woman chamber of commerce"  in a tiny cinderblock building next door to the Isis Theater, and every Friday night we had a week's end ritual of dining at the Onion.  I can well remember the delicious salads, dressed with Werner Kuster's oil and vinegar dressing, that accompanied our steak and baked potato dinners.  Werner would greet us and seat us in the dining room, far from the commotion of the bar. 

My older siblings, three of whom were in college, preferred "Beer Gulch", and usually went there directly apres ski.  Often, during summer or college breaks, they would never make it home for dinner, worrying my mother. 

Everyone loved the nightclub, which featured smoky-voiced singers and jazz combos, on weekends - even I was allowed to enter and sit at one of  the small tables, drinking cokes and feeling quite sophisticated.

My great grand uncle, Thomas Latta, had built the Onion in the 1880's, and a tile with his name still presumably graces the entry to the bar. The building also sports the Latta name on the very top.  My sister Marguerite Maddalone's middle name is Latta...the Latta family was from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and my grandmother, Rose Latta Turner, was born there and lived there until she moved to Indiana to marry my grandfather.  The Latta family was very, very proper - my mother remembered having to present her calling card to a butler with a silver tray, when she traveled to Pennsylvania, at age twelve, to visit her grandmother. Thomas Latta was the uncle, and the black sheep of the family.  He came out west, searching for his fortune, and ended up building and running the Red Onion as a dance hall, bar, and brothel.

When I was eleven or twelve, we had a little gang of kids who liked to get into a bit of trouble during our lunch hour from school.  Several of our parents had charge accounts at the Delice Bakery, so after grabbing a sandwich or pastry, we would adjourn to eat our lunches on either the fire escape of the Wheeler Opera House, or the fire escape of the rooming house for the Red Onion employees, across the alley from the Onion, in the building that became the Paragon.  It was on the latter fire escape that we all witnessed sex for the first time....as we furtively peered in a curtained window of one of the rooms...I think it was the hostess of the Onion, as we all recognized her.

Several years later, there was a terrible knife fight between two Swiss or Austrian Red Onion chefs, beginning in the kitchen and ending in the alley, at night, when we were having a Friday night dinner.  The police were called, and both chefs were taken to the hospital.  Not too long after that, Werner Kuster sold the Onion.  His wife, Rosemarie, moved to Santa Fe and owned the Palace Restauraunt there for many years.

The Red Onion always stayed a little tied to it's wild west roots.  My brother Tom, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan law school, brother-in-law Danny Maddalone, an Aspen ski patrol, and cousin Bob Brown, captain of the U. of Michigan football team,  were involved, one spring break, in an awful brawl that began in the nightclub.  The brawl moved out onto Cooper Street, and they were all dragged by a car down to Pinnochio's.

"Beer Gulch", with its horseshoe-shaped table and bench at the front window, was home to the Aspen ski patrol and packing crew for many years.  The wonderful blue caricatures of celebrities and famous visitors graced the booths and hallways.  Many, many tales and stories were told in beer gulch, usually skiing stories, and I was an enthusiastic participant while in my twenties, after work at Gretl's or the Sundeck.  Peter Luhn was a habitue, as were Shady Lane, Scott MacDougal, Richard Tapley, Hanuman,  Steve Wishart,  David Wright, and Defoe Dushane. 

In the mid-seventies, when new owners bought the Onion and turned the bar into a more upscale "fern bar", replacing the gulch and booths and caricatures, there was a big revolution.  The habitues all couldn't take it, and staged a protest by throwing all the new potted ferns out onto Cooper Street, and hundreds of dollars of ferns were ruined  There may or may have not been arrests, but a statement of priorities was certainly made.


--Posey Melson

 

Retired Teacher

I grew up in Grand Junction and often skied at Aspen.  In the 1940s we stayed at the Jerome Hotel for fifty cents a night and had meals there of similar price.  Bathrooms were down the hall. We skied out the front door  to the rope tow on AJax.  Those were the days !!!

Elinor MCginn

Dr. Robert Oden, 1922 - May 18, 2008

 

Bob Oden 1922May 18, 2008

Dr. Bob Oden (that is pronounced ODane for non-Scandinavians) is one of the kindest, most beloved physicians in Aspen a description he shares gladly with his close friend, Harold Whitcomb, aka Dr. Whit. The stories of his generosity and caring would fill many books as he has extended the principles of the Hippocratic oath to every facet of his life.

My husband tells me he "got to go to college" because of Dr. Bob. While Aspen stories abound about the good doctor, not many know this one. Bob was serving as chief flight surgeon in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was appalled to discover that his wounded colleagues were not getting proper care and seemed to have been forgotten. He lobbied acquaintance General Curtis LeMay (who was unaware of the veterans’ plight) to assure that proper benefits were allocated by the government. As a result, the G.I. Bill was successfully carried through the U.S. Congress, and many veterans were deservedly rewarded.

Dr. Bob served for many years as a U.S. Ski Team doctor and has been inducted into the national, Colorado, and Aspen ski halls of fame. He holds other honors too many to list. However, his personal sense of accomplishment comes not with recognition but with the pleasure of watching his handiwork give success to people’s lives.

Georgia Hanson

Bridger Gile 1999

 

Bridger Gile 1999present

Hi, my name is Bridger Gile. After being featured in two Warren Miller Films, winning a NASTAR national title and skiing 80 days a year, I am finally attending kindergarten. At first I was worried that school was going to squeeze my ski time, but like any true Aspen local, I think I’ve figured out a way to get in plenty of vertical half-time kindergarten and the new Deep Temerity lift at Highlands!

I can’t wait for winter, although summer hasn’t been so bad. I’ve been playing soccer, golf, competing on the swim team, riding my bike, and working on my cliff-hucking (jumping the punchbowl at the Grottos). I even got to go to France to see Lance Armstrong win the Tour. That was exciting!

Wax up those skis and I’ll see you on the hill soon.

(written by Bridger 2005 - with a little help!)

Amous Bourquin 1857 to 1943

 

Amous Bourquin 18571943

Letter from Aspen, Colo., April 17, 1881

Dear Jule:

I have been here a couple weeks so I will try to let you know what little I can of Aspen. I will begin at Denver. I left there in the morning about half sick. Reached Leadville 7:30 pm. I had intended to stop in Leadville one day to look around the City but a couple of hours the next morning satisfied me as it was a cloudy day and very muddy and cold. I then took the stage for Independence 35 miles but the snow got so soft before night that we had to stop at the foot of the range 10 miles from Independence. We started again at three o’clock in the morning in order to cross the range while the snow was frozen. We reached Independence for breakfast, and it was a hard old breakfast for a fellow that had a hard days walk to do here the less. I left my baggage for the jack train fitted on my gum boots and prepared for a snowey tussel for Aspen. Reached here about five o’clock and found the boys all well.

A. D. Bourquin

 

(letter is edited full letter on file at Aspen Historical Society.)

Bill Heron - 1897 to 1970's

 

Bill Herron 1897circa 1970s

Bill Herron was an Aspen-born, lifelong silver miner who staunchly believed that the mining glory days in his beloved hometown would return.

As a newcomer in the early 1950s, I first saw Bill and a few old-timers clustered around the brass spittoon wisely provided by the postmaster, Alton Beck, in the post office (now Amen Wardy’s site). They were peering through the steamy window, watching skiers on Aspen Mountain. They used the P.O. as a warm place to meet and talk. "Look at them crazy snowsliders. You ask me, they got rocks in their heads, messing around like that!"

That was Bill Herron addressing his cronies. It was mystifying to them that these strangers were paying money to play in the snow, on the same steep mountainside that all the miners had to climb to get to work during the "good old days."

I met Bill at his mother’s home on Main Street (now Herron Apartments). He lived with Cassie, his 85-year-old mother, but his real headquarters was the Red Onion. Since our family’s bed-and-breakfast inn was across the street, I’d visit with Cassie often and hear the latest gossip.

Bill and his pals took comfort in "Beer Gulch," sharing pitchers and moodily recalling how things used to be before the music people and snowsliders discovered Aspen. Beer was the drink of choice, unless someone stood them to something a bit stronger. It was beer, and Bill’s fondness for it, that was undoubtedly the reason the town marshal took Bill’s driver’s license away: "For his own good and that of the rest of town too."

His ancient Ford was retired among Cassie’s lilac bushes, between the rhubarb patch and the woodshed. "When are you going to get rid of that thing?" she’d ask. Bill would shrug, "Don’t know, maybe when I get my license back."

Almost every night, Bill would carry a hot meal home to his mother. He’d get the cook to wrap up the Onion’s special, and he’d walk clear across town with it, through stormy weather, if need be. It would always be a surprise meal for Cassie, because she never knew when he’d arrive or what he’d bring.

His Irish charm and inborn gallantry was a delight. There was always a slight bow, a tip of his hat and a flattering word when we met. He complimented our children and our "lucky husbands." He was a gentleman.

Bill moved to a boarding house in Glenwood Springs when Cassie died in 1962. We’d see him down at one of the riverside bars, where his portrait hung on the wall and he still held forth with a diminishing group of old-timers. He’d insist on buying us a beer, and we’d try to satisfy his curiosity about Aspen’s goings on.

When we asked about him a few months later, a grizzled old man mournfully shook his head.

"Old Bill has gone and died left us for good."

Jony Larrowe

Al S. Lamb - 1855 to 1940

 

Al S. Lamb 18551940 by Buzz Cooper and Larry Fredrick

In late 1886 or early 1887, Al Lamb, a pharmacist, decided to cast his lot with the new silver boom at Aspen. The Lamb Drug Store became the center of community affairs, and Lamb himself became a powerful influence in local government.

He won high regard for his integrity, enterprise and good citizenship. A good businessman, Lamb became well-known all over the state and his store was a genuine landmark. Many remember his old-fashioned soda fountain. To this day, there are old-timers who would have no remedies other than old "Doc" Lamb’s prescriptions.

Lamb was an active and early member of the Benevolent Order of Elks and the Lions Club, and a member of the State Board of Pharmacy. His active public spirit served not only Aspen, but the county and the state.

He loved the mountains, fishing and hunting, and he loved horses and dogs. It is said that his favorite spaniel died within 15 minutes after his beloved master. Lamb was so fond of his champion hunting dog Max that when Max died, Lamb had him stuffed. His granddaughter Peggy (Rowland) recalls that when she visited her grandfather, her errand was to dust off Max.

Bil Dunaway - 1923

Bil Dunaway 1923

present

 

Bil Dunaway was a great newspaper publisher and has a huge heart, but what he was known best for around The Aspen Times was his fiscal conservatism. On any given day, he could be found up on the roof dabbing tar on a leak, shoveling the sidewalk, repairing a toilet with baling wire or whacking the furnace into compliance. Often when talking with me at my desk he would, unable to bear the waste, reach out and turn off my electric typewriter.

One morning, shortly after I had pointed out that his vinyl office chair was in tatters, we found what appeared to be a crop circle on the carpet of the ad office. Bil had cut out a circle of newsprint, laid it on the floor, placed his chair in the center and spray-painted it, leaving a ring of black sunburst.

God love him, he is the least pretentious person in Aspen.

Su Lum

 

Betty Jane Harbour - circa 1950 arrival

 

Betty Jane Harbour

From Port Arthur, Texas, Betty Jane Harbour came to Aspen around 1950 with her husband Jack. She built the houses that bracket the east end of Castle Creek bridge.

Betty had a smile that could melt boilerplate and a foghorn of a voice. In the ’60s, during a whiteout on Aspen Mountain, Betty left the Sundeck with her ski class of 14. By the time they reached Little Nell, there were 44 terrified skiers following the sound of her voice.

After Jack’s death, Betty traveled the world, hunting big game in Alaska and living in the Maharani palace in Katmandu. She trekked to Everest base camp three times after losing a kneecap when her Norwegian Dun slipped and fell on her. Though she’d never finished high school, she enrolled at CU in Astrogeophysics just as her daughter Cyndie was finishing her master’s.

