Monday, June 30, 2008

My grandfather's homestead today



Lowell Thomas


“Good evening everybody.!”
That is how a favorite Colorado Newspaper character opened his trademark reports for decades.
Lowell Thomas, former editor of the Victor Daily Record and Victor News, died of a heart attack in 1981, two weeks after last visiting his boyhood hometown in the small Colorado mining hamlet of Victor.
Both of those Victor newspapers eventually merged into the Cripple Creek Gold Rush, a 1,000-circulation, paid weekly that I once published.
After viewing one of Thomas lectures, or Television or radio reports, listeners often experienced a sense, or distinct feeling, that they were listening to a very eloquent friend, telling stories that actually happened to the storyteller personally.
He would often break into a yarn in some fascinating exotic location as if was telling about something that happened to him that morning, and maybe it did.
“That reminds me of a story,” he would say.
Thomas was the Forest Gump of the 20th Century. The man was everywhere.
In 1900, when Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning in Victor for William McKinley, who was not very popular in a state that supported the free coinage of silver and William Jennings Bryan.
When Roosevelt appeared in Victor, the crowd was polite for a while, but the future president was forced to cut his speech short as catcalls and taunts from “democratic hoodlums” escalated into almost a full-scale riot at Midland Terminal.
Roosevelt, his pince-nez knocked from his face, was blinded to the onslaught.
One of the “democratic hoodlums” picked up a wooden two by four and swung at Roosevelt’s head.
“That is where I first advise a president,” said Thomas on several occasions. “I pulled on his coattail and told him to duck.”
Actually, a guy by the name of Danny Sullivan, blocked the two by four’s arc from cracking the future president’s head. He reportedly received a red sapphire ring as a token of Roosevelt’s appreciation on the train ride out of the mining district.
Back to Thomas, however.
Born in Woodington, Ohio, in 1892, Thomas moved to Victor at the age of eight and as a boy of 10, joined the newsboy union. He first folded and delivered the Victor Daily Record but later began hawking The Denver Post in the gambling halls, red light districts and saloons of Victor and Cripple Creek.
He also worked as a gold miner, range-rider, waiter, short-order cook, milker and pitched hay on the Ute Mountain Indian reservation to help finance his education.
In 1911, at age 19, he became the editor of the Record. In 1912, he moved over to the Victor News, but left shortly afterward to become a reporter at the Chicago Journal, where he worked until 1914. During his stint at the Journal, Thomas attended law school, where he also taught oratory.
“The ability to speak is a short-cut to distinction. In puts a man in the limelight, raises him head and shoulders above the crowd,” Thomas is frequently quoted as saying.

According to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (HAADA), Thomas earned four college degrees, one each at Valparaiso University, University of Denver, Kent College of Law and Princeton University.
He also received 25 honorary degrees from other institutions. In addition to HAADA, Thomas’ achievements landed him in such varied institutions as the Radio Hall of Fame, Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
President Ford awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1976.
As pioneer of radio journalism, newsreel services and then television news, Thomas established himself as the voice of world travel and adventure in his long and prolific career. He wrote 52 books, many of them best sellers, was the first reporter to enter Germany following World War I, broadcast news during World War II from a mobile truck behind the front lines and flew over Berlin in a P-51 Mustang during the final battle between Russians and Germans.
President Woodrow Wilson commissioned Thomas to create a historical record of World War I battles.
His experiences in Arabia with T.E. Lawrence during that commission were the basis of a series of films, lectures and his book, “With Lawrence in Arabia.”
He wasn’t a fan of the film, however. “They only got two things right, the camels and the sand,” Thomas said.
Other journalistic firsts for Thomas include the narration, in 1925, of the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe; and his 17-year career at Fox Movietone News, heard weekly by nearly 100 million people.
Want more? He also helped pioneer the development of Cinerama, a film technology, participated in the first flight across Antarctica and hosted the PBS television series, “Lowell Thomas Remembers.”
He crammed a lot of things to remember during his 89 years on Earth. “After the age of 80, everything reminds you of something else,” Thomas said.
His son, Lowell Thomas Jr., who once served as the lieutenant governor of Alaska, produced the television series “High Adventure,” a weekly series in which Thomas appeared. The two also co-authored “Famous First Flights That Changed History.”
Of his travels and adventures, Thomas said his personal quest was “to know more about this globe than anyone else ever has.”
To learn more about Thomas’ life and achievements, I recommend you travel to Victor and visit the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum at the corner of Third Street and Victor Avenue.
The museum is currently raising funds to save the Reynolds Block, where the Museum has been housed since 1960. The Victor Improvement Association which owns the museum collection and the building, recently was awarded a $208,177 grant from the State Historical Fund and now needs to raise $70,000 in matching funds.

###

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Billboards, Cusack and Cascade


Although they weren’t compelled to advertise it, most of the Cusack family’s money originally came from selling space on billboards. With some of that scratch, they built some of the most notable landmarks in the area, including Marigreen Pines and Chapel of the Holy Rosary.
“Thomas Cusack started out in business in the East as a wagon painter from which he turned to sign painting in 1875, and then made a fortune in the outdoor advertising business,” according to Virginia McConnell in her 1963 book Ute Pass Route of the Blue Sky People.
“Starting in the 1870s and 1880s, large advertising posters began to appear in American cities along elevated railroads and streets, and the first companies leasing outdoor space were formed.” says the New York Historical Society. The Cusack family was a pioneer in that business as they branched out from the Chicago area.
“As automobiles grew in popularity, outdoor advertising became much more prolific.... Such large scale advertising was not welcomed by all,” according to the society. As a result, efforts by citizens and politicians attempted to limit this activity.
One such effort traveled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1917, in the famous case of Thomas Cusack Company v. City of Chicago. Cusack’s company argued that a Chicago city ordinance governing the erection and maintenance of billboards in that city, was unconstitutionally restrictive.
“Upon the question of the reasonableness of the ordinance, much evidence was introduced upon the trial of the case, from which the supreme court finds that fires had been started in the accumulation of combustible materials which gathered about such billboards; that offensive and insanitary accumulations are habitually found about them, and that they afford a convenient concealment and shield for immoral practices, and for loiters and criminals,” wrote Justice John Hessin Clarke in the majority opinion.”
Though they lost that battle, they won the war in the sense of still being able secure a massive fortune in the advertising business.
“The Cusack family began vacationing in the Cascade area as early as the turn of the Century, but did not build their Marigreen Pines residence until 1920. According to McConnell, Thomas Cusack had purchased the Cascade Town Company for $100,000 in 1892. For much of the next century, descendants would sell land and provide water for the town from Cascade Creek.
Jan Pettit’s book, Ute Pass and Cascade, Chipita Park, Crystola, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls and Divide: A Quick History, notes that Thomas’ son, Frank Cusack planned to develop a series of hunting quarters that would eventually hook up with the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs via trails and had the company build a hunting lodge on top of Pyramid Mountain.
Pettit says the Chapel of Holy Rosary was built in 1931 as memorial to Thomas and Mary Cusack by their children and that structure over looked the site of the former Ramona Hotel. Thomas Cusack purchased the Ramona and tore it down with the intention of rebuilding it, according to information submitted by Rowenna Blum for use by the USGenWeb Archive Project. Cusack had hoped to build a smaller, more modern structure with a Spanish design but died before the project was completed.

