| AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: A different kind of summer tourist

A 1924 Aspen Times editor’s note referred to a problem due to “summer tourists,” but he was not talking about people — it was sheep. Sheep had been grazing in Ute Cemetery. He went on to say, “Either herders should keep their sheep out of the Ute Cemetery or a fence should be put up.”

Sheep were a common sight in 1920s Aspen. They arrived in early summer and left in late fall. They arrived by train, were unloaded, and then driven through town, with locals watching like it was a parade, and then headed up Aspen Mountain for the high country. My father, as a teen in 1922, worked several days with the drive up Aspen Mountain. On the way up ewe and a lamb got trapped 30 feet down an old mine shaft and he had to pull them out with a rope. As summer went on the sheep were moved higher and higher as the snow melted, eventually occupying the open areas above timberline.

To give you some idea of the numbers, in 1920 from June 24 to July 10, 46 railroad cars of sheep were brought to town on the Rio Grande Railway, and more later. Some came from Grand Junction, others from Utah. From Sept. 24 to Oct. 14, 61 train carloads reversed the process.

Sheep were distributed throughout the area with herders setting up high-country camps. In the 1920s, locations included Hunter Creek, Lost Man, Snowmass, Pearl Pass and Independence. The list also included Ashcroft, West Hunter Creek and West Maroon. In 1925 Aspen’s local Forest Service ranger, Len Shoemaker, estimated there were 15,000 sheep in the local Forest Service areas.

The sheep were not welcomed by everyone. In 1921, 40 armed cattleman near Craig blocked the route to the White River National Forest stopping 6,000 sheep. Wolves and mountain lions, however, welcomed them. A study in 1920 estimated that 3,200 sheep were killed in one year in Colorado and Wyoming.

The grazing business was so important to Colorado that people were warned to be more mindful of preventing forest fires because they spread to the grazing areas eliminating sheep food. Herders paid grazing fees to the Forest Service and each county got a share related to how many sheep were in the county, a significant contribution to the budget.

One of my father’s favorite sheep stories was one year in the late summer when there was an early snowstorm. Sheep had been grazing above timberline on the Richmond Hill ridge. When it first started to snow herders recognized that it could be a bad enough storm to kill many of their sheep, so they began moving them to a lower elevation. The storm intensified. Father was in the Midnight Mine bunkhouse in Queens Gulch when he heard a bah-bahing racket. He went outside and after a quick discussion they decided since it was near sunset and the storm was worsening it would be too difficult and dangerous to herd them on down Queens Gulch, so instead they herded them into the midnight tunnel for the night.

I am not sure when the annual sheep migration stopped, but I remember seeing it well into the late 1960s.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

Willoughby: A seasonal town with a seasonal calendar

Aspen, like most resort towns, has its work seasons. For workers that is both a blessing and a challenge. A blessing because if you are not enjoying your job, you know it won’t be long before it ends and a challenge because you have to find a new one.

I loved the seasonal nature of work in Aspen and combined being a teacher with summer work at the Music Festival. The transitions for some were inconvenient, but for me they elevated my energy level. Since I taught at Aspen Country Day School on the Music School campus, the two jobs overlapped.

At the end of the school year we had to pack up the entire school. In the earliest years we even had to haul everything to storage in town. Over time we built special library shelving that we could put a plywood cover over and move the books without boxing them. One of the greatest challenges was moving the science lab; moving aquariums full of water and fish is awkward at best. The first classroom ACDS arranged to lease for the whole year was the science lab.

Most teachers found the seasonal moving seemingly unnecessary hard physical labor. It did, however, make them very selective in what they boxed for the next school year. Since the Music Festival needed to set up for the season the school moving had a short deadline. In the fall the process repeated, but ACDS was the entity with the deadline. It was not a coincidence that the upper grades (5-12) spent the first week of the school year on outdoor education trips.

Eventually we had storage on campus that made it easier with the challenge being how to cram boxes, student desks and the library mostly into a basement, or after we had the science room, up a narrow set of stairs to the second floor.