Betty died while she was building her fifth house, in the mountains of northern New Mexico. She’d been living in the first and only completed part of the house and the most important to her the observatory tower.

Doug Franklin

Barry Smith

Barry Smith 1966

present

 

Full-time humorist and former audio-visual guy, Barry Smith has, in 15 years of living here, unassumingly become a modern-day embodiment of the "Aspen Idea." Not content with writing an award-winning weekly column in The Aspen Times, writing and directing award-winning short films, writing and performing award-winning theater (his monologue "Jesus in Montana" won Outstanding Solo show at the 2005 Fringe Festival in New York City), Barry also writes poetry, entertains a vast number of friends with anecdotes and observations, convenes a weekly writers’ salon, and is planning to tour his stage show

among other creative projects.

 

If this makes Barry sound like an overachieving Renaissance man

wait, it gets worse. He can also be found playing blues guitar, snowboarding, hiking, biking and trying not to topple over while holding complex yoga poses.

 

 

 

 

Popular theory may hold that the Aspen Idea is as much a shadow of the past as smooth-running traffic on Main Street, but Barry is proof that the Idea still flows on.

 

Katherine Sand

 

Aspen State Teachers College



Dr. Slats Cabbage "The Dr. of Fluid Mechanics" (aka Marc Demmon) 1951present

Slats was the manager for the Aspen Mine Company and announced "this will be your headquarters for the new mall construction." He told me about the Aspen State Teacher’s College and immediately dubbed me the Dean of Destruction. I think the "Cabbage Racing Team" was the spark that made the college a reality. Slats and I walked into City Market and he was carrying a 6-inch bolt in his hands. He walked up to the produce manager and said he wanted a big cabbage.

"How big?"

"One that will fit on this bolt!"

It became the hood ornament for the "Screamin’ Eagle" No. 137 race car.

ASTC was one of the cleverest ideas in America, and Slats and Al together were a formidable, hilarious team to watch. "Who the hell is Slats Cabbage?" Those who don’t know him have really missed something!

Big Jim Furniss, ASTC alumnus

Al Pendorf "Dean Fulton Bagley 1938present

What can I say? It was the ’70s. I moved into an apartment with Jack the Butcher and a third "mystery roommate." I lived there for weeks before I ever met this other guy, but we left notes trying to figure each other out.

Finally, we bumped into each other in the hall and I met Al Pendorf, a man on the go (and it was not just work). As the offseason waned (there really was an offseason then), we looked at each other one fall evening and decided to go into town to check out the "freshman class" of new winter season arrivals. Ah, thought Al, we had a freshman class but no school.

That was the start of it all: Aspen State Teacher’s College, a spoof in which "the whole town is the college. Classes are taught everywhere."

Al was in the printing business (not to mention a very strange puzzle contest "business"). It was a natural fit to produce a handbook and a school paper called "The Clean Sweep." Al, known as Dean Fulton Begley, teamed up with Slats Cabbage and Aspen State Teachers College became very real (including T-shirts, a marching band, a football team that always won by default) to all of us "students of the ’70s."Don’t miss the ASTC alumni reunion at the Elks on Oct. 8. We are still trying to find someone who actually graduated.

Maddy Lieb, Class of ...

Crystal Palace Not Always So Palatial

Crystal Palace Not Always So Palatial

Yore Aspen



The Crystal Palace in 1962, with the Owl Cigars advertisement on the side. Aspen Laundry was in the one-story white building to the left. (Frank Willoughby/Willoughby collection)
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Tim Willoughby
September 22, 2007



Imagine dump trucks inside the Crystal Palace, staying warm so they could start on cold winter days to haul miners up the backside of Aspen Mountain. Before Mead Metcalf started his dinner theater there, the Midnight Mine had its headquarters in the building. It reeked of old timber molds, carbide lantern fumes, rock dust and machine lubricants rather than today's captivating aromas of broiling prime rib and uncorked merlot.



Owned by the Midnight Mine, this Coleman truck in 1927 used to park in the Crystal Palace. (Willoughby collection)
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The pending change in ownership of the Crystal Palace may alter more than names on the title, especially if Mead Metcalf takes the stained glass and crystal chandeliers with him. His colorful remodel in 1960 made the building more Victorian than it was in 1891 when it was built. Victorian structures in Aspen, with the exception of St. Mary's and the Community Church, had simple windows of small squares of colored glass surrounding plain glass rectangles. Most colorful and elaborate stained glass was imported from New Orleans and Denver during the '60s - the 1960s. The Palace and other buildings were reinvented more than restored.

The Palace from the mid-1930s to 1951 was the company office of the Midnight Mine, Aspen's major employer. It was the ideal building for three reasons. Like most commercial buildings in the downtown core, it had a second-floor office area where the company could accomplish its paperwork. It had a very large ground floor, big enough to park and service its trucks and store equipment and materials. Finally, it was just one block from general manager Fred D. Willoughby's home. He lived at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Aspen Street in the white house that looks today like it looked back then.


In its Victorian heyday the Crystal Palace was a commission house much like today's wholesale distribution warehouses. Goods traded hands on the ground floor where ice cut from Hallam Lake cooled a walk-in meat storage box. E.M Cooper was the proprietor in the early 1900s and in addition to White Owl cigars, as advertised on the exterior wall, he sold produce grown in the agricultural boom areas of Delta and Mesa counties.

The Midnight Mine acquired the building after it had been abandoned for a number of years. The older roof was flat and in desperate need of repair. The Midnight changed the pitch to shed snow, giving the building the odd shape it has today.

The Midnight office accommodated 55 employees in the 1940s. Miners and mill operators worked both day and night shifts, plus the building was the center of business activities and vehicle repair. As Willoughby served as mayor of Aspen through many of those years, it also doubled as an unofficial city hall office.

Aspen's elevation is too high for most fruit trees. Crabapples are one of the few species to prosper. The Monarch side of the building provides great sun exposure with the brick wall holding enough heat to incubate trees. Begun with an apparent toss of a plum seed, a tree still grows there. The Midnight staff marveled at the seedling's survival and gauged the passing of years by the growth of the tree.


Other than The Aspen Times and a few lodges, it's unusual for commercial buildings in Aspen to retain the same use over the long term. Metcalf's nearly half-century as the occupant of this building has provided countless visitors with a unique Aspen experience. Old buildings, especially the brick commercial-core buildings of Aspen, are hard to maintain and to adapt to modern uses but their historical soul is a major ingredient in the Aspen ambiance.

May the next occupant make the most of the legacy.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

First Grade Fears in 1914

First Grade Fears in 1914

Yore Aspen



Washington School in Aspen's West End. (Willoughby collection)
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Tim Willoughby
September 29, 2007



Starting school is a tough transition for children. The prevalence of preschool has eased the transition between home and school, but the first few weeks are still a challenge for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Kindergarten teachers tell hundreds of humorous stories about the distorted perceptions and fearful experience of first-timers. The student who asks, "Is it lunch yet?" a half-hour after the day starts. "Did I eat my lunch?" asked a half-hour after the PB and J was consumed. Finding their lunch, knowing what to do with an unpeeled orange, and the buckets of tears shed over the slightest deviation from a home routine round out those long first days in school.

When my mother started first grade in 1914 there were more ominous challenges.

For one, it wasn't until the 1970s that there was a larger first-grade class. Aspen was a shrinking-but-still-large town in 1914. The Panic of 1907 had cut the population of the county by 25 percent but in 1910 it was still 4,600, about half the size of Albuquerque at that time. The 1914 first grade was the last big class. In 1917-1918, Aspen's largest mine, the Smuggler, shut down over an electricity rate dispute and the influenza struck, reducing Aspen's population an additional 30 percent.

Like most cities of the time, Aspen was proud of its schools. Aspen had three elementary schools: Lincoln, Garfield and Washington. In the beginning they were multi-grade schools, each located in a different section of town. When the Washington School opened in the West End in 1890, they began separating students by grade rather than by location. First through fourth grades were located at the Washington School.


There was no kindergarten in Aspen's schools until 1955, so my mother entered school in first grade at the Washington School. Most students in those days did not make it through high school, leaving after eighth grade. The Washington School was a large, permanent brick structure with big windows and Victorian flourishes, larger than the high school and still a "modern" model, but it had one component that confounded my mother.

In 1914, indoor plumbing was rare. Children like my mother were used to using an outhouse. Her term was "the chick sail," a name popularized from a play about an outhouse builder written by Chick Sale. Cold in the winter, smelly and always too far from where ever you were, they still served their purpose. Spiders and bees were a bother, and children always feared they might fall through the hole into the gaping pit below.

The Washington School had a more modern facility, an indoor one. It was located in the basement and had a whole line of holes. What filled my mother with fear was that instead of the usual pit there was a continuously running torrent of water running below the holes, a kind of partially open sewer. Further complicating the situation, the holes were not calibrated for first-graders; they were adult size. At least they seemed that way to a first-grader.


"I was so afraid I would fall through and be carried off to God knows where," my mother told me.

She remembered little else from her first year of school. A 6-year old's nightmare aged into a senior's amusing remembrance.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Made In Aspen

Made In Aspen



The Durant Mine fabrication shop could make almost anything. (Willoughby photo collection)
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Tim Willoughby
October 6, 2007



Fifty years ago you would often encounter abandoned mining and milling equipment around Aspen's periphery. Many items had manufacturer's names and "New York, N.Y." stamped into the thick cast iron with dates from pre-railroad times.

How could heavy and often large pieces of machinery have been moved so far? Although Columbia University was a major mining and engineering school and its students did summer internships in Aspen's mines, that connection does not explain the mystery.

The explanation was a common practice in the earliest years. Aspen mines made some of the equipment in Aspen using plans they bought from companies headquartered in New York.

An example was the Durant Mine machine shop. In its prime it could build almost anything. The blacksmiths and machinists created from scratch, repaired, modified and assembled equipment delivered by train.

Mining and milling equipment was manufactured from very thick, but brittle, cast iron that was prone to rapid destruction. In the clash of metal against rock, rock often won. Mine machine shops battled to keep up with repairs. Steam-driven equipment required boilers that developed leaks whenever a rivet worked loose. Rock drills vibrated like present-day jackhammers, expanding any metal weakness into fissures. Any metal part fractures under constant use and the extreme weights that mining imposes.


Blacksmiths turned out everything from hinges to intricate fixtures. Even today in former mining locations you can find locally forged square nails. In a few places you may see metal pipe that was made by curling longs strips of thick metal and riveting it every half-foot to hold the edges together.

Until about 1890, San Francisco foundries were the major manufacturers of mining equipment. With the advent of the continental railroad, eastern companies began shipping equipment westward. Closer to western mines, Denver, Salt Lake City and Butte, Mont., dominated the business. After trains reached Aspen in 1887, and in 1888 when standard-gauge trains could haul heavy loads, most equipment came from out of town. Cheap shipping methods, and the development of steel for building, shifted many Aspen mine structures, like hoisting head frames, from wood to steel.

Aspen was the first mining town to replace steam power with electricity. One consequence was that there was less boiler repair, but electric motors became the new shop activity. Aspen Novelty Works, operated by the Blackburn brothers, on the corner of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street, offered rewinding for dynamos and motors and other electrical repairs. At another location they sold and repaired traditional mining machinery.

The 1890s were the height of American machinery. There seemed to be no end to how powerful an engine could be or how huge a drive wheel could be forged. Aspen used the biggest and best and manufactured some of its own.


Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Jeep Brakes and the Wonderful Willys

Jeep Brakes and the Wonderful Willys

Yore Aspen



Jeanne Willoughby Englert sitting atop a 1950s Willys in front of what later became La Cocina restaurant on East Hopkins Avenue. (Doris Willoughby/Willoughby photo collection)
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Tim Willoughby
October 13, 2007



Recently a caller to National Public Radio's "Car Talk" asked if something could be done about his Jeep brakes. The Magliozzi brothers' answer was a derisive laugh. Jeeps are notorious for poor brakes. They became dangerous when they put bigger motors in them so they could go faster than the brakes could slow them down.