###

Native bragging rights


A woman in Denver once looked at me kind of funny and asked me about the way I talk. “Where are you from?,” she said. “I don’t recognize your accent.” She seemed a bit embarrassed upon learning the truth.
I’m from Colorado — a third-generation native. Maybe it was my reference to the “crick” rather than creek that gives me away.
My Great-Grandfather William S. Taylor, and his family were farming and surveying for the United States Geological Survey in Axial Basin, (near Hamilton) Colorado shortly after the Thornburg ambush and the Meeker Massacre in 1879.
William S. Taylor followed out his brother, Gene Taylor, an Indian Scout for the White River Indian Agency of Meeker Massacre fame, in the spring of 1882 from Minnesota. They brought their infant daughter, my Great Aunt Ruth with them on the train to Rawlins, Wyoming and then transferred themselves and their belongings to finish the trip to Axial basin via team and wagon. My Great Aunt Verda, my Grandma Cecil, Uncle Milton and Aunt Marion were all born there in Axial Basin and went to the one room school there.
Owen Carrigan, my granddad, filed his first Colorado homestead claim 1914. He also hailed from Minnesota country, by way of the Dakotas. He came here to escape Asthma and finish recovering from a broken leg he suffered when a horse fell with him while punching cows for a Texas-owned outfit in the Dakotas.
His mother, Minnie Buce Carrigan, wrote the popular book “Captured by the Indians, Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Minnesota.” It is an account of her captivity among the Sioux after the 1862 uprising and her subsequent experience as an orphan. In the book, she describes her life as a young German immigrant girl prior to her capture and the ten weeks she lived with her captors until being freed by the United States Army.
In a state where “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” two bodies of water in Rio Blanco county bear granddad’s name, Owen Carrigan Reservoir and Owen Carrigan Ditch. I am proud of the fact that, as a family, we go way back around here. Not everyone can say that.
At last count, more than 4.3 million people lived here in the state. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, Colorado’s population increased 30.6 percent. At last Census, we were the third fastest going state in the nation. In my lifetime (and I’m a young ‘fella’) the state’s population has more than doubled.
For a 10-year stretch starting in the late 1980s, I left the state and lived in California. When I left, there was no such thing as Highlands Ranch. When I returned in 1996, boom, 70,000 people lived there.
Does that native status afford us any special privileges or consideration? Hardly, unless you want to count the ability to buy “pioneer” plates. Bragging rights is the one true benefit.
But there is something to that. After all, this is the same state that leads the nation in beer production per capita, has over 300 days of sunshine a year, and is home to the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” (Dove Creek).
But a being native in this state means different things to different folks. You can’t even slap a decent stereotype on longtime residents here. It’s a big state and someone born and raised on the West Slope will operate with a completely contrasting bent from a Denver native. A cattle rancher from Yellow Jacket in South West Colorado may have nothing in common with someone in the same line of work from Holyoke in the North East.
Colorado historically is a study in contrasts: boom and bust, ‘flatlanders’ and ‘hillbillies,’ rich and poor, ski areas and steel mills, Front Range and Western Slope, miners and farmers, newcomers and natives.
Interestingly enough, maybe that’s why my accent sounds a little funny to some of you.
###

KKK in Colorado

It is a bit too easy for us to wag our fingers at the people of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for choosing the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. It is a little more difficult to reconcile and understand our own political shortcomings right here in Colorado. In one of the more embarrassing chapters of Colorado conservative history, Clarence Morley, the Ku Klux Klan-picked Republican candidate, became Governor of Colorado in 1925.
“In the spring of 1924, Klan members packed the precinct caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties , then supported Klan candidates in the primary and general elections.” according to a 2003 article by Ed Quillen. “In Colorado, the Klan captured few Democratic nominations, but had its most success infecting the Republicans.”
Jason Brockman and Erin McDanal, staff archivists for the Colorado State Archive, said Morley’s “political ascent paralleled the anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920s.”
Under the charismatic and persuasive tutelage of Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, the Klan was able to create one of strongest political machines in state history. Locke, the short, extremely overweight Denver physician, ran the Klan and much of the state from his office at 1345 Glenarm Place.
“Beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive , most efficiently organized political force in the state,” according to the Denver Post at the time. Locke, as Klan Grand Dragon controlled Morley as Governor, Ben Stapleton as mayor of Denver, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship and seven benched in Denver District Court, according to state archivists.
Although, on cue Locke espoused the usual Klan nonsense messages of hate and bigotry in public, but didn’t seem to live the life himself. “He had been married to a Catholic and employed two Catholic secretaries, paying their pew rents,” wrote Dark Cloud column author Richard L. MacLeod of the Boulder Lout Forum.
He was also known to look the other way in additional examples. Catholics in the northwest Denver were able to build St. Catherine of Siena parish by holding lavish and lucrative bingo parties that eventually led to the nick-naming of “the carnival parish” in the Harkness Heights area of North Denver.
“Even the Ku Klux Klan could not stop St. Catherine’s,” noted Thomas J. Noel of the Archdiocese of Denver. “According to Judge John J. Dunn, whose mother was John Galen Locke’s nurse, and his father happened to be a long-time patient of Dr. Locke, it was Locke who arranged bingo permits for St. Catherine’s with Denver’s anti-Catholic chief of police, William Clandish.”
Locke was also known to have contributed philanthropically to Jewish and Black charities as well, and is widely considered to have promoted the Klan as a means to political power rather than committed universally to its philosophies of hate and bigotry.
Most of the Klan-sponsored legislation during the time of Morley’s Governorship was effectively killed in committee by anti-Klan Republicans and a small but tenacious group of Democrats which included future Governor Billy Adams.
After Morley left office, he established a stock brokerage in Indiana. In 1935, however he returned to Denver to reestablish his law practice. “His plans were interrupted, however, when he was arrested in 1935 for mail fraud,” according his biography at the state archive.
“While he was found not guilty in Colorado, the Federal courts indicted him for 21 counts of mail fraud and for using his prestige and past public office connections to defraud his customers. Morley was found guilty on these charges and was sentenced to Leavenworth Prison for five years,” according to Brockman and McDanal of Colorado State Archives.