The Music Festival seasonal shift was equally challenging. Even more work than moving aquariums is moving pianos. Each season the Festival was loaned hundreds of brand-new crated Baldwin upright pianos. Moving heavy boxes of books up a flight of stairs is a chore but moving a piano to the second floor of a condominium with a narrow stairway that changes direction half-way up is torturous. Doing it without scratching the brand-new finish added another challenge.

Most of my years were spent at the tent. The first job of the summer was to erect it. A small crew of around eight put up the top, and because for many years there were only two of us assigned to the tent, the rest fell to me and my partner. We installed all the side panels that required hours of lacing, and we had to attach each of the 13 top panels to anchors that held them down. The anchors were turnbuckles, I think six per panel, that had to be turned and turned and turned, a slow process.

After that we installed the seat cushions and for many years the wooden stage sections were stored for the winter so we had to reassemble them and correct any winter warping problems.

Every inch of the tent had to be cleaned removing nine months of dirt and dust. In the early years we also were in charge of the lawn so we had to get the watering system up and running, mow the grass and clean out the irrigation ditches that watered the trees.

Our deadline was not the beginning of the festival but in those days it had to be ready for the International Design Conference. We usually got to everything except weeding the gravel sections that surrounded the tent. We weeded the week of the Design Conference listening to the presentations as we dug out dandelions. The end of the season reversed the process, but it took far fewer days and we were more than willing to put in extra hours to end the season.

In those years Aspen had longer and more pronounced shoulder seasons where ski industry workers took a vacation and then many signed on to construction jobs. The erection of the tent was the harbinger of the summer season to the whole community. Finishing the school year celebrated a longer period but with the energy of children. Being part of starting another Music Festival season was a special joy, too. Life in Aspen, tied to the seasons, can be invigorating and fulfilling.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

Snowmass History: Ever heard of Emmylou?

The 1976 Snowmass Summer Festival of music had quite the lineup, according to the summer edition of that year’s Inside Aspen Magazine.

“Emmylou Harris will perform at the Snowmass Music Pavilion on July 11, at 8 p.m., kicking off the Snowmass Summer Festival,” the magazine reported. “Other performers in the lineup are Doug Kershaw on July 17, John Stewart on August 7, Jimmy Buffett on August 20, Bonnie Raitt on August 27 and 28, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on September 3.

“Emmylou Harris has been preforming on club and concert circuits off and on since 1967, but her career has just recently taken off with the recording of her first solo album, ‘Pieces of the Sky,’ released in 1975,” the article continued. “The breadth of the material on the album showed the strikingly beautiful Alabama-born singer-guitarist to be a talented performer whose time had come. Songs by Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings sparked the album. It and one of its singles, ‘If I could Only Win Your Love,’ both hit the top of the Country charts.”

Willoughby: Goose gossip

My father spent many days and nights in Queens Gulch at the Midnight Mine camp. He enjoyed its location, especially the abundance of wildlife. He passed on this memory.

It was late in October 1933. There had been a couple of light snowstorms that fall but the snow had melted. Father was outside, while most of the employees were either in the tunnel or working inside in the mill. Sensitive to even small changes in weather at that altitude, 9,500 feet, he could sense a major change in the air. The camp did not have a barometer, but he concluded, from experience, it was a change to lower air pressure.

Around 4 in the afternoon there was a loud noise overhead. A sizable flock of wild geese were flying fast and honking like they were excited about something. They were flying in formation heading east. Queens Gulch is narrow, so the view of them was short as they flew out of sight quickly. Father concluded a storm might be coming as most storms came from the southwest and the geese were flying away from its path.

Others who were outside and witnessed the geese chimed in agreeing that a storm was coming, and the storm grew larger to the point where they speculated on the camp being buried in snow.