In the 1950s, Jeeps were the vehicles of choice for anyone in Aspen who could afford one. They were the perfect match for Aspen's unpaved streets and the most reliable way to navigate deep snow in the winter. The Willys Jeep, made by Kaiser in Toledo, Ohio, was not designed for fast travel. Speeds over 45 mph could be attained only if you were traveling downhill on pavement. At 35 mph on gravel washboard surfaces like Maroon and Castle Creek roads, you signed up for a noisy, teeth-shattering ride.


But if you wanted to tackle Aspen Mountain you could slip the Willys CJ (civilian jeep) into four-wheel-low range and it would purr straight up Little Nell. The low gearing enabled it to climb any slope at any altitude, even with its low-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Coming down was more interesting. You could stand on the brakes and even at slow speeds you might not stop, at least not for a long, nail-biting distance. However, shifting into low range held your speed to a reasonable crawl. Many Aspenites tell stories of careening down Aspen Mountain or Pearl Pass, top to bottom, with no brakes at all. Not by choice, but because their brakes had gone out altogether.

Then there was that other Willys quirk.

While going downhill with the gears holding back the speed, a bump from hitting a rock (on four-wheel-drive roads that's all there is) could throw the vehicle out of gear. The law of unanticipated consequences ordained this catastrophe when you were on the steepest grade, the sharpest turn and the narrowest of roads with a precipitous cliff alongside as far ahead as you could see.


John Healy worked on all the Jeeps in Aspen, making him the most likely the national Willys expert. He devised and patented a device to keep jeeps from slipping out of gear, and installed it on many Aspen jeeps. Who knows how many fatalities he prevented.

Some Jeeps had a forward-facing back seat, but most didn't. Children, or any other passengers, sat facing sideways on the narrow metal benches above the rear wheels. There was just enough room for a big dog and a small child, or a big child and a small dog, and a couple bags of groceries.

There was no upholstery in a Jeep. The only hint of extravagance was a tiny glove compartment where you could keep a spare fan belt. Early models, which lacked a keyed ignition, sported a button you pushed to run the starter motor. That was OK in Aspen because most people, even if they had keys, left them in their vehicles.


Except for the brake, the Willys was one of the most reliable and durable vehicles ever built. They started in the coldest weather and required minimal maintenance. Because you wouldn't take a trip to Denver in one, and usually just used them to get around town, even the old ones had low mileage accumulations.

Those blessed with having one will never part with it. Admire them, but if you see one coming up fast in your rearview mirror, then remember their brakes.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Clearing the grizzly - mining's most dangerous job

Clearing the grizzly - mining's most dangerous job



Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
October 20, 2007



Blasting required careful handling of explosives. Drilling was a silent killer from rock dust cutting up your lungs. But the really dangerous job was tending to the "grizzly" - and that didn't mean chasing bears away.

Mining is the business of moving quantities of heavy rock, and the more mineral content the heavier the load. A pile of mineral-bearing ore the size of a hay bale weighs about a ton. For this reason miners prefer to work using gravity rather than against it.


Large mines drive tunnels below ore deposits and then work their way up. Using this "caving" method, miners easily move tons of material from the ore source to waiting mine cars for transportation out of the tunnel. The connection is like a laundry chute, usually about 3 to 5 feet in diameter, and sometimes more than 100 feet long.

Ore dumped into the chute from above, because it was basically in free fall, could do great damage if left to fall all the way to the waiting mine car below. The grizzly was a large grate, made of logs or steel, placed near the end of the fall to slow the flow.

Because the grizzly was a grid of squares about a foot wide, larger rocks would get caught and eventually block the flow of ore. Men were employed to keep the grizzly free and to dislodge rocks stuck in the chute.


My father, 20 years old in 1926, decided to leave Aspen to "experience the world." The Depression had already begun in the West. He was a skilled miner, having worked in Aspen's mines in the summers and on weekends since he was 14, and he talked his way into a job at the copper mine in Miami, Ariz. It was a swing shift clearing the grizzlies, but he was lucky to find any work at all.

The work, at first, was not too strenuous because the copper ore was soft compared to Aspen's silver-lead-zinc ore. It was easy to break up the rock using a sledgehammer. It was hazardous because someone far above might push ore into the chute to fall on the unsuspecting workers below. In earlier years ore was sent down continuously; workers moved back and forth at the side of the grizzly, dodging rocks. It was not unusual to have teens doing this work, and injuries and fatalities were common.

Clearing the chutes was even more of a challenge. The usual method was to climb up the chute, like bouldering today, wedging between the sides, carrying an explosive attached on the end of a 10-foot pole. Once under the snag you could push the charges between the lodged boulders. The explosive was 40 percent nitroglycerine in a gelatin stick form. You set it off using electric primer wires. A day of blasting would fill the tight air spaces with blasting fumes. At the end of the shift, pills were issued to deal with the headaches from the explosive smoke.


Being young with no fear of death, my father's partner was placing the charges without using the pole. He would climb right into the tangled rocks. No matter how you did this job, there was always the chance that while setting the charges you might dislodge the rocks above you, many weighing much more than you did, and they would fall on top of you and force you down the chute.

One day his partner went up the chute to free a stuck chute door from below. The door was in the middle, so after he opened it an unexpected amount of material rushed past him and then got stuck on the grizzly below him. There was no way for him to make his way up to the top of the chute, so he was stuck there for 10 hours until the grizzly could be freed and the material pulled out.

Fortunately, after a few anxious days working the grizzly, my father was moved to tunnel timbering, a much safer and more skilled position. Miners at the time worked six days a week and were paid $5 a shift. There was a medical benefit, though: The mine had an unmanned underground medical station. Your chances were not much better than if you had been attacked by a grizzly bear.

Spring Ahead - Fall Back?

Spring Ahead - Fall Back?

Yore Aspen



Changing the time was a bit of work on this clock gracing the lobby of the Hotel Jerome. (T. Willoughby)
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Tim Willoughby
October 27, 2007



The phrase for remembering what to do with your clocks makes it easy to handle daylight saving time (DST). It wasn't always so simple in Aspen; you really needed two clocks to track time.

Aspen has a long history of wanting to pioneer new ideas. This was especially true in the 1960s. While the rest of the state debated whether to go on daylight saving time, Aspen decided it was such a good idea that it would go it alone.


Even though daylight saving time had been implemented nationally during both world wars and some European countries had been using it since 1918, the elderly, who tend to be early risers and uncomfortable with change, complained. I remember my great-aunt being most upset. She collected cuckoo clocks. It was always interesting to visit her because they were not all set on the same time and one clock or another would gong, clang or cuckoo every few minutes.

"I'm just not going to change the time on my clocks," she said.

The agricultural communities of Colorado had the most influence in the state Legislature, and they were unanimously opposed to daylight saving time. Local ranchers said, "Animals run on sun time." Feeding one hour earlier than "bright and early" was just not going to happen.

The staunchest opponents to Aspen's solo clock change came from those who did not live in Aspen. What time would you run on if you lived in Watson or Snowmass? Would the school bus run on state time or Aspen time? People would come to town for an appointment and forget about the difference in time. With doctors often being an hour behind schedule in the late afternoon anyway, it didn't always matter. Complicating matters, the post office and state offices were required to operate on standard time.


Fishermen found fixing the time to be a great advantage. Aspen stores for years had closed at 5:30 or 6 p.m. and, without DST, fishing after work was limited. An extra hour on the streams saved more than time; it may have saved the day.

Concerts at the often-cold tent were a bit warmer. Working gardeners found more time to pull weeds even though the daylight saved did not extend the growing season.

People outside Aspen thought the town had gone crazy. They already believed people who lived there had "no common sense" so Aspen continued to serve as the punch line for numerous jokes.

Aspen was saved in 1966 when Congress established a national time standard. It did so because, between 1960 and 1966, some states, counties and cities, including Chicago, had gone on DST while others had not. The Aspen problem had gone national. By 1966, 100 million Americans used DST. The act required each state to go "all on" or "all off."


The statewide debate pitted the outdoor community against the entrenched traditionalists. It's hard to believe, but much of the opposition arose because some people couldn't figure out what to do with their clocks, and many had no understanding about time in general. One opponent said, "The extra hour of sunlight is burning up my yard." Another said, "Government has no business fiddling with God's time."

You would think that after 40 years of DST the idea would have taken root, but in 2000 Mary Anne Tebedo of Colorado Springs introduced a bill to take Colorado off DST. The legislation failed.

The music group Chicago's song "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" was released just after Aspen's DST affair. It really resonated with anyone who lived through Aspen's timely "experiment."

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Jeep Tales and Tips

Many additional comments could be added to Tim Willoughby's Jeep article ("Jeep Brakes and the Wonderful Willys," Yore Aspen, Oct. 13). For nearly 40 years, I have had a '63 Jeep in Aspen. Bought secondhand, it has about every accessory possible. The original owner added a Dodge brake booster that works fine. Brakes are not the big problem on part of the Pearl Pass road where you need some people outriggers to keep from rolling. 60 mph is OK in overdrive.

Roland Fischer
Lakewood, Colo.

Aspen bucked political fashion then, too

Aspen bucked political fashion then, too

Yore Aspen



Republican headquarters, on Mill Street behind the Wheeler Opera House, in 1900 Aspen. The photos in the window are presidential candidate William McKinley and running mate Theodore Roosevelt. (Courtesy Aspen Historical Society)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
November 3, 2007



"Some unseen force is hard at work to hold back the figures until they are right," reported The Aspen Democrat the day after the 1906 election. The charge was leveled against an official in Arapahoe County, where the vote count for several judges was very close. Election fraud was as much an issue then as now, and for good reason.

A century ago Aspen still had a fairly large population, and Pitkin County's votes accounted for about 1 percent of the statewide tally. Pitkin County cast 1,979 votes in 1906 compared to 6,717 in 2006. However, in 1906 all but 338 of those votes came from Aspen. Most of the other votes were from the Watson precinct (Aspen Village area) and Redstone. Ashcroft boasted a dozen voters.

Republicans made a clean sweep in 1906 but not in Pitkin County. As has often been the case, Aspen bucked the state trend and voted for Democrats. In the governor's race Democrat Alva Adams garnered 40 percent of Pitkin voters while the winning Republican candidate received only 29 percent, barely ahead of the Socialist Party candidate. An independent candidate received about 10 percent. "Third party" candidates enjoyed near parity with the major parties during this period, especially the Socialist and Populist parties.

Alva Adams was one of Colorado's best-known politicians. He was elected governor three times with breaks between each term. The Ute Uprising took place during his first term. At the onset of his second term, in 1897, he had to deal with a miner's strike in Leadville. Miners, who had made a deal with owners pressed by the Panic of 1893 to lower wages, struck to restore $3-a-day wages. The National Guard had been sent to defend the position of the owners. Just after taking office, Adams removed the Guard and established the State Board of Arbitration to settle future strikes.


Adams won again in 1904, the most contentious election in the state's history. Each side accused the other of election fraud. In the Denver area, Democrats got more votes than there were voters. Republicans were accused of forcing thousands of immigrant workers to vote for their candidates or lose their jobs. The postelection fight continued into the Legislature. After a bitter battle, Adams stepped down as governor, the Republican runner-up was bypassed and another Republican, the lieutenant governor, was appointed as governor. Adams' streak of three victories ended with his 1906 loss to Republican Augustus Buchtel, who during his two-year term regulated businesses and built many bridges, miles of highway, and state buildings.

State office races got more attention than federal ones at the turn of the century. Of equal importance were judgeships, especially the state Supreme Court. During this business reform period, voters followed closely the rulings of state judges as well as the battles between capital and labor. The Western Federation of Miners, one of the first successful labor organizations, was especially involved in judicial races. Candidates were recruited, groomed and promoted by political parties. Every voter knew judges' personalities, partisanship and judicial preferences. Democrats' only statewide victories in 1906 were Supreme Court seats.