###

Blacksmith Oscar

There is French proverb that says something to the effect, “See a pin and let it lie, you’ll need a pin before you die.” For Oscar Lindholm, it might be an old horse shoe or a piece of railroad track, or maybe even a bull’s skull. But he’ll squirrel it away for use later because he doesn’t believe in wasting anything. Oscar Lindholm, 88, is the ultimate recycler.
“In blacksmithing,” says Oscar. “The first rule is never throw anything away.”
And he doesn’t. For years he has scanned magazines like Western Horseman for ideas on things to make from scrap metal, old horse shoes, salvaged wire etc... Gate latches, boot jacks, toys, wall art, paper weights, dinner bells are just a few of his repertoire.
Oscar’s carried his unique smithy’s devotion to anti-waste and conservation habit since he first learned to shoe horses for the army back in the ‘30s. He remembers well learning the trade.
“When you first start, the more you hammer, the worse it gets.” says Oscar about his initial solo horse shoeing at Fort Mead, South Dakota for the Fourth Calvary in 1936. “I was sweating and swearing pretty good in both Swede and English,” he said and as Sergeant Sears, his superior at the time noted, “I guess he’ll make a pretty good blacksmith, he got the language right already.”
Items made by Oscar adorn residents and business in the Pikes Peak region from Cripple Creek to Black Forest — Colorado Springs, Woodland Park and points in between. He said he once was able to knock out five or six projects a day.
“Anymore, I’m getting nothing done. That’s what you get for living too damn long.”
And as far as social commentary on general conservation policy. “Nowadays you get a million dollars from the government to redo it, blah, blah blah. That’s progress”
Asked what he does with completed art work —if he sells items or not? “Sell them. Then I would have to make some more.”
Oscar has lived in same house in Green Mountain Falls since 1956. He retired from the Army in 1957. He and his wife, Elsie, raised their children there. She has been gone for 30 years. “But she has the best view of Pikes Peak in the cemetery,” he says of her resting place in Woodland Park Cemetery.
He’s proud of his grown children, Myrna, Marjorie, Larry, and Wayne, the later who he notes “doesn’t say much but is the best damn electrician in the United States.”
He can tell you how long every item in the place has been there. In the living room there, sets a his prized rocking chair that he purchased in Atlanta, Georgia in 1947. “I had it fixed a few years ago and now it’s better than ever.” The TV set that quit working 20 years ago is still there on the chance it can be fixed. And a pair of horns from “Old Tex” a bull’s head he salvaged from Mueller’s Hereford ranch. The skull itself rides above his work shop.
His white pickup, a 1973 Ford F-100, rests outside with various projects in various stages of completion. “I quit driving it a year ago.” His favorite things are there at the house, like rope makers that he’s made and is one of only a few who knows how to use it. And an old Cavalry bridle stamped with the Fourth Calvary, Machine Gun Troop designator, and shoes from Budweiser Clydesdales, and various items picked up “back when I used to drink beer.” Things like the sign that he wanted the city of Green Mountain Falls to put up that says “This is God’s country, don’t drive like hell through it.”
He says he hasn’t drank beer since he stopped 23 years ago.
But his workshop is full of pieces of iron, and steel — scraps of this and that, all things waiting for new uses at the hands of the ultimate recycler, Oscar Lindholm.

