Friday, April 16, 2010

Time travel and no running water


How long a minute is, depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on.” __ Zall's Second Law


Raymond G. Colwell moved to Cripple Creek when he was nine years old in 1899. Living with his father and brothers, who worked as mining engineers, he experienced first hand the heyday of the roaring camp. In July of 1960, a paper he wrote for the Denver Westerners appeared in the “Roundup,” the monthly journal for the Westerners and recalls his first day in the district.

“It was a long walk from the Florence and Cripple Creek depot, which was clear down on the extreme lower, or southern, end of town, to the house which the boys had bought, which was clear on the north edge of town. If any of you remember the reservoir which is on the top of the hill beyond the end of Third or Fourth Street, our house was just a block towards downtown from it. The walk was, I presume, about seven or eight or more long blocks: I have two very vivid recollections of that walk, even aside form the fact that it was all up hill and board sidewalks or just plain gravel,” wrote Colwell.

“One of these was hearing my first burro, when one of them cut loose with a long bray just as I went by a vacant lot where he was foraging. I thought then, and still think, that it sounded exactly like priming the old well pump on the farm back in Wisconsin,” he noted.

“The other remembrance is of the long drawn out and, and to me at least, mournful call of the hot tamale vendors, as they made their rounds of the town, with their big basket on their arm containing a little pot of glowing charcoal, or perhaps a kerosene flame, to keep the hot tamales hot. You could hear the musical call of ‘Hot tom-ma-le-e-e-s’ all over the residential parts of town until late at night. Downtown, in the business section, they had little handcarts with a gasoline burner… But for the outlying, hilly parts of town, they stuck to their basket carried on their arm. Most of them seemed to me to be old men, but at a time when many men still wore beards, I may have been mistaken.”

Colwell said it was his responsibility to clean out ashes and keep the coal packed in, and the kerosene lamps filled.

“On the back porch we had two whiskey barrels for water, which the ‘water man’ kept filled at 5 cents for a 10 gallon bucket. He had tank wagon which he filled at a street hydrant, and came around two or three times a week. We really had what I thought was the finest water in the world, directly from the reservoirs above Gillette, on the western slope of Pikes Peak… I know it was clear, cold and wonderful tasting.”

Colwell said the town’s water system was put in by Michigan capital and the mains from the reservoir to town, a distance of four or five miles, was made up of wooden bored pipes, wrapped with steel bands and tar coated.

“It was pipe that was taken up about 1893 at Bay City, Michigan, where the water company was owned by the same people, at that time was reputedly fifty years old when it was replaced there by cast iron pipe. In the last few years a great deal, perhaps most, of it had been replaced but it gave a pretty satisfactory service for very close to a hundred years.”

He said blasting trenches deep enough to keep pipe from freezing in Cripple Creek was extremely expensive because the bedrock was so close to the surface.

“So, with the exception of the business district, and a few block from it in the residence section, all of the smaller homes and cabins had no plumbing.”

Thus, the need for the two whiskey barrels on the back porch.

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