Nevertheless, Democrats swept local offices. The only Republican to win in Aspen was Henry Beck, who joined the 75 percent Republican majority in the state Legislature in electing Simon Guggenheim to be senator. Henry Beck immigrated to America from Sweden, worked in the Lake Superior iron mines and moved to Aspen from Leadville in 1892. He owned and operated a wholesale liquor business and invested in mining. Henry was the patriarch of generations of Aspen Becks. Guggenheim served one term and then moved to New York, where he assumed the presidency of the American Smelting and Refining Company and became a noted philanthropist.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Yore Aspen - Aspen’s not-so picturesque head-frames

Yore Aspen

Aspen’s not-so picturesque head-frames



Tim Willoughby
November 10, 2007



Head-frames are the iconic symbol of Western mining towns. Photogenic and predominant, they mark the entrances to the mother lode. You know you are nearing a mining town when you spot a head-frame, especially in Nevada ghost towns where the landscape is devoid of trees. They, however, did not denote Aspen’s mining industry.

Head-frames, also called gallows frames, are the vertical structures with a wheel on the top above a mine shaft. They provide the means for hoisting material up and down. Pragmatic engineering does not call for much more than a well-anchored tripod, but pride and a little one-upmanship often led to elaborate structures that could tower a hundred feet with complex and esthetically placed cross-bracing. Mine owners and mining towns built these elaborate structures to lure Eastern stock investors who gauged the potential size of an ore vein by the size and permanence of a town or mine’s infrastructure.

Most Aspen head-frames were for shallow shafts 200 feet deep or less. Three tall trees forming a pyramid with a pulley wheel attached to the top sufficed. Hemp rope, not metal cable, connected a bucket on one end to a spool cylinder called a windlass at the other end. Harnessed horses and mules powered the windlasses by walking in circles around the rope spool. Miners called these contraptions “horse whims.” Shallow mines quickly ran out of ore, if they uncovered any at all, and disappeared as fast as they were built.

Most Aspen ore veins were accessed through horizontal tunnels driven in from the valley walls. As one entered Aspen from the west, mining announced itself with long piles of waste material dumped at the mouths of the tunnels. Well into the 1950s, buildings perched atop the mine dumps. The telltale large-scale mining feature, tram cables, ascended Aspen Mountain just like the gondola and ski lifts proclaim a different kind of wealth today.

Few large head-frames appeared in Aspen’s skyline. They were, by Western mining standards, very modern and did not fit the stereotype because some were unadorned steel structures. The Silver Queen and Free Silver head-frames on the Smuggler Mountain side of town were tall, simple, straight, four-posted steel towers sitting above Aspen’s deepest shafts. The Free Silver three-compartment shaft at 1,200 feet deep comprised a more impressive structure than its head-frame.

The Aspen Deep Shaft for the Aspen Mine was constructed using thick 14-by-14-inch timbers. Had it stood alone at its low Aspen Mountain location, just above the end of Galena Street, it would have been Aspen’s iconic mining structure. As such it might even have been saved for its historic value. But it was part of a large building, not a stand-alone structure.

The head-frames higher up on the mountainsides were inside of buildings built over the shaft. Mines operated year-round, and snow and ice on the hoisting cable, water draining down a shaft, and the general complications of operating outdoors had to be addressed. Most of these buildings were no more than two stories, requiring a relatively small indoor head-frame. As a general rule the higher the head-frame the deeper the shaft.

Steel framework was salvaged for scrap metal for the war effort in the early 1940s. Most of Aspen’s larger head-frames were gone by 1956.

Paintings and photographs of head-frames like those of the Matchless Mine in Leadville or those along the Denver-to-Glenwood interstate corridor are a Colorado tourist staple. But none of Aspen’s head-frames remain because, let’s be honest, they were not at all picturesque.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net

A microbrewery in the middle of Aspen

A microbrewery in the middle of Aspen

Yore Aspen



Turn-of-the-century Aspenites put zing in their lives with Zang’s Beer. Fred Willoughby is shown circa 1925 in front of Sanders Warehouse and Brewery. (Willoughby Collection)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
November 17, 2007



Microbreweries have made a comeback at the same time the big brand names are buying each other out. Breweries and beer distributors proliferated in Western mining towns until prohibition forced breweries like Stroh Brewery Company to use their refrigeration to make ice cream instead of beer, and women in the temperance movement curtailed alcoholic consumption. Aspen had its own brewery across Mill Street from the Hotel Jerome.

One of the few joys a miner had to look forward to after arduous hours in the depths of the earth was a mug of beer or a shot of whiskey. It was often the reward of brew that made him forget the dirt in his lungs and the aches in his muscles. Like the sailors on whaling and Navy ships in the last century who were paid with daily doses of alcohol, miners had a symbiotic relationship with alcohol. Men dominated mining camps, and saloons outnumbered churches.

Mr. C. Sanders satisfied Aspen miners’ inclination to imbibe. Sanders, a native of Indiana, came to Colorado in 1864 and moved to Aspen in 1885. His first name was Christ, but for obvious reasons, he referred to himself as “C.” He built a warehouse and brewery on Mill Street above where the Pitkin County Library is now located.

Mr. Sanders’ plant cost $23,000 — a sum equivalent to the cost of building many of Aspen’s surviving Victorian business buildings. The brewery had the capacity to make 20 barrels of beer a day. Sanders supplemented his own product by becoming the middleman for other more famous brands. He was the local agent for Schlitz beer and was also the distributor for Zang’s beer, a popular brew at the time in Aspen.

It is not known whether Sanders advertised his beer as being brewed from “pure Rocky Mountain spring water,” or even if it was any good. His closest source of water was the Roaring Fork River. If he did tap into the Roaring Fork for water to make his beer, he most likely connected near where Aspen’s main sewer line dumped untreated sewage into the river. It is more likely that he simply used city tap water.

Sanders was not the only distributor of spirits in Aspen. Henry Beck had a wholesale liquor business. He imported wines and was the local distributor for Manitou mineral water that you could use to cure your kidneys after alcohol destroyed them. Beck also operated the Aspen Bottling Works. Smaller local operations came and went over the years, and many local saloons were supplied by out-of-town distributors. Most liquor distributors also sold cigars.

Reputable liquor retailers often made mention that the whiskey they sold came from “government bonded” distributors. This implied “safe to drink.” Beck and Saunders had to compete with moonshine manufacturers. Leadville was notorious for its illegal production of alcohol.

Aspen’s brewing tradition ended years ago but members of the Coors, Pabst and Stroh brewing families have maintained residences in Aspen. Is it time for the next generation of brewers to open a microbrewery in Aspen? Ajax Ale? Basalt Beer? Downhill Draft? Cold Conundrum Classic?

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

1907 Panic mirrors 2007 — sort of

1907 Panic mirrors 2007 — sort of

Yore Aspen



No customers are waiting in line for account withdrawals at The State Bank of Aspen, at the corner of Hyman and Galena, before the Panic of 1907. (Willoughby Collection)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
November 24, 2007


Comment


Bank shares fall from faulty loans. Countrywide’s sub-prime loans fail. Brokerage firms use off-the-books accounting in an attempt to cover it up. The national economy is in jeopardy. Federal government covers cash crunch. Just change the names in today’s news and you hearken back to the Panic of 1907.

Aspen was never immune to national economic trends. In fact they were magnified for miners. Recessions meant low silver prices. Panics destroyed outside investment in mineral exploration. The economic downturns of 1893, 1907 and 1929 were the bleakest.

“We the undersigned banks have concluded it wise to protect our customers by adopting the same rule which is in use by the Denver Clearing House association, and will hereafter pay only one hundred dollars in currency to any one account, either certificates of or check accounts, in any one week, until further notice,” Aspen’s banks, The State Bank of Aspen and People’s National Bank, announced in November 1907.

That announcement occurred just one week after The State Bank had pledged that it would pay the $40,000 payroll of the Smuggler and Durant mines in cash. Miners in Nevada had gone on strike because they were being paid in script.

The Panic of 1907, also known as the Banker’s Panic, had its roots in the recession of 1906. The stock market lost half its value. J.P. Morgan, in an effort to take control of all electric power, started a rumor that Westinghouse Electric, the competition to his General Electric, was insolvent. Westinghouse stock tumbled.

Over speculation by banks and trusts, and exuberant attempts to buy out corporations, drained banks of their cash reserves. A loan from the Knickerbocker Trust Company to buy United Copper led to a failure of that trust and a precipitous drop in metal prices. The National Bank of North America failed and started runs on other New York banks. Across the nation, depositors rushed to their banks to retrieve what little they could.

David Hyman (the eponym of Hyman Avenue in Aspen), major owner and developer of the Smuggler and Durant mines, did much at this time to support the survival of Aspen. He recalls in his autobiography, “suddenly values of all kinds on the N.Y. Stock Exchange began to decline; a great money panic took place. The prices of the metals declined just as much as securities with the result that ore and concentrates that we had shipped to the smelters and upon which we had received an advance measured by the value that existed at the time of the shipment, dropped so low that it brought me into a considerable indebtedness to the smelting company.”

In late December Hyman ceased production at the Smuggler. He kept the water pumps running to protect the lower levels of the mine from flooding, even though the electricity was a major expense. He also kept mine engineers on the payroll to maintain the mine in a condition to reopen, but miners were put out of work. Aspen’s newspaper, always the champion of optimism, pleaded, ”And last, but not least, Mr. Miner, don’t leave Aspen. It is still the best camp in the West and what money you will spend in search of a new location, and in the end be worse off than ever, will keep you all winter here at home.”

Hyman was no stranger to recessions. He had already weathered the Panic of 1893, sustaining great debt to keep Aspen’s mines operating. The drop in the price of silver in 1893 took place at the same time the Smuggler tapped into the richest deposit of silver ore ever discovered in the world.

The Panic of 1907 for Hyman was a serious cash flow crisis. As he describes in his autobiography, “anyone who is familiar with the conditions that prevailed in the financial section of the U.S. during the summer and fall of 1907 will remember that it was impossible to obtain money at any rate of interest.” Fortunately, Hyman had a close relationship with the Lehman brothers, who loaned him enough money to send Aspen’s miners back to work.

Hyman’s mine in Idaho did not fare as well. He shut off the water pumps and the mine flooded, resulting in great losses that were balanced only by Aspen’s survival.

After the Panic of 1893, many Aspen mines had switched from a wage system to employing miners to do all work on a contract or lease system. Rather than drawing a daily wage, miners contracted to drive a certain distance of tunnel, or they would lease a section of a mine. Under a lease, miners paid royalties to the owners on the ore they removed. At mines such as the Argentum-Juniata, owners and miners weathered the Panic of 1907 by lowering the royalty percentage until metal prices improved.

Every Aspen cloud has a silver lining. In 1907 America was still on the gold standard, which was one cause of the shortage of currency. The federal government, in a move to avert further bank cash shortages, began minting $80,000 in silver coins daily at the Denver mint.

The federal government pumped money into the system to save the biggest banks. In addition, J.P. Morgan put together a coalition of investors who pooled their money along with foreign country investments to buy sinking stocks and shore up bank runs. They succeeded in stopping the downward cycle, but many investors and depositors lost money and faith.

The Panic of 1907 was the impetus for creating the Federal Reserve System. Although the economic excesses and foibles of 2007 mirror those of 1907, a century later the Federal Reserve System provides some shelter for banks and our savings. That’s something to think about this Thanksgiving.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Baggy boarders need a Maria Bogner

Baggy boarders need a Maria Bogner

Yore Aspen



Debonaire ski duds for 1940s men. (Willoughby Collection)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
December 1, 2007



Why is snowboard fashion so boring? Unisex clothing is not sexy. Drab, colorless and shapeless oversized gear resembles military fatigues more than the colorful couture that ski fashion splashes across the slopes.