###

Wind in Wyoming


Today the wind blew with force and power. It doubled over trees and sent trash, cans and all, bouncing down the street. It reminded me of my Wyoming days and I thought of evil winds and angels.
I had to fight wind 30 years ago on the way to the high school to meet up with the track coach in Saratoga, Wyo. I was working on a preview story before they left for the state track meet in Casper early the next day. When I arrived that Friday afternoon, the coach was shaken.
Miles away on the western edge of the state in Cokeville, Wyo, 154 students in addition to teachers, school workers and others, were held hostage in a 30-by 30-foot elementary classroom. Hometown Saratoga competed against Cokeville’s students on occasion.
In Cokeville that day, David Young, 42, and his wife Doris, 47, had pulled their white van up to the Cokeville Elementary School in the middle of town and calmly unloaded three gasoline bombs, nine handguns and four rifles into a grocery cart at about 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and then herded everyone into the cramped room.
David Young, the former Cokeville town marshal, had been fired eight years before for being overzealous, according to Time magazine, and was known to dress up like and old-time sheriff and brandish his pistol at the slightest provocation.
“Eventually, Young sent out his demands to the police officers who had surrounded the school. He wanted $300 million in ransom for the 167 hostages he held--students, teachers, school workers, and a UPS driver, nearly a quarter of Cokeville’s population. He also wanted a personal phone call from the president of the United States,” according to an account in “Angels on Earth” by Ron Hartley, a Lincoln County sherriff’s investigator whose four children were among the hostages.
“After 2 1/2 hours of terror, the bomb went off accidentally. Seventy-nine people were injured, but the Youngs were the only ones to die — David Young shot his severely burned wife, then himself,” according to an August 31, 2002 follow-up story by Alan Edwards in the Deseret News about the youngest survivor of the ordeal, Gina Taylor Madsen who was married that fall.
The grocery cart which was full of the three gasoline bombs and outfitted with five blasting caps and a “dead man’s switch,” went off when Doris Young momentarily forgot her husband had rigged the switch to detonate by raising her wrist above her head.
“We will seeing those poor kid’s injuries for years,” worried the Saratoga track coach at the time. But fortunately, most of hostages injuries were relatively minor.
I recall reports in the Casper Star-Tribune, Denver Post, Associated Press and other media that related an account of the children held hostage in the room. The swirling stories reported that those children passed the time making drawings that seemed to depict angels. Several of the children, swore “guardian angels” reduced their fear and protected them through the Cokeville horror. The book “Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near Death Experiences of Children,” by Melvin Morse also recalls the “angel incident.”
Susan Fiscus, who when contacted several years ago, served as webmaster of cokevillewy.com, says the town has moved on.
“I personally, did not live here at the time, and most of those people who lived through the experience are somewhat reluctant to share information about it,” she said. “One gentleman whose wife was a teacher and also had children in the elementary school is trying very hard to get some type of memorial/museum here in town celebrating the fact that all of the innocents survived. Unfortunately it is somewhat of an uphill battle for him.”
I don’t know if guardian angels do that sort thing — protect the innocents and surgically smite those that are evil. But it was a nice thought — especially today, with such an evil wind blowing.

###

Matter of perspective


A little more than a decade ago, I befriended local character Jack Shippy, and he would stop by the office once a week or so, to make sure I was running the paper correctly, and offer some of his wife's crab-apple jelly, that she had made from the fruit he picked off the tree at corner of Courier office downstairs. Ever since then, I have attached great value to lessons he taught me, all those years ago. I wrote this, and it first appeared in 2003.

 I suppose it is a matter of perspective.
“I’m 81-years-old and it is just too much,” said Green Mountain Falls resident Jack Shippy to me. He was talking about maintaining residence in two states.
I listen to Jack and if you ask me, “too much” is relative. If you ask him, he can tell you about a lot of things.
Shippy still drives a ‘71 Chevy Impala cross-country from Colorado to Florida.
“Last of the muscle cars,” he explains. “It has a 350 Chevy V-8 and it just floats down the highway.”
But he put his Florida home on the market and plans to stick closer to home here in the shadow of the Peak.
Shippy could tell you about things like Pearl Harbor. He was there when the Japanese Imperial Army attacked on Dec. 7,1941, bringing the United States into WWII.
But maybe its hard to speak of such things. “I get pretty emotional about it. It was terrible —our boys in the water, everything on fire, the noise.” he told me once.
Jack had joined the Navy at 16. He said he had lied to recruiter about his age. Twice, the first time when he was 15. “He told me to come back in a year. I did and I was in.”
He could also describe to you what it was like to put an airplane back together on an island in the Pacific in the complete darkness. Darkness because he knew a sniper was out there waiting for the lights to come on to take a shot.
All of the following experiences (and many more) make up his story list. He can tell you Navy test pilot tales about damaging his ears, battles with various kinds of cancer and illness, leaving Oklahoma during the dust bowl, coming to live with relatives in Colorado Springs as an orphan, working on the “bull gang” as a mechanic for Golden Cycle Mining company, trying to scratch out a living during the depression, volunteering for years in service clubs like the Lions Club and Friends of the Fossil Beds.
After retiring from the service, he could even speak in Whiskey salesmen parables of a Colorado past and of people in small towns like Gunnison, Creede and all across the state.
And he usually has a joke for us, though it is sometimes it is off-color enough that I’ll decline to retell most of them here.
Sometimes in the summer, I’m even able to trade him yellow crookneck squash for jars of chokecherry jelly that his wife makes. He threatens every year to come down and pick the crab apples off the tree outside the office window so his wife can make crab apple jelly. Nothing should go to waste.
He always has ideas. Perhaps, just by discussing it, he and I can solve the Social Security crisis or balance the budget or pick the best president to lead the country. Maybe we will chat about his newest acting gig in television commercials for the hospital or the TV commercial where he is in the steamed up car “with someone else’s wife” as he describes it.
He lets me know when he thinks I should write about the city’s arrangements with the Lions Park, or tells me to find out what they are building at the edge of town.
But what did he want to talk about today?
“The war over in Iraq makes me nervous. And all these economic problems,” he said. “I took getting knocked around in the Pacific so that my kids don’t have to go through another depression or fight another World War,” he said.
That is a valuable perspective. I trust that if you ask Jack Shippy, he can tell us all about a lot of things.

###

Christmas card

The ice and snow was melting fast enough that three inches of water ran below the white crust in the low spots of the street. Step off a curb in low-topped shoes or boots,  and a person ran the risk of filling shoes with water. But the temperature was dropping fast and it would all be ice again by sundown.
The 12-year-old newspaper carrier was trying get all his papers delivered Friday afternoon, Christmas Eve. And He wanted to still drop off a few calculated Christmas cards to soft-touch subscribers that might pop for a tip now that the temperature was dropping with the setting sun.
He knew he looked cold enough, right now, that the German lady was good for at least a cinnamon roll. But he might have to pick the raisins out.
The paper boy wanted to leave enough time to go by the hardware store before it closed to get a hot cup of Joe. All the high school kids that worked there would either be shoveling snow on the warehouse docks, or salting ice back near the gas meter. They always offered coffee but warned him that it would stunt his growth.
He slogged on through the soggy, icy streets into the poor part of town -- not that any of it was very rich. Low-roofed shotgun shacks lined one side of the street near the river but an open field on the other side marked where the narrow gauge tracks for the ‘Galloping Goose’ once ran. Most of the tracks had been pulled up sometime in the ‘50s. In a few out of the way places, like Lost Canyon, you could still pick up spikes and telegraph insulators.
Tony Martinez, one of his subscribers on Railroad Avenue, invited him in one of the shacks and gave him five bucks. Candles burned in the holiday spirit in a small religious shrine.
When he left Tony’s, he angled back through the real hard-luck section where the old Victorians were nearly falling down from neglect. Some of them were missing newel posts and had holes in the porch floors.
Behind one of these rotting relics, his newest customer lived and he had to navigate past Jake, a particularly menacing Black Labrador. Show no fear. Growl back. Stand tall, and be prepared to run if that didn’t work. But today, Jake didn’t think biting him was worth getting his feet wet.
The building looked like it had been a two-car, detached garage converted into single-family dwelling. And these folks had five or six grubby, curtain-climbers stuffed into there, all gathered around the wood stove. They invited him also, and gave him an army-surplus wool scarf, his best gift to date.
Isn't it interesting that those that looked like they could afford it the least, were the most generous. The paper boy thought about that, and waddled, wet-duck style, toward home through the soggy, freezing streets.
###

