What a father | AspenTimes.com

What a father

Tim Willoughby
Bud Sheehan, ready to walk to school in Aspen. Note the unplowed Main Street in the background. (Willoughby collection)

Snow day! Every Aspen child hopes, when they see snow falling before crawling into bed, that they will hear those words when they wake up. If the buses don’t roll, then you don’t go. Aspen’s present-day schools are beyond walking distance from most residential neighborhoods so, even if school is in session, getting there requires a warm ride. Things were different nearly a century ago when my mother made her way to school in the snow, but she did enjoy transportation that rivaled a school bus.

Winter transportation in Aspen’s early 1900s was mostly by foot. Few automobile owners drove out of their barns to get stuck on unplowed streets. Those who had far to go harnessed their horses. Those who journeyed out of town did so on a train. Those who had the means enjoyed the most elegant and comfortable transport: a sleigh outfitted with blankets and quilts.

The convenient locations of Aspen’s three schools allowed most students to walk the few blocks and brave the snow. Sleigh and wagon travel made streets slippery and treacherously rutted. Some wooden sidewalks elevated shoes above spring and fall mud, but most were not shoveled in the winter. It was not far to school in distance, but each step in countervailing winter conditions could register as a deeply-felt drop in temperature and a chance to slip and fall.

Many adults remember the child-to-snow ratio: the smaller you are, the deeper the snow. I recall walking to school in knee-deep snow, but when I was 6 my knees were not far above grade. I worked hard to push through even one night’s accumulation. But my father did not do for me what my mother’s father did for her.

As a teamster, my grandfather, John Sheehan, hauled timber from Hunter Creek to a sawmill in Aspen and delivered lumber around the city. Later he operated Sheehan Brothers grocery on Hyman Avenue until his death from the 1918 influenza. He bought a house on Main Street, now Explore Booksellers, which was near the firehouse. Also, John served as volunteer teamster for the horse-drawn fire equipment. There were ulterior motives for being a volunteer fireman in those days. Most houses did not have running water and hot water was a rarity; a fire department post included a weekly hot bath at the firehouse.

John tended the horses and, in turn, had access to exercise them. If it snowed during the night, he harnessed one of the big strong fire horses and chained a length of log perpendicular to the horse’s forward progress. When it was time for my mother to trudge through the six blocks of snow to the Washington School in the West End, he would precede her with the horse pulling the log through the snow. Although the log did not push the snow to the side, it packed it down well below knee height.

What a father.

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