The following dozen or so short essays were published in the 1990's
in the San LuisValley Courier (Formerly the Alamosa Daily Courier.) They
are bits and pieces of a personal unpublished memoir. Alamosa is a small
town in the central southern part of Colorado, potato country, population
at the time of these memories about 8000. At an average altitude of 8000
feet it is the largest alpine valley in the US, about 5000 square miles,
and is surrounded on the East by the 14,000 foot Sangre de Christo Mountains
and on the West by the 13,000 ft San Juan Mountains.
How Cold Was It?
How cold was it? Well, it was pretty darned cold. It may not have been as cold as the old boy who told our editor that it was 40 below and that was the high, but it was cold. There were winters back in the late thirties and early forties when the temperature hit forty below on many occasions. We believed the thermometers, of course. Science had advanced pretty far by then. Many of us remember those days as being forty below all winter. This was probably not true. It was simply that, as in 91/92, it never got above zero for very long periods of time.
I remember when I was starting out on one of my first jobs - as a paper delivery boy. I wasn't big enough or experienced enough to work for the Courier, although I later made that grade, but I guess I was good enough for the morning weekly that Riley Emmons put out - twice a week, as I recall. My route consisted of East Alamosa out as far as just past the old golf course.
Two preparations were absolute requirements. First you had to get all the Three-In-One oil out of your bicycle bearings and off the chain. It would freeze. Or at least get too stiff to allow normal operation. Then you oiled your bike with the same solvent used to clean out the oil - kerosene. The second prep was to get dressed so as to still be alive when you reached the 5 mile point out on 160. We didn't have the advantage then of all the new wonder fabrics and insulation that are available today. Then it was wool, wool, and wool. Please note Bing. I was into wool about as early as you. The scheme was to put on three pair of socks under extra large shoes or boots, two pair of pants, a couple of shirts and a warm coat (as Hill recommends), two pair of mittens - wool then leather, two scarves - one wound up and down around your head and the other horizontally around covering everything but the eyes, and finally a good hat or knitted wool watch cap.
By the time I had got up in the dark, dressed, gone down to paper office on Main right next to Foster's Studebaker agency, counted and rolled my papers, loaded them in the bike bag and got over the bridge into East Alamosa I was freezing. It was then time to stop at a small coffee shop located where True Grits Steak House is today. I learned at an early age to drink coffee at that place. It was very good and kept me going until I got home. Then it was time to get ready for school. Completely different set of clothes, of course. All of this was in the midst of the depression. I made about $1.50 a week. I loved it.
I was talking to Carl Gwartney the other day about airplanes and the San Luis Valley. Carl's father had the hardware store in Hooper. Carl is retired out here in California but he still has some property in Hooper. We became friends through our mutual interest in airplanes, model and full size. Carl liked me right away because he claimed I was the only one he had met lately that knew the correct pronunciation of his last name. I think it was an accident that I just happened to hit it right the first time. In any case it got me to thinking about how we pronounce proper names. Now being an ex-Alamosan and having the attitude that is typical of most Alamosans, that is, that Alamosa is the main place and every other place around there is sort of an outlying suburb, I most naturally was mispronouncing the name of Carl's home town. I always said Hooper (as in "who") but as I listened to Carl it soon became obvious that the "Hoop" sounded more like "hup" (two, three, four). I should have known better since it was my dad and several other of the town's business men that invested in the great oil boom of the late 20's. The San Luis Valley was going to be the oil capital of the west and the first well would be drilled at Hooper. We all know how that came out. They went down 2000 feet and got hot water. We sure as heck didn't get rich, but Carl's dad who owned the pool that was built for about nine years said he just "liked to see those quarters roll in" as people came out there to swim. No one could have guessed that by now they would be up to their you-know-what in alligators.
My name falls into the same difficult category as Hooper. We lived in England back in the 60's and I could not seem to make myself understood when required to give my name for whatever reason. Invariably I would be addressed as "Mr. Wood" (pronounced by the English as "wooed"). I got to giving my name with a short explanation as "Hood, as in sunk by the Bismarck." This failed because either the English are as historically illiterate as most Americans, or they secretly resent being reminded of that tragic loss in WWII.
My wife's English cousin could never accept how we say "Colorado." He insisted, having traveled to Spain perhaps, that the "d" was silent. He even produced a page making that assertion from a Spanish language textbook for travelers. I tried to explain that place names are pronounced the way the people who live there want them to be pronounced - cases in point - Cairo, Illinois and the Thames River in Connecticut. I didn't have the heart to spring "Saguache" on him. The broad "a" sound as in "as" seems to appear quite often around here - Alamosa, Colorado (for some), Capulin, Durango, Antonito.