Cows conversation

A group of milk cows from Jersey were overheard discussing happiness in a local field the other day.
"But the grass is greener ..." Blue Bell insisted just as I horned in on their conversation.
"Pardon me. I didn't mean to interrupt." I said and positioned myself on the neutral fence to listen to them B.S.
Unconcerned, they resumed their conversation.
"Anyway," continued Blue Bell. "I think it is like Dostoevsky said, 'Happiness doesn't lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it.'"
She snorted and swatted flies with her tail for emphasis.
Not to be outdone, Bessie set forth her interpretation of her favorite theorists.
"What I think we have is a scale or ruler that measures individual happiness. And on that ruler, people are at various points of happiness. They move both ways on the scale to places where they are more happy and less happy in different times of their life," Bessie delivered with a moo.
"Correct me if I am wrong," interjected Buttercup. "But what I think you are saying is a variation of the old saw, 'What goes around, comes around.' That is, if the positions on the scale are physically linked, if there is accountability, then you may be up now but you could be down later."
"Well, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it sounds good," said Bessie kowtowing to Buttercups pushy persona.
It was just at that time that Clifford Clovinhooves, full of bovine belligerence, saw fit to bulldoze his way into the discourse.
"It's a little known fact that the ancient Mesopotamians saw happiness as an artificial state of grace and in fact I think it was Epicuris who, in the third century B.C., said 'Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not but remember what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.' so what's up with that, eh?" he said cheerfully.
As usual, Clovinhooves had once again stepped in it. Buttercup suggested they moooove on to a different subject. They had milked this one for all it was worth.
###

Coffee shop

It never ceases to amaze me what gets done at the coffee shop. The problems of the world boiled down, simple concepts, philosophies, the meaning of life — solved, I think.
Mark Twain was in the corner arguing with a Chaos theorist. “Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else. That is not advice, it is merely a custom,” he said.
A woman of science joined the argument. “It all distills out to a math formula,” she said. Her contemporary, Einstein disagreed.
No growth advocates, full of anti-cementism, said it was not the answer but the problem. “Oppose everything,” they suggested.
“Nattering, nabobs of negativity,” sniffed Spiro Agnew at them and the Press. The Good Ol’ Boys nodded in agreement.
The clergy had their own little sub meeting. “It’s the Holy Spirit,” suggested the bishop. “How else do you explain how 200 old men who have never met, can come together and in few days pick a Pope, a leader for life, to lead a billion-member worldwide organization that meets at least once a week.”
Representatives from the Mormons, Jews, Evangelicals, Presbyterians, Baptist, Muslims, Jehovah Witness, Buddhist, Shinto, Orthodox, Rastafarians and many other disciplines and dogma didn’t necessarily disagree — but each had their own take on it.
H.L. Mencken and Thomas Jefferson joined the fray. “He who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven as to the dogmas in which they all differ,” Jefferson piped in.
“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart,” Mencken added.
From the rough side of the room came a slurred call. “Booze is the answer.”
“What about sex, drugs, rock and roll,” mumbled glimmer twin Keith Richards in barely recognizable sympathy for the devil.
The Druids, Ute Dwarfs, leprechauns and other pagans thought that was small-minded and dismissed the enormity of the issue. “Bad mojo,” offered the shaman. The designer hinted that Fung Shei may correct things.
Off to the right bantered the management crowd. Peter Drucker suggested a total quality or “TQM” approach.
“Seven habits of highly effective people,” started in Steven Covey. But someone cut him off. “Who moved my cheese,” went the interruption.
A cowboy poet and motorcycle mechanic held court over the concept of Zen.
Alan Watts joined in. “It’s a way of liberation, concerned not with discovering what is good or bad or advantageous, but what is,” he said.
Puzzled, I looked at the waitress. “Maybe it’s the coffee,” she speculated.

Elvis on the chairlift

I ran into Elvis on the ski slopes the other day. He rode the triple up with some foul-mouthed woman from New Zealand.
"I admire your work," I said. "Especially the movie where you had to wear the diving suit with the bolt-on helmet" I couldn't remember the name of it.
The foul-mouthed woman from New Zealand thought I was talking to her and said "Thanks and (expletive deleted)."
I tried again. "You're from Memphis aren't you? My mother is from Tennessee. Ever hear of Fork Ridge?"
He nodded and asked what I do for a living.
"Newspapers," I said. Both he and the woman from New Zealand scooted as far away on the chair seat as they could. "Newspaper advertising," I added quickly and they both moved back.
He asked how that was and if the industry had changed much since he has been out of circulation.
"I think it has changed a lot in the last few years," I said nervously as I stared down at at his blue suede ski boots. "Everything has gotten shorter."
He asked me to explain.
"The stories, the deadlines, reader's attention span, everything seems to be getting shorter," I postulated. "Tempers, they are shorter too."
He pressed for more.
"Well, take the USA Today. Just about every person in the newspaper game complains about their lack of depth. The readers complain too but they have made it one of the nation's most-read newspapers. Most of the other papers have copied some of its tactics, many times without even realizing it."
He asked if I worked for USA Today.
"No, I work for a small newspaper. Community journalism, you know, the stuff you have tacked up all over your refrigerator with little magnets. That kind of stuff, with a hard news cover," I said. "I like it very much."
He wanted to know what I was trying to say.
"I don't know. Just that everything is shorter nowadays."
Both he and the foul-mouth woman from New Zealand looked at me, then looked at each other, then back at me.
"Even the ad salesmen," they said in unison.
"Don't be cruel," I said.

