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The good ol’ powerless days

Tony Vagneur
Aspen CO, Colorado

Ah, yes, kerosene lanterns dimly lighting the log cabin, a warm fire crackling in the wood stove, and maybe a loved one to share it with. Romantic, rustic, or whatever you wish to call it, such a scene was an everyday occurrence during the early years of my life.

No electricity and lack of running water made architecture a profession available to anyone wishing to protect himself from the elements. Our bathroom, or more accurately, the outhouse, was about 100 feet from our humble abode, genuine Sears catalogues and magazines of the day stacked on the “two-holer.” Unlike some in the Woody Creek Canyon, we did have running water ” about 25 feet from the house. Rather than turn the spigot on, we took a shiny, steel bucket and dipped it in the rippling waters of the nearby irrigation ditch.

This wasn’t a big deal, as most everyone lived like that in one fashion or other, even those folks up in the big town of Aspen, so there wasn’t a big push to get things upgraded. Some folks, like my grandfather, had nearby springs of clear mountain water and were plugged into a continuous supply of the stuff, allowing inside plumbing, but even at that, a cold snap (like winter) could freeze the water lines, causing most everyone to cart water buckets.



When I was 3 or 4, my parents built a new house, and we entered into a more convenient age of indoor plumbing and running water. However, there still was no electricity, so other means of creating the elusive juice had to be entertained. My dad, like Gramps, had already done, developed a bank of batteries next to the house, affectionately known as the “light plant.”

It took a humongous, gasoline-powered generator to charge those batteries (and it had to be run every afternoon), if we wanted electric light instead of kerosene lamps. Those were the early days of my learning to swear and cuss, simply because the generator didn’t always start with the first pull. My dad would forget I was standing nearby, and as each yank on the starter rope yielded the same promising but dead result, his language would fall more and more precipitously into the gutter, much to my delight.




Neither was there natural gas nor propane delivery, so we opted for oil heat in the winter. Having a furnace was outside the realm of possibility, so we had an “oil stove” installed in the center of the house, which ran on No. 1 diesel fuel. My dad would fill the tank behind the stove every morning, firing the heater all day, and then turn it off at bedtime. Such a stove had no thermostat, other than “high” or “low” settings, and it was imperative to turn it off at night, lest the plausible possibility of explosion or fire become reality.

Waking up in a house that fairly well mirrored the outside winter temperature was an experience that can never be forgotten, and to this day, I think I have a holdover reluctance to getting up in the morning, regardless the mercury level.

In the early 1950s, the Rural Electric Association (precursor to Holy Cross), came to our rescue, through the pulse of alternating current. It was a cooperative effort, and the Vagneur boys and other neighbors were required to dig holes for the placement of guy wires, adjacent to where the new electric poles were to be placed along the canyon. This was hand work, as backhoes seemed to live a philosophical existence at best, and besides, ranchers learned at an early age how to run a pick and shovel.

For some Woody Creatures, life hasn’t changed much since, while others are challenged by broadband and dedicated service line issues. And the battle rages on. At least from my perspective.