Oh, by the way, Gwartney is a Welsh name and the "w" in Welsh
is usually pronounced as "oh" so his name would be Go-art-nee.
About twenty years ago I made a trip to the Valley with my sons and we took the occasion to drive up to Summitville from the Del Norte side, the only road then and now. After some discussion with the mine operators at that time we convinced them to let us camp over night. The argument that my dad once ran a general store there and that my sister had taught school in one of the suburbs, Sunnyside (suburbs in Summitville!), convinced them that we were not going to steal the tailings or South Mountain. Sadly there was not a trace of the wonderful thriving mining town of the thirties in evidence.
When the depression really tightened its grip on the Valley in the early thirties my dad lost his job as manager of the Penney Store and took an office job in Monte with the Summitville Mining Co. At that time the only decent road into Summitville was south from Monte on the Gun Barrel and then up the Alamosa river past what was then called the Alamosa Reservoir toward Platora. The road branched to the North and went steeply up the side of the mountain for about ten miles to Summitville. Trucks carrying supplies up and High Grade down used this route exclusively. Most of the curves could not be negotiated by trucks without their having to back at least once, usually with one rear wheel off the edge of the cliff. It was also steep enough and rough enough that only Ford and White trucks seemed to survive for very long. One of the curves was called Chevrolet Bend because no Chevrolet automobile ever rounded it without vapor locking.
My dad got some financing from a friend in the Summitville Company and opened a general store up on the hill on the north side across from South Mountain. In it was the highest official U. S. Post Office in the United States, Not far off 13,000 feet was my recollection. Sunnyside, where my sister Dorothy taught school, was even higher and to the west of the store. If you lived down near the boarding house you had to climb quite a hill to patronize my dad's business. About that time Bud Gibson's dad, Todd, got a job in the mill up there and lived in a log cabin just east of the main camp. Our families maintained residences in Alamosa because of schools and we and our dads used to do a lot of commuting back and forth between Summitville and Alamosa. Most of the time this was impossible because of the snow.
I clearly remember one spring when Bud and I had gone up to Summitville in his old Model A. Model A Fords had mechanical brakes based on a lever with a ball and socket connection to the pedal. On the way down the mountain the brakes began to fail and Bud steered the car into the ditch next to the mountain to get it stopped. The edge of the ditch popped the ball out of the socket so that we had no brakes at all. I volunteered to crawl into the ditch which was running with snow melt to reassemble the brake apparatus. The repair was successfully made and I finished the trip draped over the front fender drying off and looking like a hunters deer kill.
Probably the most exciting commute to Summitville was made by my mother. Gladys Hood seemed a somewhat dignified person at first meeting but buried beneath that surface was a very adventuresome and fun loving person, as anyone who knew her can attest. In order to be with dad on some occasion or other she arranged to hitch a ride from Monte to the mine on one of the regular supply truck runs. This run happened to be a load of dynamite and caps. The caps rode inside with her and the driver. The moments of terror when the driver backed one set of wheels off the edge of the cliff at the difficult turns were unequaled in human experience. I wouldn't have traded places with her for money. She loved it. It gave her a durable story with which to entertain her flatland friends and relatives for years to come.
They may have got as much gold out of leaching the tailings with
cyanide these last years but I bet it wasn't as much fun as the old way
- with dynamite!
Yes, this is true, not just once, but twice - once during the summer of 1990 and again last summer. Even more disturbing, they were able to gain a couple of new recruits to their ranks in the process. A couple of Moosie's stalwart and upstanding citizens are now full fledged members of this gang. If you want more information on this bunch you might want to check the morgue. The morgue I refer to would be the ancient files of the Alamosa Daily Courier. In those files you will find numerous references to this gang who went by the curious name "The Dopie Dopers." In those days they were even paid off by various business men around town. That is also recorded in the files.
If you had seen the activities of this bunch last summer and the summer before around Cole Park you might have mistaken them for a bunch of old men who had gone slightly off the rails. Two Alamosa Policemen on bicycles checked them out last summer and found them harmless, I guess. They were, in fact, conducting a national championship event. They had forgathered there from the four corners of the nation to compete with hand launched model airplane gliders. I won the trophy in 1990. Bud Gibson of Colorado Springs won in 1991 but refused the award. The other two members also placed, Harry Archuleta from Phoenix, and Bill Guthrie of Valparaiso, Florida. The competition will continue, not this summer, but in 93 when the AHS class of 43 meets for their fiftieth.