The goose gossip went on and on until the evening meal. Good grub silenced the discussion for a while as they couldn’t swallow and talk goose at the same time. After dinner, Father phoned town to check barometer readings and was told it was reaching very low local levels. Father bunked with a Swedish miner named Carl in one of the camp’s cabins. Carl recalled that in the “old country” when geese honked like that, Swedes would stoke their fires with 10 times the usual firewood.

Father did not sleep well that night thinking about the goose omen. He remembered the winter of 1932 when the camp gulch was attacked by snowslides so bad that it closed the camp road for two weeks. Poles and telephone lines were also destroyed, a costly expense to repair in those Depression days. He fell asleep dreaming of deep deep snow.

He awoke the next morning to a colder day than the previous day, but the sky was clear. There had, however, been a snowstorm, but only 3 inches lay on the ground. There was no goose convention at the breakfast table.

Not only was there little snow that night, but little for the whole winter. There was so little the teamsters that hauled food and materials to the camp and ore out had difficulty with their sleds. In late March there was about 2 feet of snow measured in the camp. A normal winter would show about 6 feet or more. There was even less in town. Kobey’s clothing store was stuck at the end of the year with an overstock of overshoes.

We have NOAA and the National Weather Service to inform us today, but wouldn’t it be more fun to pay attention to goose omens?

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

Snowmass history: Launching creativity in Snowmass

“New art school goes into orbit at S-mass,” announced The Snowmass Villager on July 4, 1968.

“’The newest Summer Art Scene,’ as it is called in the brochure, is now happening. Sam’s Knob School of Art at Snowmass-at-Aspen started classes on June 24 and is scheduled to run through Aug. 2,” the Villager reported. “The school is under the direction of Bill Lifton, owner of The Gallery in Denver. Also here as an instructor is Jerry Johnson, an art teacher at the Denver Center of Colorado University. … He says art, like other things in contemporary life, has splintered off, that now there is a need to pull things together, to involve the public as well as the students.

“‘The greatest educational thing we can do here this summer is to see what kind of possibilities these things have. I am happy just to stay in the studio and work,’ he says, ‘but there is such a need for dialogue now, for reaching the people on the street.’ The summer will be devoted to interacting, investigating, testing, sharing, Johnson said, among the teachers, the graduate students and the artists.”

Snowmass history: Aspenites get to know the village

A 2-inch white button with "Aspen Day, Snowmass-at-Aspen, Grand Opening, Summer 1968" and a pink, orange and green flower. In the center is a white sticker with "Helen" written on it in pen.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

“Snowmass opens with ‘Aspen Day,’” announced The Snowmass Villager on June 13, 1968.

“A cattle run through the Village square, an open pit barbecue, a variety of summer activities and a presentation of a live play is all scheduled for the summer opening of Snowmass-at-Aspen on Saturday, June 15. The day has been designated ‘Aspen Day’ and Aspenites purchasing the souvenir Aspen Day button will be entitled to participate in golf, horseback riding, swimming, archery, volleyball, paddle tennis, miniature golf, arts and crafts and other activities at no additional cost.”

Cowpokes and cattle, riders and barbecue, all the sports you could ever enjoy and a live performance of “The Fantasticks” at the Opticon Theater were all offered to introduce the new Snowmass Village to the community.

Snowmass history: Bon appetit

A brochure for the first annual Aspen/ Snowmass International Wine Classic presented by American Express on June 17-19, 1983.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy image

The brochure for the first annual Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic presented by American Express promoted “three fascinating days of wine tasting and food in a beautiful mountain setting” slated for June 17-19, 1983.

“This premier event promises to become one of the most successful wine festivals in the country,” the brochure stated. “The response from vintners has been enthusiastic and all participants look forward to expanding their knowledge and appreciation of wine while enjoying a vacation in the Rocky Mountains.”

The debut festival had just 50 winemakers and 300 guests who enjoyed tastings in tents in the parking lots near Snowmass Village and in the covered tennis courts at what is now the Maroon Creek Club. Soon to be celebrating 40 years, this small summer wine tasting festival thought up by Gary Plumley over a dinner party has truly grown into its premonition.

