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Vagneur: The changing ground beneath our feet

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

“It’s a nostalgic anachronism” he said.

“What’s that you’re calling me? Watch your language,” I replied.

Oh, come on, we’re talking wooden sidewalks here, otherwise known as plank, or boardwalks. Maybe that comes from “walking the plank,” as in pirate lore, but probably just because “plank” is another term for board. Some people “plank” in their living rooms, totally stretched out, but you gotta be tough to last very long.

Where’d they come from, these wooden pathways? This country used to be covered with undetermined acres of forests with easy access; labor was cheap, and marshes, swamps, beaches, weeds, bushes and other impediments made it difficult for people to walk from one area to another. For the time period, what could be simpler than laying down a wooden walkway?

Good carpenters made some beautiful designs, going through the woods, along residential fences in towns and cities, up and down gentle hills, and leading to a plethora of hardwood dance floors and entertainment stages across the country. Check out the stage floor in the Wheeler Opera House next time you’re up there.

Some town back east claims to have the last wooden sidewalk around 1955, a claim wholeheartedly debunked by reality. But before we put an end to them, we should have a little history.

My grandmother’s house in town had two wooden sidewalks, one going from Second Street up to a T, going left to the back porch, or right to the carriage house, or what is referred to today as a garage. The other one went from Bleeker Street to the front veranda. As a toddler I remember running down that back porch wooden path, attempting to get away from my mother, who was trying to catch me for whatever reason. The sound of my shoes clattering on the wood still resonates in my memory.

At one time, there was a wooden sidewalk running along Main Street, from Matthew Drug to at least Third Street. I suppose I never thought about it much because that’s just how it was, but when the boards were pulled up and a course of road base and a very thin touch of pea gravel were laid, there was something unfinished about it that made me miss the boards. Can’t say for certain, but that was likely around 1955 to 1958. There were others around town, perhaps the longest-lasting being the one alongside the building that housed the Aspen Country Store and McDonald’s with its golden arches. 1980s, at least.

Our Woody Creek ranch house had a large, open porch running around two sides of the house. Past the south end was a pasture and barn where we kept our horses in the summer. To my memory, there was nothing more enjoyable than clonking down the wooden slats along the house, headed to the corral on a fresh-air early morning, sweetened with a touch of fresh rain droplets clinging to the grass.

Back in the whenever, there was a wooden sidewalk along Midland in Basalt, north side. It was a memorable treat to stomp down that wooden slice of heaven, headed to the Midland or other various shops, now defunct along the street, such as Ben Darien’s general store. I liked to park toward the east end of Midland just to enjoy the walk. Perhaps this column wrote about that years ago, saying the charm of Basalt went away when the wooden walks were replaced with concrete.

There’s something positive and powerful about the heel of a cowboy boot hitting a solid wooden walkway. It naturally puts an enthusiasm into your step. Just as in Basalt, Carbondale had a wooden walk along Main, from the east down to at least Leprechaun Liquors. Part of the joy of going to the Pour House (Skip Bell) or the Dusty Rose was walking down there from my house over on Garfield. Loved it almost as much as drinking beer, but not quite. That was in the late 1970s. Concrete streets and sidewalks evolved; it was time to leave.

There are very few logging companies left in the country, lumber prices have climbed through the roof, and the cost of maintaining wooden sidewalks compared to those of concrete is exorbitant. That’s why you hardly ever walk on wood anymore.

There are still some plank sidewalks in various nooks and crannies of a few towns who are keeping them for the historical impact, but even at that, they won’t last forever. If you ever set foot on a wooden sidewalk, be sure to savor the experience.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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