The beginning of traffic in Aspen
August 2, 2006
On any given day last year there were about 23,300 vehicles traveling on Highway 82 over Maroon Creek Bridge just west of Aspen.Witnessing all that traffic trying to wiggle into and out of town is like watching a lethargic python struggling to slither after eating too much. It’s hard to imagine it all started 100 years ago from today – on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1906 – with a lone Buick.Ted Cooper, a 23-year-old Aspen man who helped run a family business and dared to dream big, helped usher in a new era by driving the first automobile to his hometown.Cooper and his friend Tom Flynn traveled to Denver to purchase a burgundy-colored 1906 Buick for $1,350. Sometime on Aug. 3 they telegraphed to Aspen their intent to bring the car up the Roaring Fork Valley the following day. It was big news for the Aspen newspaper, which heralded Cooper and Flynn as heroes, but also crowed with civic pride over the event in an article headlined, “Our First Auto.””The boys will probably reach Aspen this morning and Aspen will then have an auto honk-honking through the streets,” the Aspen Democrat said on Aug. 4, 1906. The article continued, “Watch for the automobile today and reach over and pat yourself on the back as Aspen is becoming metropolitznized.”The next day, the paper rounded out coverage of the happening by explaining that a “chauffeur had driven the boys from Denver to Glenwood Springs, presumably to teach them how to drive, then took the train back to the capital. Cooper, Flynn and the Buick arrived in Aspen on the afternoon of Aug. 4″The boys are thoroughly efficient in the handling of the car and when you get an invitation to ride with them, just get right in and you will enjoy yourself all right,” the newspaper encouraged.
The Right StuffTed Cooper’s son, Stirling “Buzz” Cooper, said his dad talked very little about his big auto trip to Aspen, but other folks let him know what his old man accomplished. “I knew about it from about the time I could talk,” Cooper said. He learned the details when he started researching it a decade or so ago.Cooper discovered his dad’s car had a 22-horsepower engine tucked beneath the front and back seats. A 16-gallon gas tank was stowed under the hood. The early model had a hand crank for a starter and a chain as part of the drive mechanism. Shifting into a forward low gear and reverse was accomplished via foot pedals. The forward high gear was attained by using a lever on the outside of the car.His dad was mechanically inclined. More importantly, he was bold.”He was just in the spirit of adventure. He just wanted to try new things,” Cooper said.Ted arrived in Aspen with his family in July 1892, when he was just 9 years old. He went to school in Aspen and became a partner in a store that his brother, Ed, founded. They ran Cooper Book and Stationery Store with help from their father.The business was a community cornerstone of Aspen where Ted made his livelihood until 1943, when he retired. But Ted’s true professional interest in Aspen was mining. Buzz said his dad always felt there were big strikes still to be made on the back of Aspen Mountain. He constantly promoted the area’s potential.
“He ran the Cooper bookstore so he could talk to the customers about mining,” Buzz said.Adventure was in his bloodThe elder Cooper also had a knack for recognizing technological advances. In 1902, at the age of 19, he and a friend rode bicycles to Yellowstone National Park in an adventure followed by their hometown newspaper. The next year, Ted took a 600-mile bike tour through eastern Colorado.”Obviously, Ted became tired of the bicycle. It [was] the summer of 1904, and at age 21 he decided to buy Aspen’s first motorcycle,” Buzz wrote in an essay about his dad. “By today’s standards it was not a lot more than a bicycle with wheels. It could make some speed – but not too much.”The Marsh motorcycle from Brockton, Mass., cost $175.Buzz’s research showed that Ted entered a race from Basalt to Glenwood Springs for bicycles and motorcycles. Three motorcycles entered, but only his completed the race, on rough streets. He finished only 10 minutes ahead of the first bicyclists.By 1906, Ted was ready to move up to the latest and greatest in technology. Buzz’s essay said it is somewhat a mystery how he came up with $1,350 for the Buick. His uncle Theod, a successful engineer, probably helped with the purchase, according to Buzz.
Little is known about Ted and Tom Flynn’s trip from Glenwood Springs. The Colorado Department of Transportation’s website indicates abandoned railroad beds were used as roads starting in the early 1900s. The highway commission voted to add Highway 82 to the state system in 1911. In 1937, the first paving occurred on four miles between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. The rest of the road was oiled.’Beginning of an era’One detail that Buzz flushed out concerned the entrance of his dad and Flynn to Aspen. Their route took them along what is now McLain Flats and up the Slaughterhouse Hill by Red Butte. Buzz said the grade was so steep that his dad’s Buick had to take it in reverse – which delivered more power.Ted Cooper marveled that his life spanned from the early days of the automobile to a time when the U.S. put a man on the moon, according to his son. It’s amazing – considering how central cars are today in the Roaring Fork Valley – that the first valleywide trip occurred just 100 years ago, Buzz said.”It was the beginning of an era and my father recognized that,” he said.Ted died in 1972 at age 88. The Coopers are celebrating his achievement at the Aspen Historical Society’s annual Ice Cream Social. It will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum. The event is open to the public.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.