Tim Willoughby: Independence Pass — ocean to ocean highway

Independence Pass in 1920.
Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society

There are few Aspen goals that took as long as converting Independence Pass to car use. Building support, lobbying for funding and seasonal construction spanned over a decade.

Soon after automobiles plied the network of Colorado roads, Aspen recognized the value of opening Independence for cars. The Aspen Boosters Club, working on expanding the small summer tourist business, allied with other communities in 1911 to lobby the State Highway Commission. It was not just a “local” dream, it was tied to a movement nationally to have an “ocean to ocean” highway.

Aspen worked with Glenwood, Twin Lakes and Leadville to push for the route to go over Independence, instead of other state proposals. They convinced the Highway Commission and thought they could begin work with funding in 1912. That fell through, but the county started some work and the Forest Service provided some funding for 1913 and 1914.

State funding initiated more work in 1915. Two of my extended family members, Al Frost and Jerry Sheehan, operated two four-horse teams on the road that summer. A contractor, T.E. McDuff, fought over contract details and it was not clear the county would pay its share of funding, causing the community to rally. “We need the road worse than anything else in the world unless it is a gold mine,” as one local complained. Another said, “It’s a long way to Tipperary but it’s a short way to Denver if we have the Independence Pass road.”

Highway building for cars was something new. The state even created uniform rules for road signs. For the pass they wrote rules that included honking before going into a one-lane section where you could not see the end. It was all so new that the first time two cars met on a section near the Punch Bowl (road not opened much above that point but locals were driving the road to check progress frequently) it was reported as news — “one car backed up, only a three minute delay.”

The wagon road connecting the area and mining was still in use, but Judge Deane, a major proponent and lobbyist for the road, owned land on the road known as Deane’s granite quarry. It was not an operating quarry, but with a better road locals recognized that a new business might open.

Work had to revolve around snow with construction starting in June and extending, when possible, into November. In 1916, construction was stalled due to a shortage of labor. The contractor advertised openings for “25 husky men” and would pay $2 a day with board, less than miner’s wages so few responded. It was hoped that the Aspen side could be completed in 1916 and the east side in 1917. Work stopped early in 1916, in October, and it did not start up again until July the next year.

In 1918 the community began planning a completion celebration. The road had two names, Ocean to Ocean, and the Pershing Route because the military was pushing for a cross-continental highway. Work stopped that year due to WWI.

Work resumed in 1920 with state funding and the road was completed to within 1,000 feet from the top. 1921 did not advance the road very far, but 9,000 yards of rock were excavated on the east side. Everyone thought it would be completed in 1922 as cars could navigate around work and make the trip. The first complete trip was accomplished by Ted Cooper on Oct. 16. A week later my grandfather, Fred Willoughby, drove back from Denver and he recorded the mileage reporting that it saved 108 miles. The next week snow closed the pass for the year.

Work progressed, slowly, in 1923. In 1924 a volunteer group wanting to facilitate the end of the project shoveled six tons of rock and convicts were used for similar rock work. The pass opened officially July 17. In September, 200 people from both sides of the pass celebrated with a picnic. Word spread quickly that it was the “most scenic route in the country.” It took over 10 years, $318,658 ($4.6 million in today’s dollars) and countless community hours to create what we now take for granted.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

Snowmass history: Yearbook quotes from yesteryear

Congratulations to the Brush and Owl Creek graduates of 1948, who shared words of wisdom and pet peeves in the Silver Queen Yearbook from their graduation year.

Luetta “Nertz” Kearns

Luetta Kearns.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

Born September 1931 to Owen and Maymie Kearns, she grew up along Brush Creek next to Leo Kearns. Luetta attended the Brush Creek School in the 1930s and 1940s and then graduated from Pitkin County High School, also known as Aspen High School, in 1948. She served as activity editor of the Annual, was on the girls’ basketball team and participated in the class play.

