1915: Trip to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

1915: Trip to Aspen

Tim Willougby
Aspen Times Weekly
Willoughby collectionIn 1915, dirt roads led to Aspen, requiring spare tires.

Getting to Aspen from Hotchkiss wasn’t easy in 1915. Some rode horseback over what is now McClure Pass or navigated Schofield and West Maroon passes. My father’s initiation to Aspen came via dirt highways in a noisy 1912 Buick.

At that time my grandfather managed the Hotchkiss Hotel and developed peach and apple orchards. The Pacific Fruit Express, an amalgamation of 6,000 refrigerated rail cars, connected Colorado farmers to coastal markets. Eventually Colorado’s growers invested their profits in mining ventures. Grandfather and three other North Fork Valley businessmen invested in the Contact Tunnel Company, the precursor to the Midnight Mining Company. They were traveling to Aspen for a personal inspection of their investment when my father got to go along for the ride.

The 200-mile, one-way journey turned out to be slow and dusty. The first day’s destination was Grand Junction. The ride from Hotchkiss to Delta was uneventful, lacking even the customary flat tire. Farther on, mechanical problems threatened progress. A power loss, later determined to be a distributor problem, required the men to push the car up any significant slope.

Night fell, exposing an additional calamity: the carbide headlamps failed. One of the men, a seasoned auto traveler, had brought a backup gas lantern. The party limped into Grand Junction by lamplight early the next morning.

After repairs and fewer than anticipated problems, they reached Glenwood Springs in time for a plunge in the pool. Those thermal springs provided a great treat for a 7-year-old boy who was used to the cold swimming holes of the Gunnison River.

The third day of travel ended early. After only a few hand-assisted uphill climbs, they arrived at the Hotel Jerome in time for lunch. Father’s first impression of Aspen was, “it was a boy’s heaven.” Coming from Hotchkiss, Aspen appeared to him as a big bustling city. A Contact Tunnel partner, Albert Grover, loaned Father a mule and another gentleman gave him a dollar for spending money. He rode around town and up to Tourtolette Park. He saw a baseball game, shopped the candy and ice cream stores, and saw two movies, one at the Isis and another at the Dreamland on Hyman Avenue.

While riding his mule he was stopped by a woman in a short skirt who admired his mount. “Women in Hotchkiss wore long dresses; I didn’t know women on Durant Street were ‘businesswomen.'”

The height of the trip was a tour of mining operations, the first time Father went underground. In Queen’s Gulch they examined Contact progress, a tunnel of about 2,000 feet, then hiked into Little Annie Basin. As for anyone who has emerged from the forest at Picnic Point, the view of Little Annie Basin enthralled the party. Moby Welch, working for the Little Annie mine under contract, took them into the Annie tunnel, up a raise, and into the empty cavernous stopes. Welch was working a 30-inch vein by hand, hoping to accumulate enough ore for a single smelter shipment.

Father remembered crossing underground from the Little Annie into several levels of the Midnight. He recalled the beauty of the stope sides – “pink and white barite blended with quartz crystals.”

Father could not have known then that he would spend three decades of his adult life working those mines.

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