What’s with the grays and tans? My guess is that all snowboard clothing-designers reside in L.A. and think what’s good for skateboarders is great for boarders, just warmer. I am sure these designers have never seen snow. Anyone who studied color theory would know how great primary colors look against a white background. One would have to conclude that, unlike the ski fashion tradition of extroverts’ colorful clothing, boarders must prefer blending in a bland world.

A few daring dudes try to board in pants with a knee-high crotch. If you can’t walk in them, how can you board in them? Perhaps you get more exercise standing at the bottom of the lift, yanking your waistline so your pants don’t fall off altogether.

Maybe this is all a retro-fashion trend, a back-to-baggy basics movement. Male ski fashion in the 1930s and ’40s was not fashionable, just functional. Being athletic in winter called for warm and roomy duds. Oversized wool garments worked well. Today’s Gore-Tex and similar fabrics emulate wicking wool.

Ski boots of the 1940s rose barely above the ankle. Pants did not have to flare out at the bottom to stretch over those small boots. Instead pants tapered from baggy at the top to narrow at the bottom. Skiers could improvise a suitable ski outfit from clothing hanging in the closet. Pants were not “ski pants,” they were warm pants used for skiing. The first innovation to “ski” pants was the addition of a stirrup at the bottom to keep the pants from riding up when you bent your knees.

If you had money and wanted to make a splash on the slopes, you could buy clothing made for skiing, but choices in the 1930s and ’40s were few. Slalom Ski Wear from Newport, Vt., was a popular choice. The company advertised “trail-tested designs and fabrics,” meaning they were water-repellent. The dominant brand was White Stag’s “ski togs,” featuring water-repellent poplin pants. “White Stags are designed by skier-stylists for complete ski-worthiness,” the Oregon manufacturer claimed.

Every skier had at least one aunt or grandmother who knitted. Thick wool socks, sweaters and mittens multiplied in skier’s dressers. Owning more than one pair of mittens meant you could trade them when one got wet. Canvas and leather mitten covers kept hands from getting wet, but most important they provided more friction for the rope-tow grip. Wool for skiers seemed to come in only a few colors: primary, black or white. The snowflake and reindeer pattern, white on red, was the most popular sweater style.

Maria Bogner rescued men from decades of drabness. In 1950 she and her husband, Willy, opened a plant in an old sauerkraut factory in Munich to make gabardine ski pants. Maria introduced red, beige, royal blue and brown colors to spice up the traditional black, navy and gray. In 1952 the Bogners revolutionized ski fashion by introducing stretch pants, an innovation first used by racers to avoid the aerodynamic drag of flapping, baggy clothing.

Imagine colorful, sexy snowboarder clothing. That could boost the sport in the same way stretch pants, quilted parkas and Moriarty hats of all possible colors catapulted skiing in the 1960s.

Where are the Willy and Maria Bogners of the snowboard universe?

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

When telephones were a luxury

When telephones were a luxury

Yore Aspen



Thin and small, the 1904 phone directory covered the entire Western Slope of Colorado. (Willoughby collection)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
December 8, 2007



Fewer than a hundred pages were needed for a phone book for all of western Colorado and part of northern New Mexico. Aspen’s listings filled five pages.

I don’t know why a member of my family saved a 1904 phone book. No family member is in it. Even so, I am grateful for the book because its contents are convenient. It is a who’s who list of individuals and businesses near the turn of the century.

Although Pitkin County had a population of around 5,000 in 1904, only about 50 individuals had telephones and most of them were business owners who also had business phones. Home phones enabled them to manage their stores from home. Otherwise, a telephone was a luxury few could afford. Telephone pioneers endured faulty service and enjoyed profits and prestige.

The Colorado Telephone Company directory includes a map of connecting cities. Before microwaves and satellites, every town had to be connected by wire. Aspen was situated in a loop that extended from Leadville to Twin Lakes over the divide to Aspen, and then down the valley to Glenwood Springs. From Glenwood, the line looped back to Leadville, through Glenwood Canyon, then to Minturn over Tennessee Pass and finally back to Leadville. Leadville connected to Denver through Alma, Fairplay and on down the old railroad line.

The Western Slope line stretched from Glenwood to Grand Junction, then on to Delta, Montrose and the mining towns of Ouray, Silverton and Durango. The line ended in New Mexico, where it served Aztec and Farmington.

Grand Junction topped out with the most listings at 504. Aspen quartered that at 125, 17 of which were ranches. Carbondale’s 49 listings split with 13 in town and 22 ranches. Basalt, Emma and Peach Blow, up the Fryingpan, were listed in the Carbondale pages.

At least 20 percent of all the directory listings were ranches along the phone line route. During this rural period ranchers clearly saw the value in connecting via phone. A call to do business in Aspen was much more convenient than hitching up the buggy for a 10-mile trip to town from Watson. Rancher listings included Gerbaz, Jacobson, Fred Light and the Chisholms.

As one might expect, Aspen’s mining industry dominated the phone lines with leading mines like the Durant, Percy-Lasalle and Smuggler listing multiple phones. Twenty-one listings were mines. Related businesses such as assayers added to the mining total.

The second largest listing category was food distributors. Fourteen groceries and meat markets were listed in Aspen. There were also 11 liquor-related businesses and three drugstores.

Compared to present-day Aspen, there were few attorneys — three. The four real estate offices that had phones doubled as stock sellers and insurance businesses.

Horse travel prevailed alongside the telephone technology breakthrough. Aspen boasted five listings for livery stables, blacksmiths and horse-feed stores. Telephones at Wells Fargo Express, the Railroad and Globe Express Co. allowed people to check if their packages had arrived.

Restaurants are so packed with cell phones today that proprietors consider banning them. In contrast, at the turn of the century Veza’s was the only restaurant with a ringing phone.

Government was barely represented. The city of Aspen had only one telephone for all services including the police and the fire departments. Pitkin County had two: one for the clerk and recorder’s office and one for everything else.

Phones did not seem to be popular with retail businesses. Kobey’s on Hyman Avenue, the major general dry goods store, held a listing, as did the undertaker who, as was the custom in those days, also served as a furniture seller.

Doctors made themselves available for house calls in those days so Doc Twining, who also served as mayor, was listed in the book. He could call Citizen’s Hospital to check on patients.

The phone company awarded priority to calls for the four doctors by instructing, “When using the telephone and a call is given for a doctor, subscribers are requested to give up the line and resume the conversation after the doctor’s call is put through.”

Remembering your phone number required that you memorize only two or three digits, unless you were in Grand Junction where you might have to commit four digits to memory.

The introduction to telephone technology was simpler than the multi-page instruction books required for today’s television remote controls. Here is nearly the entire set of directions: First ascertain the complete designation of the telephone wanted. To call Central, give the bell crank one sharp turn. The operator will ask ”number please?” and when she [note it says “she”] has received from you the number of the subscriber desired, will repeat it back to you, this checking of the number should be carefully observed, as mistakes are thus avoided. The hand telephone should be kept to the ear until connection with the subscriber wanted is obtained; this avoids delays and promotes quick service for all subscribers. In talking speak directly into the transmitter with the lips as close as possible to the mouthpiece. Speaking clearly and distinctly gives better transmission than shouting. When the conversation is finished, subscribers should give the bell crank one sharp turn. This notifies the Central Office to disconnect.

The 1904 directory reveals that much has changed except the advice printed at the bottom of every page, “Whenever you call persons who are out and you wish them to call you when they return, leave your name as well as your telephone number.”

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

A proud place

A proud place

High Points


Paul E. Anna
Aspen, CO Colorado

December 14, 2007


Due to the prodigious amount of snow and the equally prodigious amount of holi­day hassles that have piled up around my casa, I did not get to this past week’s Aspen Times Weekly until yesterday.

You may find it unseemly for a writer whose column appears each week in The Aspen Times to publicly rave about The Aspen Times, but, unseemly or not, I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.

The current edition of the Aspen Times Weekly featured a number of stories that I would recommend to anyone who cares about this town and its history. They were not political or preachy, they were simply informative and evocative of times past when this town was arguably, no, inarguably, a better place.

The first thing I read was a letter to the editor from one Morgan Smith of Santa Fe, N. M. Morgan reminisced about his father­in- law, Robert O. Anderson, who passed recently. Anderson was a big figure in Amer­ican business, the oil business in particular, and a huge figure in the development of the Aspen Institute. Morgan remembered meet­ing Anderson at the “ Red House at Second and Francis” that the Andersons had pur­chased for $ 13,000 in 1955. This reference and his subsequent letter brought me back to a simpler time when Aspen was a simpler place.

Next was a piece by Tim Willoughby, who grew up in Aspen, and recently found a tele­phone book for the Western Slope circa 1904. His story about the land lines and the mines was fascinating and again made me long for a simpler time in these parts.

A little further along was John Colson’s excellent cover story on the winter of 1976. It was a winter with little if any snow and the memories of those who were here reflect how different the town was then from now. Of course there were economic repercus­sions from the drought, but Tim Cooney’s line about everyone “ just going to The Pub for a drink” seemed appropriate to ’ 70s lifestyle that was in full force.

Christin Cooper, yes, she was referenced in this column just a week ago (full disclo­sure: I don’t know the woman), ran the sec­ond part of her excellent look back at the Roch Cup races. The way she described Aspen as a ski town made me want to live here then, in the 1960s, before commercial­ism changed the sport and this town forev­er.

Not that the past was the focal point of the entire issue. Stewart Oksenhorn, the man of the many words, asked some folks who would know, what they are looking for­ward to in the near future. Jim Horowitz, John Busch, Lewis Teague and others expounded upon the great art, movies and music that are coming our way this winter. It made town sound like a cultural mecca.

And then there was a closing column by John Colson called “ Hit and Run.” Credit where credit is due. John expressed his neg­ative take on the recent redesign of the dai­ly edition of The Aspen Times. I tend to agree with the curmudgeonly Colson that there is enough change in this town, and the homogenization of the daily rag is antithet­ical to all of the good feelings that I had as I went through this issue. But most impor­tant, the paper had the good sense not to censor one of their own. They took a “ hit” and let it “ run.”

The Aspen Times is an institution. For more than a century they have published good work and chronicled the comings and goings of one the most unique communities in America. It may be unseemly to pat them on the back in these very pages, but so be it. I’m proud to put print in this paper.

The challenge of mining at Montezuma

The challenge of mining at Montezuma

Yore Aspen



Well above timberline, the remnants of the upper Montezuma tram terminal survived into the late 1950s. (Frank Willoughby/ Willoughby collection)
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Tim Willoughby
December 15, 2007



Aspen was not praying for snow in December 1907. In fact miners were praying it wouldn’t snow. Construction of a tram for the Tam O’Shanter Montezuma Mining and Development Co. got a late start in the summer and was pushing for completion. Crews were building the top terminal at 12,700 feet in the cirque below Castle Peak, and construction would become nearly impossible if it snowed.

The Aspen Democrat reported Dec. 13 that, because inclement weather would triple construction expenses, final completion of the tram would be postponed until spring. Spring in Montezuma basin does not come early. There is a permanent snowfield just above the top tram terminal, known as Max’s (Marolt) Glacier. Ski racers trained there in the 1960s.

The Montezuma mine is one of Aspen’s most interesting mines. Its collection of claims is highest, with most tunnel entrances above 13,000 feet. Just getting to the mine is a challenge. The road to the mine now is the same as it was then. Starting with a gentle grade at the end of the Castle Creek valley, the road grows steeper with each mile closer to Castle Peak, Colorado’s 12th-highest mountain.

The claims date back to 1879, when prospectors found a long mineral outcropping near the top of the ridge between Castle and Cathedral peaks. The combination of high elevation and low silver content made mining less favorable, so it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that enough capital was raised to extract significant ore. Montezuma’s minerals shone within beautiful galena with very high lead content. Lead was valued during the world wars, but at other times it was simply a byproduct of silver mining.