Pet peeve: “Long skirts.”

Words of wisdom: “Hopes and Truth.”

Hazel “Hazzie” May Stapleton

Hazel Stapleton.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

Born November 1930 to William and Sally Stapleton, she was the younger sister to Sam Stapleton of Sam’s Knob. They grew up along Owl Creek Road and went to the Owl Creek School before attending and graduating Pitkin County High School in 1948. Hazel was on the girls’ basketball team and participated in the class play, pep club, and glee club.

Pet peeve: “Girls that act like angels in day light.”

Words of wisdom: “Every Day a Merry One.”

Willoughby: Many feared powder, but a different kind — not powder for skiers

Tomkins Hardware explosives storage around 1900.
Aspen Historical Society photo

The history of explosives intertwines with Aspen’s history since it was a major consumer. Every mine depended on some form of explosive to advance shafts and tunnels through solid rock. The power of powder was in evidence every day, but the unintended consequences of errors and accidents were also witnessed frequently.

Black powder was the sole explosive used in American mining for many decades. It is a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur. Until 1865 the innovations were not to the powder, but how to set it off. In 1830 a device using electricity was patented and in 1889 pasteboard cartridges to contain the power were introduced. As explosives go, black powder explodes slowly, which made it relatively safer to use.

Everything changed in 1865 when Alfred Nobel patented nitroglycerin and the blasting cap. Production using his patent began in 1868 when the Giant Powder Co. of San Francisco began production of what we now call dynamite. The more powerful and safer product took over in the Comstock and in California gold mines. The company produced around 4 million pounds in 1880 increasing to almost 31 million in 1890 and 85 million in 1900.

Tomkins Hardware in Aspen was the distributor for Giant Powder Co. dynamite. There were other brands like Hercules that came out just before Aspen was founded. The differences were mostly the mix amounts of the ingredients. Giant contained 48% potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate where Hercules had only 31%. Hercules had no sulfur; Giant contained 8%. Mining companies found the mixes that worked best for them with a major difference being the relative humidity in their mines.

Even though miners had shifted to packaged sticks of explosive named dynamite, they continued to refer to their explosives as powder.

Stockpiling powder created a hazard. Today when an airliner crashes it is major news; in mining Aspen the catastrophe news champions were powder explosions. The year Aspen was founded, 1879, featured an explosion of two tons of powder and black powder in a Giant Powder Co. storage facility in Bodie, California. The cause was never figured out. Six people were killed, dozens injured, and surrounding buildings were damaged.

The Giant Powder Co. had a history of calamities. In 1869 their San Francisco plant blew up, so they moved to the Sunset District near the ocean. That blew up too, so they moved across the bay to Albany in 1880. In 1892 another explosion killed all the workers at that site, shattering windows for miles around.

Closer to Aspen, mining towns experienced consequential explosions. In 1891 a fire started in a shaft house in the Butte, Montana, copper mine setting off 200 pounds of dynamite. According to The Aspen Times, “50 houses were torn to atoms and many people injured.” A blast in China killed 300 in a powder plant. The Kings Powder Mill just outside of Cincinnati had 1,00 pounds of explosives go off when a railroad car ran into the pile, killing 10 and injuring 35.

There was a big scare in 1892. Several Aspen residents were on their way home on the Colorado Midland when they heard a loud explosion and the train car shook. When they got to Aspen they reported that “dishes, glass and crockery that were stored in the buffet car were broken into a thousand fragments.” The explosion took place at the entrance to the Bask-Ivanhoe tunnel that was under construction to shorten the route over the mountains and the passengers feared that all the workers had been killed. They began telegraphing the construction office and did not hear until the next day that no one was killed when 500 pounds of powder that had been delivered just hours before exploded.

Cities, including Aspen, learned that explosives storage should be in isolated locations. Tomkins Hardware built their storage on the east side of the Ute Cemetery, at that time the edge of town, and maybe a good reminder since you passed the cemetery to get there.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.