Men and their toys |

Men and their toys

Willoughby collectionA source of community pride, Pitkin County's new snowplow makes its way toward the Bells, circa 1950.

Paw through any town’s historic photo archives ” after you eliminate individual and family portraits, the remaining photos feature men standing around their prized equipment.

Aspen’s first civic expenditures provided firemen with hand-pulled hose carts. As the population grew and funds increased, horse-drawn ladder carts were added. The newest and best fire engines are polished with pride in fire stations to this day.

It may be due to civic pride, or more simply men and their love of toys with wheels, but expense is rarely sparred for firefighting equipment. Nineteenth-century hose carts and wagons with steam-powered pumpers were elaborate and extravagant. Brass, bronze and silver-plating, polished to mirror smoothness, turned functional equipment into status symbols. Bright, primary color detailing transformed them into works of art.

Local governments, especially that of Aspen, overspent revenues in the early 1900s. Panics and population decline diminished debt service. The Depression exacerbated the plight. The city and county were broke. Aspen had to forgo snowplowing and street grading equipment for many years.

Finally, World War II and an economic resurgence fueled by a developing ski industry enabled local government to expand services. The all-male county commission of the early 1950s gave priority to a plow.

Buying new snowplowing equipment could be as exciting as ringing in a new fire truck. It had to have four-wheel drive to push snow up a grade. It had to have enough horsepower to move feet rather than inches of snow. The plow had to be wide enough to remove half a road’s width at one time. Throw in a colorful paint job and the community, at least the male half, would feel proud again.

After the snowplow was purchased and delivered, commissioners and county employees celebrated with a test drive through several feet of snow on the unpaved and never plowed Maroon Creek Toad above T-Lazy Seven Ranch. The powerful plow aced the exam and was relinquished to professional drivers for mundane snow removal. That winter a few local nonskiers joined skiers in praying for snow.

You can’t have a Fourth of July parade without a fire equipment procession. Until the newness wore off, Aspen’s Winterskol parade featured county snowplows.

Here’s a final note for readers who want to know technical details. Two brands of high-clearance four-wheel drive trucks and plows were commonly chosen to grapple with the steep mountains and deep snows of the Aspen area. One brand, FWD, was built by the FWD Corporation in Wisconsin. Coleman trucks were also popular. The Midnight Mine used both brands of trucks to haul heavy equipment and supplies up and silver ore down the back of Aspen Mountain year-round. FWD’s rested on a 4-foot-8.5-inch wheelbase so a driver could deflate or switch the tires in order to drive on railroad tracks.

Don’t you think it is about time the county bought a brand new helicopter, a bright red one with gold pen-striping?

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