Although the Montezuma’s construction crews were sent home in December 1907, miners continued to work the vein and to stockpile ore that would be shipped out the following summer on the new tram. The main tunnel entrance and the boarding house were close to the end of the tram. Miners lived and worked year-round at 13,000 feet. Physical labor at that elevation is more than arduous, and the small boarding house must have aggravated the inevitable cabin fever.

The Montezuma Company was concurrently building a very modern mill at the bottom of the tram at about 10,000 feet. Like most mill designs, this one took advantage of the slope it was built on, with ore feeding into the top and gravity then moving the ore through the milling processes to the bottom. An on-site hydroelectric plant powered the machinery and lighting.

Snow interfered with progress in winter 1907, and it later ended Montezuma’s reign before it ran out of ore. A snowslide took out most of the completed tram at a time when mineral prices were low and the company did not have enough capital to rebuild. In hope that mineral prices would improve, all of the equipment was left behind. In the mid-1920s, even work clothes could be found there, still hanging on the walls.

The workings of the Montezuma were in solid rock that required minimal timbering. Reopening the Montezuma did not require re-digging caved-in tunnel remnants. However, ice blocked the entrance. Once air circulation was restored and the ice melted, the tunnel was workable. Rebuilding the tram was all that was needed to resume operation.

Unfortunately, mineral prices never again rose to a level that would return the Montezuma to its “lofty” dominance.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Louie’s Spirit House — 1950s Christmas Spirit

Louie’s Spirit House — 1950s Christmas Spirit

Yore Aspen



The display windows of Louie’s Spirit House were the harbinger of Christmas in the 1950s. (Bob Meservey/Willoughby Collection)
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Tim Willoughby
December 22, 2007



Christmas window displays do more than move mountains of merchandise. Children find them as magical as movies. New York City has its Macy’s and San Francisco, its Gumps. In the 1950s Aspen had Louie’s Spirit House.

Louie’s, named after its proprietors, Louie and Irene Pastore, opened in 1946 as Aspen’s only package liquor store. Louie’s was always cool to cold inside. It was the cleanest establishment in town, perhaps more antiseptic than the doctor’s office, and it offered a unique fragrance comprised of cold glass, wood and cardboard boxes, and aged wine escaping through cork.

Adults raised in big cities remember family outings to downtown department stores to view decorated windows. Louie’s was in “downtown,” if you can so describe a half-dozen city blocks. I lived only a half-block away and could go there at will, and did, often several times a day.

The Spirit House featured two large plate-glass windows, the bottoms of which extended just below the eye level of a small child. My eyes beheld a winter village in each window complete with miniature houses, trees, cars and people. The winter sun dipped below Aspen Mountain around 3 p.m., then as now, so it would be a night display by the time I walked home from school. Tiny light bulbs inside the houses suggested evening family habitation. The carpet of cotton snow looked so real I wanted to ski on it. The most exciting item each year was a frozen lake complete with skaters. The magic was a mirror, but it wasn’t until I was older that I figured out just how that illusion of ice was made.

There is a thin line between reality and imagination when you are a child. It only takes wanting to believe for a second to have a miniature village come to life, and Irene Pastore’s gift to the community each year did that for me. Hours at home paging through the Montgomery Ward Christmas mail-order catalog prepared me for the display’s catalyst for imagination. Pages of miniature farms, garages, firehouses and military machinery fashioned from plastic served as toys for tots. The catalog was filled with photos that made the models even more real than the toys themselves. I wished for them all and had more fun using the pages to initiate dreaming than I ever would have if they had found their way to a spot under my Christmas tree.

When I was older I played with and constructed model train scenes. I was in a transition phase where I still used my imagination to enter a different reality, but since I was setting up the train and trying to create my own scenes, I was more often confronted with the reality of the model. During my train phase I enjoyed Louie’s windows even more because the village, crafted with care and creativity, became a treasure of ideas that I could construct on my own. Cotton balls made good enough snow, as did rolled medical cotton. Soap flakes sprinkled on trees loaded them with the appearance of a good dump, as long as water didn’t turn my effort into a bubbly wonderland.

These days it seems that merchants, if they have walk-by windows, devote all of that space to pushing their goods. They rely on merchant associations or city governments to decorate. This situation makes me want to start a store on a main street to pass the magic to another generation. It may be that television and computer screens have hard-wired children’s brains in a way that warps window imagination, but, “If you believe” ...

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

I’ll be home for Christmas — maybe

I’ll be home for Christmas — maybe

Yore Aspen



Pre-penicillin, Aspen copes with scarlet fever, as evidenced by an ad in the 1907Aspen Democrat.
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Tim Willoughby
December 29, 2007



“Students may not be allowed to come home for Christmas,” proclaimed the Aspen Democrat a century ago. The paper was reporting rumors, but they were grounded in Colorado’s fears of scarlet fever. The spreading contagion plagued the state throughout 1907. Aspen had two major outbreaks, one at the end of summer and the other at the close of the year. Aspen’s paper guessed that, unlike other communities, its reporting of all known cases would result in the misconception that the whole city of Aspen was under quarantine. Colleges would forbid students to come home to such a threat.

Scarlet fever’s symptoms include sore throat, high fevers, scaling rashes and the telltale sign: a strawberry-colored tongue. Children are its primary victims. The streptococcus germs wreaked havoc on Aspen’s population in the days before modern antibiotics. Many 2- to 10-year-old children died.

In late summer, 10 to 12 households had been infected. As scarlet fever spread throughout the state, the Legislature passed laws to control the contagion. No one was allowed to enter or exit quarantined houses. Cats and dogs, banned from their owner’s houses, were tied up so they would not spread disease through the neighborhood. Even nurses who had seen patients were not allowed to leave until a doctor certified that they had been fumigated and were not infected. Before any clothing could be hung on the line to dry it had to be washed in an antiseptic solution.

Aspen took the crisis seriously and appointed medical and police officers to enforce the laws. Dr. Twining was appointed health officer. He later served as mayor of Aspen. Eventually, as a state legislator, he was responsible for acquiring the funding that converted Independence Pass from a wagon road to a highway suitable for automobiles.

There was much discussion about the opening of the school at the end of summer. Children had been kept at home and prevented from gathering in groups. A favorite activity, an annual Sunday school train trip to Redstone, was canceled, in part, because the train would have come from Leadville where even more scarlet fever had been reported. School did open under frequent fumigation and many restrictions. These conditions were accompanied by a milk scare. Chicago’s doctors suspected that scarlet fever had been spread by bad milk there.

The disease challenged personal relationships. In late July a delivery boy spotted scales on a child from the Vetic family. When Dr. Twining paid the family a visit, Mrs. Vetic told him none of her children were sick. He had a feeling that some of the children were hiding so he told her he would be back the next day and she had to have all of her children present. When he returned he discovered that three boys had scarlet fever.

A neighbor reported open doors on two quarantined houses on Main Street, and family members sitting on the porch. Dogs from those houses had been spotted running through the neighborhood. Aspen’s newspaper editor fumed, “this indifference, it may be said, criminal carelessness, must be stopped.”

The state of medicine was quite primitive then and little was known about the causes and spread of disease. Old taboos and family recipes held sway. One Aspen mother, Mrs. Cooper, passed on a remedy her doctor had prescribed. “Take one teaspoon of water, add two drops of carbolic acid, mix thoroughly and give to child.” An alternative was, “burn a little sulfur on the kitchen stove after shutting the windows and doors. Children should inhale until it makes them cough.”

It was recognized that disease spread from person to person, so quarantine was the most common response to contagion. Funerals for young children had to be held outdoors. A French doctor suggested that physicians were to blame for the spread of disease and recommended that doctors change clothing between house calls. There was a big scare when a man on a ranch near Basalt came down with smallpox. He was taken to the “Pest House,” a special quarantine house that the city maintained near Red Butte.

Twining was kept busy as the fever revived in November and December. He traveled to Lenado because school students there complained of sore throats. He discovered one scarlet fever case.

Most Aspen children survived to face the influenza epidemic a decade later that attacked young men and killed nearly 30 percent of Aspen’s population.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

The irresistible urge of the burger

The irresistible urge of the burger

Yore Aspen



Lift One was so close to Skiers Chalet that you could almost pick up your order from the chair. (Willoughby Collection)
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Tim Willoughby
January 5, 2008



Do ski areas place stove vents near chairlifts to increase hamburger sales? Is this a pernicious plot to promote beef consumption?

In the days when Lift One cruised by the Skiers Chalet at arm’s length, the vents spewed fat pheromones at every skier heading up Aspen Mountain. Lift One was a single-chair lift with the chairs spaced far apart so it could run faster. Getting on was quite an experience, with no detached chair slowly approaching. By the time you gained confidence that maybe you would not fall out of the chair, you were in front of the Skiers Chalet. Even if you mentally tried not to notice, your nose would recognize America’s lunchtime staple. Even vegetarians were tempted to visit the lunch line.

In skiers’ memory, the scintillating invitation of grilled hamburgers in winter cold ranks alongside views of snow-capped peaks and the feel of fluffy powder. That fragrance is an integral part of the mountain experience. Fresh air, sunshine and exhilarating exercise build appetite. By 11 a.m., stomach pangs begin just as the patties hit the grill. Riding a lift or skiing by the grill is distracting at best and can become downright risky.

Who can resist this olfactory obsession? It is stronger than the lure of garlic that wafts down city streets dominated by restaurants. Stronger than the urge to eat when you’re hungry at the grocery store. Animal fat, frying slope-side, is less resistible for a skier than a newly opened can of tuna to a cat.

You could not be disappointed if you gave in to the temptation of an enticing Skiers Chalet burger. The beef, Colorado range-fed, offered a hint of sage. It was ground fresh daily at Beck and Bishop grocery by either Albert or Barney Bishop. Just the right amount of fat was mixed in to ensure barbecue “broadcasting,” and in those days restaurants did not have sophisticated fat traps in their stove vents. Condiment choices were few and cheese choice was limited to American. Why alter the pure taste of barbecued beef?

You could have the same Beck and Bishop beef at the Sundeck, but it didn’t taste the same. The Sundeck’s location allowed the wind to disperse fragrance over a much larger area, diminishing its effect. The skier became more acutely aware of the close relationship of nose to taste buds at the Skiers Chalet.

Today’s stove vents are not as close to the lifts as those of the Skiers Chalet, and the beef is not as fresh, but the burger trap is still in operation. The olfactory obsession should not be resisted. Is there a better culinary treat than a burger hot from the grill consumed in the clear, high-altitude air on a deck in the winter sunshine? Ah, as Jimmy Buffet sings, “cheeseburgers in paradise.”

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

‘Lady Day’ at the Onion — Wintersköl 1952

‘Lady Day’ at the Onion — Wintersköl 1952

Yore Aspen



There were more people in the 1952 Wintersköl parade than there were spectators, as shown by Fritz Benedict and the local contractors’ float passing by the Cooper Street building. (Willoughby collection)
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Tim Willoughby
January 12, 2008


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Billie Holiday’s two nights at the Red Onion made the 1952 Wintersköl one of the most memorable. Holiday, known as Lady Day, was still popular in 1952 even though her deteriorating health affected her performances. She had a big hit that year called “Love For Sale” and a new marriage to Louis McKay, who was trying to stem her alcohol and drug abuse.

Aspen in the ’50s was not on the booking list for major entertainers. But arrests for drug possession resulted in Holiday losing her permit to perform in New York City. Her studio-recording voice was still unmatched, but her singing grew ever more faint during tours.

The 1952 Wintersköl was the second such celebration and the first to use that name. The first year it was called Aspen Winter Carnival. Jack dePagter and Myrna Armstrong hatched the idea one day when the Jerome Bar was empty. After December’s crowds left there was a lull in tourism for most of January. In order to fill empty beds and bars they launched a scheme that emulated European winter celebrations and the turn-of-the-century Leadville Ice Palace.