Raft of trouble


This story first appeared in the Denver Post when I served on their Voices Panel in 2004.

The river improved my outlook on life.
When I was younger, my friends and I spent 70 percent of our summers in the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado.
Many a warm afternoon was used up throwing dangerous dives from the Big Rock right in the middle of town — or maybe from the other Big Rock down river near the old McPhee lumber camp. Other days were spent fishing under the old Fourth Street Bridge. Now, the lumber camp lies several hundred of feet below the surface the Reservoir and the town is trying to sell the old Fourth Street bridge .
But the fondest of memories involved floating. We had various methods.
We used rubber rafts, inner tubes and sometimes even an innovative hybrid that involved a logging skidder tire tube with a circular piece of plywood laced into the center. Two riders, each with a paddle, would ride horse-style on the edges and a 12-pack would rest comfortably in the center on the plywood.
We all knew the fast moving current had it perils but we never let such worries stop the fun.
One afternoon, about eight or nine of us in two different rubber rafts, put in near Stoner Creek and were planning on floating our way down to the town of Dolores.
A few miles down river from our starting point, the guys in the first raft stuck an oar in the bank and lost it. Following closely behind and near enough to see what had happened, the four of us in second raft decided to try and recover it for them.
The oar was directly upstream from a blown-over, half-submerged cottonwood tree that extended 20 or 30 feet out into the current. We pulled in close to the bank above the displaced oar and one of us jumped out the raft while the rest of us tried to hold it steady against the current. The tree snag itself helped us a little with that effort.
But when the guy grabbing the oar jumped back in, the side of the raft dropped low enough to go under the partially submerged tree. And then the raging torrent then pushed the whole raft under the snag. Three of us bailed out of the raft immediately and into the river. However, one of our group remained stuck in between the raft that was pushing up, and the log that was pushing down. Then the raft, half on one side of the log and half on the other, started slowly slipping down the tree and out toward the middle of the river — raft pushing up, log pushing down with our trapped friend grinding along in between.
At one point, another one of us in chest deep water, had to hold the poor skinned-up captive’s noggin above the water by the hair of his head. Finally, after about three or four minutes of this hair raising experience, the raft reached the end of the log and popped free, dropping the log back to the bottom of the river and releasing our slightly-damaged friend with only minor cuts and bruises.
 Our close call that day, just like others before and afterward, didn’t seem to keep any of us out of the river very long.
Well, most of us have run into snags in our lives. More than a few times, we have found ourselves up that well-known creek without a paddle. And we all can get bruised and bloodied a little by the current and the rocks and trees we encounter. Whether our troubles stem from our own poor planning or or we suffer as victims of circumstance, it is not always possible to go with the flow.
Sometimes we might have a bad day — or a bad week —or a bad month. But most of the time we just enjoy our trips down the river.

###
Photo Information: Prospecting party. Men eat at a picnic table near the Dolores River. Title penciled in photoprint margin on verso: "Dinner at Dolores Dam Site, March 25, 1908."
Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

Tell you how to run your little newspaper

Three was the dominant number around this place. The rural Wyoming newspaper office was really three rooms. The front room had a counter, a Compugraphic video display terminal and a nook with three light tables in a semi-circle. The dark room was just that, dark, and about three yards square. In the back room was a very large table where all the addressing, inserting and mailing occurred.
An editor, an office manager, and a parttime ad sales person put together all the local news for three towns that were collectively 33 miles apart. Each and every week, about 3,000 newspapers went out into a circulation area which overlapped into three different counties; Goshen, Platte and Niobrara.
The news was the usual fare — city council coverage, fires, accidents, arrests, school lunches, honor rolls, irrigation schedules, business briefs, service club info, and high school sports — for the most part. I had been the managing editor for about three months when this elderly character — he appeared to be a rancher — walked in to the office and leaned on the counter.
“Let me tell you how to run your little newspaper here,” he began.
“There is only three things you need to know about putting out a newspaper in this country.” And he proceeded to tell me.
The first thing, he said, is the most important. “Put something in there we are likely to read,” which seemed sort of obvious to me but I perked up my ears anyway. I tried to listen to him like he was telling me a long lost secret.
“This is easier said than done,” continued the rancher. “We have had to run off more than a few of you editors because you have a different idea of what’s news than we do.” He said too many have come into his community and “started right off the bat, trying to tell folks what is wrong with this place, and how wherever they came from, is better. They want us to know how smart they are, and offer suggestions on how to fix it.”
“We know what’s wrong with this place. We have known it for years, and for the most part, we’re not inclined to fix it. But if we did decide to work on it, you telling us to do so would certainly be counter-productive.”
“Just tell us who got caught this week, and where to meet and what time. Make sure our kids names get into the paper if they happen to do something right. Try to keep an eye out and your ears open at those government meetings nobody has time to go to.”
I get the idea, I said, but you mentioned three things. What were the other two?
“Hold your horses. The second thing, and it is important too, is to make sure the paper is delivered on time,” he said. “If it is supposed to be at the post office at such and such time, it better be there. If you usually have it in the rack over at Wilma’s by 5 p.m., don’t deviate. The first time it is late, you are going to be persona non grata for a month. Old ladies will shun you. Children will laugh and point. Grown men will turn and walk away when you enter a room. The next time it’s late, they’ll burn you and the building, string you up, shoot you, stab you, drag you behind a team of horses, and maybe even try some other bad stuff like evisceration, pulverization or decapitation. Let it happen three times, and God help you, son.”
By this time I was beginning to get nervous about this fellow’s advice and whether I might live up to the local expectations of practicing the newspaper craft. I wondered to myself if the rancher’s ideas were truly a reflection of the community, and if his warnings had any basis in fact. I also wanted to hear his last little bit of advice. So I asked him, “What’s the third thing?”
He leaned on the counter even more. “Don’t let anyone come in here and try to tell you how to run your little newspaper,” he said.