It has been decided by the committee of the whole house that hand launching is out due to rotator cuff problems in persons of such advanced age. Rubber band launchers will be used this time. The invaluable help that the club received both years from George Mead and Bob Toogood and their spouses Delphine and Jacque led to them being inducted into the exalted ranks of the Dopie Dopers. George was asked to spell "Dopie" as a condition of initiation and he, of course, misspelled it, but we let him in anyway. (My computer Spell Checker also misspells it! Oh well!)
One of the evening activities of the Dopers was to crash the reception being held by the class of 41. We had heard that Ted Rockafellow was to put in an appearance. He hadn't been seen for years. We figured that most of the class of 41 was pretty much over the hill or at least not up to the brilliance of the class of 43 so we decided we would all check in at the reception giving our names as "Ted Rockafellow." Nobody seemed to notice. We had a good time, ate a lot of their cookies and drank their punch and left when the "real" Ted Rockafellow appeared.
Tickets to the events to be held in 93 can be had from local members
of the Dopie Dopers. I don't know if there will be a charge or not.
If Ron Milyard hadn't been working all the time he would have made it into
the club too for letting us fly at the R/C field out west of town.
Thanks Ronnie. (I have heard since I wrote these lines that Ronnie died)
Oh yes, for the uninitiated, "dope" is what was once used to paint model and full sized airplanes.
Well, yes. One anyway. When I moved to California, first to the Long Beach area and then to San Diego I was unaware of the fact that San Diego had been infamous as the "flea capital of the United States" for well over 100 years. The situation is somewhat improved but we still have a great deal more than our share. It struck me that, although Alamosa has less than its share of fleas, it certainly had the corner on the market in mosquitoes - at least while I was growing up. They didn't bother me a great deal then and not now but the city fathers seem to think they bother the tourists quite a lot. All of this is actually leading somewhere. In 1990 at about the time the magnificent men and their flying machines were in town throwing their shoulders out of joint in Cole park we were all awakened in our East Alamosa motels one morning by what we assumed was a low level bombing raid. I rushed outside with my video camera just as rosy fingered dawn was tiptoeing into the valley and got some wonderful shots of a gorgeous biplane spraying the Rio Grande for mosquitoes. It apparently worked. My wife thanks you, City Fathers.
But back to the single flea that once invaded Alamosa. It seems only fitting that it should be included in the annals of aviation for the San Luis Valley, which as we all know is famous for its role in the development of the Golden era of Aviation. It may even go down in history along with the exploits of Doc Naudack, Louie Byrnes, and later of that famous bomber pilot still to be found on occasion lurking about the streets of Alamosa, Bud Gibson. This exploit involved Bud and may even be the deciding factor that led him into four engine flying as opposed to single engine flight.
There is a caveat. First, I am not a historian and what I put forth in these brief columns may be colored by the onset of Alzheimerís or perhaps just a desire to make the story sound better than it actually was. Bud and I have recently discussed this matter by phone and have concluded that we have about a 53 percent remembrance of the actual facts. I will tell you what I saw, anyway.
The French built a small plane in the early thirties known as THE FLEA. It became very popular for sport flying here and in England but soon became a grounded Dodo due to the fact that it crashed a lot and killed most of its owners. I have seen one of these planes recently at Old Warden, England in the Shuttleworth Collection. This plane had two wings, a rudder, no elevator, and no discernible way to tilt the craft around its longitudinal axis. You would have thought the original owners might have noticed this.
There was a plane called THE FLEA, which may not be the same kind
of plane, that Bud said was in a barn out north of town that some one attempted
to fly at what is now called Bergman Field. I thought Louie Byrne
was the brave soul, but Bud says it was this guy from the farm out north.
(If anyone has knowledge on this score please let me no the true facts.)
In any case, I remember very distinctly the flight attempt. The plane
zoomed down the runway headed north into the wind and failed to lift off.
Undaunted the stalwart pilot reversed direction and zoomed down the runway
with the wind in a second attempt. Needless to say he went considerably
faster but again failed to lift off. This time it plunged into the
sage brush and overturned. We ran out and released the pilot from
his seat belt. He stormed off and gave the plane to Bud. The
wing was destroyed but the rest of the plane was OK. We took it back
to 102 San Juan, started the engine and Bud taxied it up and down First
Street. The only method of steering, of course, was from the force
of the prop wash over the rudder. This resulted eventually in the
craft going out of control and running up onto the grass parking strip
area of the house on San Juan right next to the corner house where Graham
Jones used to live. The propeller chopped off all the new little
trees that had been planted a year two earlier on that parking. This
put a final period to the life of that flea. I think we had to pay
for the trees. Bud tells me it went back in the barn north
of town. Has anyone seen it lately? I hear the Smithsonian
is looking for famous aircraft to display in Washington.