All of Aspen worked to make the second year a success. Nearly every business donated materials, money or muscle. Ten committees of volunteers divided up the week’s tasks: decorate the town and event locations, organize races, populate a parade, create nighttime events, and publicize the whole production. Merchants and volunteers from as far away as Basalt, Glenwood and Grand Junction contributed.

Delphine Carpenter, the owner of The Bookstore, co-chaired the celebration with dePagter. Carpenter’s creative touches were as diverse as the offerings of her store that sold books, artwork, stationery, candy, cards and even coffee makers. She sponsored a logo design contest that limited the colors to white and red. Otto Haerdle’s design won.

The 1952 Winter Olympics rekindled interest in skiing and ski racing. Future Aspen residents Andrea Mead (Lawrence) won two gold medals, and Stein Eriksen won both gold and silver. Wintersköl featured only fun competitions, including children’s races, a ski school costume slalom and obstacle race, ski-joring and a couples relay. Aspen’s ski patrol and ski school instructors initiated a torchlight descent.

There were skating events at the city rink, then located a block north of Little Nell. Nighttime entertainment included dancing, singalongs, a costume ball and nightclub entertainment.

Ski clubs were Aspen’s primary source of tourists well into the 1950s. The clubs sponsored Wintersköl queens. The five candidates represented Michigan State College Ski Club; Caberfae Winter Sports Club of Lansing, Mich.; Cascade Ski Club of Portland, Ore.; Michigan State College Ski Club; and the University of Colorado. To qualify you had to be single, between 18 and 30 years old, and able to ski. There was no swimsuit contest. Candidates were judged in ski clothes. The coronation was in Armory Hall, the building that is now Aspen’s City Hall.

Songwriter Joe Marsala moved to Aspen because entertaining in smoky nightclubs was hurting his health, and he composed the first Wintersköl song. It didn’t match the lyrics of his hit song, “Don’t Cry, Joe,” but qualified as a subliminal drinking song. “Let’s all drink, drink, drink to the Wintersköl. Let’s all sing, sing, sing to the winter’s charm. Skol to the snow and the mountainside. Drink to the glow of the fireside. Sing to the happy trails and skol to the Wintersköl.”

News of 1952 included the end of large-scale mining, the advent of the hydrogen bomb, Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, and Eisenhower’s victory over Stevenson. Aspen locals remember that year for the success of Wintersköl and a riveting night in the audience of Lady Day.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Aspen’s first ski slope, the unofficial one

Aspen’s first ski slope, the unofficial one

Yore Aspen



Glen Beck learns to ski on homemade skis with the Aspen Ski Club near Aspen Highlands in 1937. (Willoughby Collection)
Click to Enlarge



Tim Willoughby
January 19, 2008



Adults take credit for everything, but kids know the real story. Historical accounts place Aspen’s first ski slope near the base of Aspen Highlands where Andre Roch taught Aspen Ski Club members the finer points of Arlberg turns, but generations of kids know the first slope was closer to the center of Aspen.

Before the Clark’s Market building was constructed, there was a short, steep slope behind the Hotel Jerome that ended in an empty lot. The area on the north side of the Jerome included the kitchen entrance, a loading dock, garbage cans and an employee parking lot. The smell of garbage did not discourage Aspen kids from snow sports.

Children in the early 1920s favored this slope because their homemade skis used leather straps for bindings that made turning difficult to impossible. The pitch was perfect for getting up to speed, and it was short enough that most skiers could make it to the bottom without falling. If you made it to the flat lot below, you could ride it out until you stopped or just sat down. The trip down was short, which meant the hike back up was also short. You could make many runs in an hour if you didn’t allow cold hands and wet clothes to dampen your snow spirit.

All of the children in my father’s family learned to ski on that slope. They used barrel staves for skis. My father fashioned his own skis by planing boards and steaming the ends to bend them into curved tips. His younger sister, Frances Herron, and her twin brother, Frank, got the hand-me-downs as my father continued making improvements.

Frances fell in love with skiing on that unofficial slope. It was also the location of her only skiing accident, which caused a broken arm. There was no ski patrol, just two brothers to haul her home and offer explanations. This was always an unsupervised playground, a delight to children and a worry for parents.

Perhaps for that reason, my generation was left to discover the slope without our parents telling us about it.

The backside of the Jerome was a shortcut to school for the children coming from the east end of town. It became an after-school routine to take a few runs down the slope, a boot trip. We all had the same green, five-buckle rubber galoshes, often hand-me-downs, with bottoms that had been worn down to a surface perfect for “boot skiing.” Each time it snowed we made new runs with lots of turns that simulated slalom.

On weekends, we brought our skis and sleds. Saucers were the rage, but a piece of cardboard worked too. Sledding was especially popular for the kids who didn’t ski. Skiing the slope was a short thrill that became more interesting when we built ski jumps at the bottom. Skiers and saucers competed for “most air” and there was always a gallery of onlookers at the top, awaiting the inevitable spills.

Aspen Mountain was “skiing,” but the unnamed slope behind the Jerome was “fun.”

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

A railroad to Ashcroft?

A railroad to Ashcroft?

Yore Aspen



Loading iron ore above Ashcroft in the 1960s. (Willoughby Collection)
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Tim Willoughby
January 26, 2008



Some of the more interesting stories from Aspen’s past are not about what happened — they’re what didn’t happen. Several of these stories involve Ashcroft.

For example, there was one about the attempt around 1880 to bring a circus over Taylor Pass from Leadville to celebrate the Fourth of July. Or consider the first ski lifts planned in the 1930s to rise above Ashcroft, a plan that fell as a casualty of World War II. And there is the story of how, a century ago, entrepreneurs envisioned a railroad line that would connect Aspen to Ashcroft.

In 1907 The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company owned mining claims on Taylor Peak above Ashcroft. The upper elevations of the ridge that leads to the peak contained high-grade iron ore. At that time the closest alternate source for iron ore was in Wyoming. There was just one problem: how to move the iron?

J.C. Osgood created Colorado Fuel and Iron in the 1880s and ’90s. He created a conglomerate of railroads, coal mines and a steel mill in Pueblo. He also built the town of Redstone. In 1903 Osgood resigned from the company because of conflicts with partner John D. Rockefeller. This coincided with a major coal miners’ strike. A decade later another strike against Rockefeller involving the same coal mines resulted in the infamous Ludlow Massacre.

Redstone’s coal mines had been producing some of America’s finest coking coal. Coal plus iron equals steel, but each element of this equation requires cheap transportation. The Colorado Midland and the Denver and Rio Grande railroads already linked Redstone, Aspen and Pueblo. The Colorado Midland ran a spur line from Aspen up alongside Castle Creek to the present site of the Aspen Music School, the Newman Mine. The current road from Highway 82 to the music campus was built on that abandoned railroad bed. The original wagon road, and later car road, for Castle Creek was on the opposite side of the river, hugging the avalanche-prone base of Aspen Mountain.

Vast quantities of iron ore were located along the ride to Taylor Peak, and all that was needed to begin production was about 10 miles of track, a road from Taylor Peak to the end of the railroad line, plus some wagons and miners to blast the ore and shovel it into wagons.

By August 1907 Colorado Fuel and Iron’s promoters, led by local George Gould, advertised for bids to begin grading the line from the end of the Newman spur to a few miles above Ashcroft.

This was an exciting time for Aspen. Beginning in 1905 there were many mining and tourist promotions tied to railroad infrastructure, including a copper mine in the Capitol Creek area, a marble quarry up Conundrum Creek and even a few oil-drilling schemes.

The spur line up Castle Creek rallied locals’ interest because it coincided with the reopening of the Montezuma and Tam O’Shanter silver mines near the end of the Castle Creek Valley. Most of the early silver mines of the Aspen area were in the Castle Creek Valley, but only high-grade ore had been profitable because of the prohibitive cost of hauling ore by mule train or wagon to the nearest smelter in Leadville. A railroad would have boosted the value of lower-grade ore. Mines up Taylor Pass above Ashcroft as well as mines on Richmond Hill, like the Little Annie, could have expanded operations, thereby attracting capital to explore deeper for new ore bodies.

The railroad project perished in the Panic of 1907. As mineral prices dropped, Colorado Fuel and Iron relinquished the dream.

Taylor Peak’s iron remained undisturbed until the early 1960s, when Pitkin Iron began mining the ore. They trucked the ore down the valley to Woody Creek, where it was transferred to railroad cars and shipped to smelters in Texas, Utah and Montana. That operation resulted in the paving of Castle Creek road, a half-century after the demise of the railroad that didn’t happen.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.


Manifest Destiny in the mountains

Manifest Destiny in the mountains

Yore Aspen



Ferdinand Hayden (left) and Walter Paris in camp during the 1873 Colorado Survey. (William Henry Jackson/USGS photo library )
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Tim Willoughby
February 2, 2008



In a preliminary report to the U.S. Congress about his inventory of Colorado, expedition leader Ferdinand Hayden sent a photo of snow forming a cross on a Colorado peak. The 1870 photo of the Mount of the Holy Cross convinced eastern Americans that God truly blessed our country. Motivated more by the potential for gold and silver than by Manifest Destiny, prospectors swarmed Aspen soon after the publishing of Hayden’s final report.

Hayden was one of several expedition leaders who were contracted to inventory and to survey the West. Beginning with the Lewis and Clark expedition, the federal government sought knowledge of what it had purchased and conquered so it could promote settlement and sell land. John Wesley Powell gained fame exploring the Grand Canyon. Clarence King, who crisscrossed the 40th parallel and the Sierra Nevada and became the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey, was known for his scientific expertise. Hayden was a grandstander who, by exaggerating reports about Wyoming and Colorado, secured the most lucrative contracts.

An agronomist of Hayden’s survey team postulated that tilling the Colorado plains (called the Great American Desert because there were no trees) actually attracted more rain. The preposterous claim that “rain follows the plow” sent farmers and utopians to Greeley and other Front Range frontiers. When the anticipated rain did not eventuate, pioneer farmers grudgingly built long irrigation channels.

Hordes of artifact hunters violated Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chaco Canyon because a Hayden publication exaggerated the number of caches of Indian treasure.

Some of Hayden’s exploits were exemplary. He was the first to engage the services of a photographer. As it turned out he chose one of the best, William Henry Jackson, whose photos document the West artistically. Along with Jackson, Hayden brought landscape artist Thomas Moran to explore the Yellowstone area. Moran’s expansive renderings captivated the imaginations of Congress. The unbelievable beauty and uniqueness that only Moran could portray motivated Congress to establish the first national park.

Anyone who has used a compass with a USGS map will recognize the triangulation points that the Hayden survey established for mapping. He and his team scaled the highest promontories, including Snowmass Peak, to set up the sight-view points that surveyors use to locate property boundaries. The triangulation points and the distances between them were established using 19th-century transits. When, the USGS rechecked Hayden’s work a century later using laser theodolites, they found few discrepancies.

Hayden’s 1873 survey was published in 1878 and highlighted numerous potential mining sites, including some around Aspen. Aspen was technically in Indian territory. Prospectors had not ventured into the area until Hayden’s report.

At the time of the report’s release, Leadville was already experiencing its second mining boom. The first was for gold, and 1878 brought a silver bonanza. Hayden’s geological map identified geology in the Aspen area that was similar to that of Leadville. Using the survey as a guide, prospectors crossed over the Continental Divide into Ashcroft and Aspen.

Pitkin County Library possesses a copy of Hayden’s report and the beautiful accompanying atlas. The back pages of the atlas include perhaps the only hand-drawn panoramic views of some local peaks. The report contains drawings of Anasazi ruins and artifacts. It is a fun tome to thumb through.

One of the perks of belonging to an expedition party in the 1870s was the license to name topographic features. When viewed from the top of Aspen Mountain, Hayden is the most beautiful peak. Perhaps self-adulation actually manifests itself as destiny in the mountains.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net

Ski Chains

Ski chains — better than Tinkertoys

Yore Aspen



Couldn’t the ski industry bring back the ski chain?
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Tim Willoughby
February 9, 2008



If you were a child in the 1950s, then you remember that some of the best toys were not intended to be toys. If you grew up in a ski town, then you know ski-ticket chains could be employed for a multitude of marvelous misadventures.