###

Rattlesnake with sucking chest wound




This story first appeared in the Denver Post in the fall of 2004 when I served on their Voices panel.


Be prepared, we were told as children. Good advice, I guess, but for what?
Today, Herman the Spokescrab tries to teach "Disaster Action Kids" to be ready for anything — floods, hurricanes, tornadoes ... biological, chemical, nuclear and other mean, nasty emergencies. You can find Herman at FEMA for Kids.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers us help in the form of its color-coded warning system. At Ready.Gov — it's a yellow, "Elevated" warning today, perhaps an orange, or red warning tomorrow. That organization promises "Ready.Kids, coming soon."
It was different when I was a youngster.
A long time ago, as a Boy Scout, I participated in one of those mock "disasters" in which a whole swarm of folks puts on all kinds of fake "injuries" and waits to be "rescued" by one of Montezuma county's finest emergency services personnel. All of this was in the name of emergency preparedness.
We were supposed to simulate a group of hapless victims of a downed commercial jetliner strewn for miles in the jackrabbit country of the high desert near Cortez.
I can't for the life of me remember what kind of hideous disfigurement I was unlucky enough to draw from the fake injury pile, but the older kid I was with -- that knew the ropes of mock "disasterism" -- had picked up the coolest fake sucking-chest wound I have ever seen. His own personal enhancements to this artificial injury have etched the whole experience so deeply into my memory, I couldn't forget it for love, money or single-malt whiskey.
Somewhere out in the simulated chaos of an airplane crash, among the juniper, pinion and sagebrush in which we had been distributed, the older kid, despite the debilitating sucking-chest wound and with the help of other older kids, had managed to find and kill a small rattlesnake. They had mashed the snake's head so completely that there was little hope of the creature ever biting anything again. But in the tradition of dead rattlers, it was still moving around until sundown. And so developed the injury enhancement.
The snake, now rendered harmless by multiple mashings but still as squirmy as say, ... a Seattle squid who owns a coffee shop, was packed in among the blood and guts elements of the big kid's injury.
After some time, a National Guard medic was able to locate us, direct an ambulance, and perform the proper transfer upon a stretcher into the back of an aging, green, four-wheel-drive ambulance with red cross markings. Charged with performing the proper triage of fixing the worst of us miserable victims first, the medic ripped open the older kid's shirt to treat an obvious and serious chest grievance.
At that very moment, the snake inside did a little wiggle, the kid hit the fake blood spurt pump, the medic looked down once and then shot straight up in the air hitting the roof of the old military ambulance.
Real blood quickly followed. At that point I guess we had added reality to this show in the form of a real honest-to-goodness injury (the only one of the day) in the face of simulation.
The snake was still wiggling around on the cement armory floor when the guardsman returned. If I'm not mistaken, Doc Merritt had to put six stitches into his scalp to sew up the gash he created on the overhead rack in the ambulance.
Despite months of preparation and training, drills and instruction — the poor guy was completely surprised by a rattlesnake in a sucking chest wound. He never saw it coming.

Picture


This story first appeared in the Denver Post when I served on their Voices panel in 2004.

I stared at the photo of my buddies at the football game for the longest time without realizing what was wrong. Something was missing. Then, after tossing the photo on the scanner, the image software forced me to put a name to the puzzle.
“Where’s Leavell?.jpg” the label now reads. In the photograph there is an empty seat in the front row on the right-hand side. A brain tumor killed our friend Lynn Leavell more than six years prior, but that didn’t stop him from leading us home.
Lynn was our quarterback for the Dolores Bears in 1978 and ‘79.
He later coached, taught and served as principal in Akron, Colo. In November, Dolores and Akron met leading up to the Colorado Single A football quarter finals. If played in Akron, the game would have been played on Lynn Leavell Field. But in Dolores that fall, Lynn reined in absentia over an important homecoming.
When I showed up at the game in November, it was out of respect for Lynn’s memory and the circular coincidence surrounding a Dolores/Akron playoff game. Others, I think, showed too, for similar reasons. His cousin Scott Weinmaster, picked me up in Colorado Springs in a rental car after a flight to Denver from his home in Florida.
We spent a lot of time talking about Lynn, on the way down to Dolores, and then with others when we arrived. To us he was not really a hero figure but just an above average cat. In examining the hole he left in our lives, we struggled for a better grip on understanding our own existence.
In the words of our coach, Carl Rice, “Lynn’s talent was that he was cool under pressure and the most stoic youngster I have ever met.”
He was a planner who usually had a laser beam focus. He set his goals early and often. As a result, he generally had a pretty good success ratio, and a facade of at least appearing calm. His public persona was of one of a man way beyond his years. It was as if he knew his ticket was punched for the matinee only.
Lynn was also an assistant coach in Akron under Rice. Carl Rice now lives, coaches and serves as principal back in Akron.
“He was like a son. I was and am proud of him. His flaws, like all of ours, are better left to the wind,” says Rice. “We each have a responsibility to teach honor within the confines of our own life.”
“He was his own worst enemy because he acted like he needed nothing but he needed support so much he felt guilty. You guys think he was different than you. I don’t see him that way. He just didn’t ask as much.”
But as usual, in that November, we were asking a lot from Lynn and his memory. Dolores football and seeing old friends was one thing. But personally, I hoped for connection. The kind of connection to a group where you can finish each other’s stories — even if you haven’t seen other members of the group in more than 20 years. As we settled into old familiar roles, I found some of that connection.
At one point, in an argument with Weinmaster and James Biard about what to make of Lynn’s death, I asked for peace. I think they both misunderstood me. I wanted peace, not in the sense that he was gone, and I needed to accept it. But peace in what his absence represented.
With Lynn’s absence—without him being in the picture anymore— two lessons were driven home with the force and violence of helmet-on-helmet, head-on tackling drills. First, that life is short and you need to make the most of it.
And related to that, we would never again be 17-years-old with plans to live forever. We would never again be connected by the same passion and change.
I, for one, find no peace in that. The empty seat in photo still brings me great sadness.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Colorado Torpedo