Also known as key chains, we called them ski chains. Each connected 3 or 4 inches of tiny silver baubles with a foolproof catch on the end that formed a loop, or locked into the next chain. They exemplified simplicity with sparkle, functionality with fun. They invited invention, wreaked havoc with washing machines and accumulated in kids’ closets.

The Aspen Ski Corp. bought the chains by the thousands to attach ski tickets to ski jackets. In these resource-conscious days you would require only one, but in the 1950s children requested a new one every time they skied. The more you skied, the larger your ski chain collection. Unlike the fraud-preventing wire contraptions used today, ski chains allowed you to remove your ticket at the end of each day without using wire cutters. Better yet, there was no remaining ball of sticky paper that refused to fit through the tiny parka zipper hole.

Kids connected chains to compete for the longest. The Bishop brothers, Barney and Gary, remember that their collection circled all the way around their bedroom. Ron and Roger Long, emulating string collectors, rolled theirs into balls. Any large ball signified many ski days, sibling sharing, creative collecting or combined strategies.

Accumulating chains was easiest for the little children, whose eyes were closer to the ground. Adults frequently dropped their chains near the ticket counters. Rather than bending down to pull on the half that was still visible on the snow, they would reach for another one on the ticket counter.

In the summer, kids hiked under the lift line looking for spare change skiers dropped while riding the lift. From even a short distance a half-buried ski chain resembled a silver coin. Coins were few and far between, but we went home with bulging pockets of ski chains.

Females of the ’50s found that chains formed fantastic necklaces. More chains equaled more loops around the neck. Bracelets were popular, but they were inclined to break when they caught on protruding handrails.

Boys tried out ski chains as tire chains on their bikes. They could be long enough to encircle a tire, woven between each spoke, if you had enough. They broke or fell off faster than you could put them on, but riding a bike in winter snow didn’t work well anyway.
I remember piling the chains into the coal cars of model trains. It was my load of silver ore. They were also useful for tying things together, especially for those who suffered knot-tying impairment.

It’s too bad that wire ticket loops replaced ski chains. You can’t do much of anything with them except seriously poke yourself, and they have no appeal to collectors. With the price of today’s ski ticket, you would think that ski area operators would throw in a sparkly silver ski chain to adorn your Bogner jacket and, much more important, to entertain kids.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Muckin in the Mines

Mucking in the mines

Yore Aspen



Shovel and wheelbarrow were the tools that moved the inside of Aspen’s mountains. This advertisement appeared in an 1891 Engineering and Mining Journal.
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Tim Willoughby
February 16, 2008



Each additional foot of snow logarithmically lengthens long hours of shoveling. Recent storms remind me of what not long ago was a noble profession: mucking.

To appreciate the life of a mucker, it is not necessary to remove a snowbank as tall as you are from a driveway using only a shovel. But my biceps, sore from shoveling a few hours a day, remind me that my challenges cannot be compared to mucking minerals underground, eight to 10 hours a day.

“Mucking” was the mining term for shoveling broken rock into tramming cars. In mining operations large enough to divide up the work, the men who earned their living shoveling were called muckers. Digging ditches or shoveling cement did not compare with mucking underground and was not rewarded accordingly. Muckers were well-paid, 50 cents a day less than the miners who did the drilling and blasting. They made between $3 and $4 a day, good wages from 1860 to 1910. Muckers were often apprentice miners, younger and more able to match the rigorous routine.

My father’s first mine training came from unloading boxcars of coal for Koch Lumber as a high school student in the 1920s. It would take him about eight hours to unload one car and he was paid $4. He would start as soon as school was over and work into the night using a miner’s carbide lamp to see when it got dark. That work provided good conditioning for the mucking jobs he found, and was glad to have, in the Depression years. Although coal is lighter than the rock in a mineral mine, the total weight of a railroad car of coal was equivalent to a day’s mucking. You might remember the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons.”

In the 1890s, a mucker’s daily quota was 16 mine cars of ore per shift. The small ore cars used in hardrock mining are about the size of a bale of hay and haul 1 ton. Muckers did more than shovel ore and waste into the car; they also sorted the valuable ore that went to the mill from the waste that went to the tailings dump. In addition, muckers broke up the larger rocks. Sometimes they called in a miner to blast large rocks into smaller pieces. They hand-lifted some of the rock into the ore cars and shoveled the rest.

The job was made easier by laying down boilerplate sheets on the tunnel floor before blasting. That smooth surface allowed muckers to easily roll and turn the ore cars where they were working. It also provided surface that prevented snagging a flat-point shovel when scooping material from the floor.

A routine mine shift began when miners drilled holes for blasting, then set and exploded their charges. The muckers entered at the beginning of the next shift, checked that rock above wouldn’t tumble onto them, and started mucking. Residual fumes from the blasting made the mucker’s life miserable. It wasn’t a job you could dedicate your life to, unless you wanted a short life. Still, the compensation lured miners back to mucking when pneumatic drills replaced time-honored hand drilling and replaced many miners.

In smaller operations everyone took on all tasks. Mucking was the least favorite, except when high-grade ore was found. A number of Aspen mines were one-man operations even into the 1930s. Some found great satisfaction combining the work of prospecting, mining, geologist and teamster. There was also excitement for muckers, full or part time, when shoveling silver.

I’m sure that was much more satisfying than shoveling snow.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Speed - on the hill, on the road

Speed — on the hill, on the road

Yore Aspen



Elli Stiller Iselin with Bingo, Aspen’s most famous dog. Before moving to Aspen, Iselin was both an Olympic ski racer and one of Europe’s first female sports car racers. (Courtesy Aspen Historical Society)
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Tim Willoughby
February 23, 2008

 

I was comfortably cruising U.S. Highway 395 south of Reno when a blue Subaru zipped past me. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the driver was Andrea Mead Lawrence. Andrea, now 74, is the only American female skier to win two gold medals in an Olympics. Locally, her lead foot is as legendary as her skiing.

It reminded me of one afternoon in the mid-1960s when Elli Iselin stopped in to see my aunt, Doris Willoughby, who kept Elli’s books. Well-known as Aspen’s premier ski fashion retailer, Elli (nee Stiller) was also an Olympian, the Austrian national champion and team member for six years in the 1930s. Elli’s mother was the first woman skier in Vienna.

Elli immigrated to America in 1939 and moved to Aspen from Sun Valley with Fred Iselin, her husband, in 1948. She was an early Aspen Ski School instructor when women were decidedly a minority in that field. Many in Aspen did not know that she was the first female sports car racer in Europe. Nevertheless, her lead foot was known in Aspen.

Elli barged through our door, walked up to my aunt’s desk and began her diatribe, “That rude young man. I am so angry.”

With very little prodding she continued her story with her heavy German accent. A young highway patrolman had pulled her over and given her a ticket. “I told him I couldn’t have been going that fast. He was so damn rude to me. Young people should not talk to their elders like that.

“Can you believe it? He said I was going over 100 miles an hour.” That was not difficult to believe because Elli drove a nearly new Corvette Stingray. As her storytelling did not approach the apparent speed of her driving, it took awhile to get to the part that would have made a highway patrolman appear rude. She gave a detailed description of the patrolman and his lack of manners and the cost of the ticket before we asked where she got the ticket. “It was in Glenwood Canyon.” She referred to the old two-lane, hairpin turn on the Glenwood Canyon highway.

We learned later that the ticket was not her first and that she had been ticketed at 100 mph though she had been clocked at 118. When added to previous tickets, her total points threatened loss of her license.

A few weeks later Elli returned. Her usual matter-of-fact, curt personality brightened merrily. “Fred [Elli’s husband] just bought me a new car. He told me I had to get rid of the Corvette before I lost my license. Come look at my new car!”

We stepped outside and viewed a brand-new Pontiac Firebird, the kind with the big engine, in fiery color. We could not figure out how that would slow her down but she did avoid more tickets.

You can’t take the speed out of a ski racer.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.


What A Father

What a father

Yore Aspen



Bud Sheehan, ready to walk to school in Aspen. Note the unplowed Main Street in the background. (Willoughby collection)
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Tim Willoughby
March 1, 2008




Snow day! Every Aspen child hopes, when they see snow falling before crawling into bed, that they will hear those words when they wake up. If the buses don’t roll, then you don’t go. Aspen’s present-day schools are beyond walking distance from most residential neighborhoods so, even if school is in session, getting there requires a warm ride. Things were different nearly a century ago when my mother made her way to school in the snow, but she did enjoy transportation that rivaled a school bus.

Winter transportation in Aspen’s early 1900s was mostly by foot. Few automobile owners drove out of their barns to get stuck on unplowed streets. Those who had far to go harnessed their horses. Those who journeyed out of town did so on a train. Those who had the means enjoyed the most elegant and comfortable transport: a sleigh outfitted with blankets and quilts.

The convenient locations of Aspen’s three schools allowed most students to walk the few blocks and brave the snow. Sleigh and wagon travel made streets slippery and treacherously rutted. Some wooden sidewalks elevated shoes above spring and fall mud, but most were not shoveled in the winter. It was not far to school in distance, but each step in countervailing winter conditions could register as a deeply-felt drop in temperature and a chance to slip and fall.

Many adults remember the child-to-snow ratio: the smaller you are, the deeper the snow. I recall walking to school in knee-deep snow, but when I was 6 my knees were not far above grade. I worked hard to push through even one night’s accumulation. But my father did not do for me what my mother’s father did for her.




How the fire department responded during winter in the old days. (Willoughby collection)
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As a teamster, my grandfather, John Sheehan, hauled timber from Hunter Creek to a sawmill in Aspen and delivered lumber around the city. Later he operated Sheehan Brothers grocery on Hyman Avenue until his death from the 1918 influenza. He bought a house on Main Street, now Explore Booksellers, which was near the firehouse. Also, John served as volunteer teamster for the horse-drawn fire equipment. There were ulterior motives for being a volunteer fireman in those days. Most houses did not have running water and hot water was a rarity; a fire department post included a weekly hot bath at the firehouse.

John tended the horses and, in turn, had access to exercise them. If it snowed during the night, he harnessed one of the big strong fire horses and chained a length of log perpendicular to the horse’s forward progress. When it was time for my mother to trudge through the six blocks of snow to the Washington School in the West End, he would precede her with the horse pulling the log through the snow. Although the log did not push the snow to the side, it packed it down well below knee height.

What a father.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.

Ivan Abrams



Ivan Abrams 1919 - 2000


This town has always been shaped by it eccentricities and its eccentrics. My old, good friend Ivan Abrams comes to mind. I loved the smell and feel of his bookstore. With a potbelly almost always warm with tea water on top, with great books that only Ivan seemed to have, and a listening post that only a deep pull on his pipe would interrupt. I did not know that he had roomed with Brando and knew Jack Kerouac from NYC days. I did not know that he was a Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford. I did know that he was always interested in the person who was in front of him in his store. Sitting on his front porch watching Aspen change in a changeless setting of solitude was a prime pleasure of being downtown. Not the Jerome or the Onion, but Ivans sphere.


Ivan changed over the years from a classics scholar and deep reader of Dostoyevsky to a New Age believer in the star Sirius and other extraterrestrial subjects. To visit him in later years was to be subjected to his belief in the bead and beads he called Crazy where the future was laid out. His major impact was on the people who visited him in the shop, from wandering hippies to very curious intellectuals, to young people in need of solace and courage, to down-and-out souls, to people just downtown looking for a good place to visit.


Ivan loved Lincoln Creek, and I had the good fortune to help him collect wood up there the fall of 1966. Without Ivan around, Lincoln Creek has never been the same. Without the Quadrant Bookstore, Aspen is not the same.


Andy Hanson

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