The last of the native wolves disappeared from Colorado in the 1940s. No Grizzly Bears were seen here from 1952 until 1979, when a hunting guide unexpectedly killed one in self-defense in the San Juan range in southwestern Colorado. Wolverines -- maybe they are here and maybe not. But what is the lot of the Torpedo?
Luke Tierney, one of the 13 members of the Russell prospecting party that remained in the gold diggings on banks of the Platte in 1858 (before the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and ‘59ers of the following summer) wrote about the Torpedo in his journal. The book, with help from promoters like D.C. Oakes, Steven W. Smith and others paved the way for the Rush that populated early Colorado.
“… Near a rivulet called Bijou creek … was a pond, about thirty feet in diameter, densely thronged with a singular fish known as the Torpedo. It is of grayish color, has four feet like an alligator, four talons or fingers on the two forefeet, and five on the hinder ones, with one continued fin from tip to tip. Its bite is said to be incurable,” wrote Tierney in the “History of the Gold Discoveries on the South Platte,” published in 1859.
“Bijou” was the nickname of Joseph Bissonette, who was Stephen H. Long’s guide in 1820,” according to historian James McTighe. “Cherry Creek heads about eight miles east of Monument. Exit 161, and ten miles beyond that lies the head of West Bijou Creek.”
In his 1984 book, “Roadside History of Colorado,” McTighe speculates, “The Torpedo most likely is the prairie cousin of the Loch Ness monster.”
Though he does allow, “The creature may not be imaginary. Colorado wildlife official Robin Knox indicates that a mutant form of the Tiger salamander, known as the axolotl, seems to fit Tierney’s somewhat lurid description. Found in ponds thoughout the region, the axolotl is usually eight to twelve inches in length, but like the salamander, is nonvenomous.”
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, the axolotl is a salamander, Siredon mexicanum, found in certain lakes in the region of Mexico City, which reaches reproductive maturity without losing its larval characteristics.
“This phenomenon is called neoteny; in salamanders it is apparently caused by certain environmental conditions, particularly a low level of iodine in the water, which affect the functioning of the thyroid gland. Axolotls are permanently aquatic, never undergoing the metamorphosis to a terrestrial form characteristic of amphibians. They grow larger than ordinary larval salamanders and develop sexually, but they retain external gills and a well-developed tail,”according to Columbia.
In captivity, the mutant salamander can live as long as 25 years and is fully capable of limb regrowth. The axolotl was not recognized as a salamander until 1865, when several specimens at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris suddenly underwent metamorphosis. After some experimentation it was discovered that when their pools were dried up most of the animals changed into the adult form. Axolotls will also mature normally if fed thyroid gland extract.
“The related North American tiger salamander, Abystoma tigrinum, often exhibits neoteny in the Rocky Mountains, where the iodine content of the water is low. The axolotl has a broad head and bushy gills; its skin is a black-speckled dark brown. It may grow as long as 13 in. (33 cm), ” says Columbia.
In certain area of Mexico axolotls are considered delicacy when roasted.

The Red Dogs of Dolores


This story first appeared in the Denver Post when I served on their Voices panel in 2004.

There was no sign that officially named it that, but folks in Dolores, Colo., used to call the place the “Red Dog Hardware.” Four or five Irish Setters would lie around on the floor behind the counters all day. Usually, some of them were in the way of customers trying to find a chain saw file or some 80 grit sand paper, but they were easily shooed off to another corner of the 100-year-old Taylor Hardware building.
The store owners, Merton and Cecil Taylor, were more likely to side with the dogs than the customer if a territorial dispute were to arise.
Before it was a hardware store, it had been the old J.J. Harris Bank and the teller cages still separated the office area from cabinets full of T-hinges and rows of Gerry cans, fender washers, claw hammers, sisal rope and Mile High Grass Seed Mix.
Jason was the youngest and biggest of the big red dogs in the ‘80s and usually hung out by the coffee pot in the teller cage hoping for a stray doughnut or chocolate-covered bear claw. Occasionally a customer would scare him off for a few days by giving him a pinch of Copenhagen snuff. His begging tendencies were put on hold after he snorted and drooled all over oak floors from the snuff but in few days, he would be back begging again until the next round of snuff-and-drool.
When taking deposits to the bank several blocks away, one of the dogs (usually Jason) would carry a zippered bank bag in its mouth all the way inside to one of the tellers. The bank employees probably complained privately about having to deal with the dog-slobbered bank bag but would wait patiently for a human from the store to come down and finish the paper work. The hardware store owner sat on the bank’s board of directors so red dog delivery was just fine in this town.
In the summer, the dogs would lay out in the sun on the sidewalks near the flats of tomato plants and onion starts. Jason would attend to his “local politics” from about 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. every morning but would never have to worry about any leash law legislation.
In the evening, two or three of the older dogs would have to be helped into the old blue International Scout. The Scout’s driver seat would be flipped forward and the old dog’s front paws would be lifted up to the floor boards. Then, the the back end the dog would be lifted and pushed forward a little to the back end of the vehicle. Then the process would be repeated again for the next oldest and the next. Finally, Jason would jump in on his own volition, with only an occasional yip and then growl and snapping of teeth as the one dog landed on another.
Most of the dogs would live to a ripe old age. Upon each of their deaths, Merton, the store owner would hire a carpenter to build a pine box, dig out his map of where the other dogs were buried over the many years of having dog friends, and using mason line and permenant landmarks, find and dig a final resting place for the animals. Merton Taylor would then say a few words and send the dog down the path to eternity. Jason’s funeral was one of the saddest.
The hardware store burned, nearly to the ground, on the day after Christmas in 1984. Later when Merton died in his own ripe old age (In his 90s), one of the photos they used at the funeral was of him and a young red dog, perhaps Jason, back in better days when they were both more of a pup. I don’t think he would have minded at all if they got out the map and mason line.