Little pieces of sand have been getting a very bad press in Alamosa lately. I don't have an opinion on the Redeye Complex because I don't know anything about it except, as Will Rogers might say, what I read in the newspapers. But I do know something about glass fibers, and it's a very interesting and important subject. As we all know glass is made from sand, and, if my informants are correct, the radars being blinded are in the X-band and the pieces of glass constituting chaff would be about one centimeter in length. If these fibers are drawn in the normal fashion, that amount of glass fiber would be about equal the amount of silica in a single grain of sand. Just for the heck of it I did a back of the envelope calculation and found that if we could draw the entire Great Sand Dunes into a single glass fiber it would reach to the sun and back about four million times or to the nearest star and back about 13 times. How's that for useless information?
Redeye was not the first occasion of glass fibers being involved in political tangles and disputes. I had the privilege of being involved in a minor way in some of the earliest modern history of glass fibers. It is fascinating how fibers finally arrived in the good old USA.
During the time I was employed as a civilian scientist by the Navy I served for awhile in the early sixties as an American representative on a quadripartite technical exchange group in the technical fields of Optics and Infrared. The other countries were UK, Canada, and Australia. These were exciting times with the recent invention and development of lasers, fiber optics for a multitude of uses, and solid state optical emitters and detectors of all kinds. In about 1962 I and a few others in government and industry were voices crying in the wilderness trying to wake up the high level planners. Part of the problem was the lossy nature of the existing glass fiber which we felt would surely be overcome by research. Glass is easily contaminated by water, of all things, and a myriad of other elements. Losses are measured in terms of a unit derived from sound, decibels per unit of length. We were used to fibers that showed losses of tens or even hundreds of decibels per meter. Even so, we thought there would be uses for the extremely high bandwidth afforded by the then available glass fiber in computers and local hookups.
This quadripartite group was meeting in England one summer and had a visit scheduled to a laboratory at Southampton University under the direction of a Professor Gamble. This lab was staffed by a small group of graduate students and professors working on glass fiber development in what to most Americans would seem to be a rather obscure English university with minimal funds and equipment. Gamble was not present for our visit. As I recall, he was on the Continent giving a paper announcing the achievement of a new glass with a loss of only 20 decibels per kilometer (1000 meters). This, of course, opened up the possibilities of long haul communications and much else. We hurried home and put together a group of senior Navy lab people to visit Corning, among others, and to exhort them to get on the ball. We tried to organize information exchange conferences with representation from all the groups working in the area. We got no cooperation at all from AT&T who wanted to keep all their work secret and Corning was reluctant to invest in the area. The Navy bought in in a small way. Hardly anyone else did. Corning eventually hooked up with the German giant, Siemens, and Corning-Siemens is now a principal supplier of communication fiber. These fibers, by the way, now have losses of from 0.2 db/km to 4 db/km depending on the sophistication of the system.
When it came time for a long haul trunk line to be laid up the East Coast (They were all over Great Britain, Europe, and Japan by that time) Sumitomo came in with the low bid. It was decided that it would be necessary to give the contract to Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T, at twice the cost of Sumitomo's bid in order to get the United States into a competitive position in the field.
There are now millions of kilometers of glass fiber spanning continents
and oceans and many housing projects are laying in fiber for local loops
and drops to individual homes. There are final ironies. San
Diego State University just finished installing fiber trunk lines for the
University telephone and information services, installed by Erikson, a
Swedish firm. The latest and most astounding development of optical
amplifiers extending the bandwidth and ranges enormously has just been
announced by Southampton University.
The passing of Father George Lewis turned my thoughts to the little Episcopal Church in Alamosa, St. Thomas. I only met Fr. Lewis once, about two years ago, but the meeting was a significant and memorable one for me. But more of that later.
First I would like to say a little bit about how I came to love that little church. My parents were attending the Seven Gables Methodist Church when I was very young. My grandfather Hood was a Methodist minister in Tennessee so it was natural that our family would attend that church. When I was about five a young Episcopal priest came to town to take over the duties of the SLV mission, which included both Monte Vista and Saguache as well, St. Thomas, Alamosa. He needed someone to play the organ. My mother, Gladys, was a very good musician and she volunteered to take on the duty. Everyone liked this rather remarkable young man and his family and we were all soon attending church at St. Thomas. Some of you readers will remember Harry Kennedy. He was not only a fine priest and preacher he was also a consummate magician. The last time I saw him only shortly before he died at his home in Hawaii he was still able to spellbind with some of his magic. Harry, in due course, became Bishop of Hawaii. He had four sons, three became Episcopal Priests and the fourth became an accomplished church musician. Our paths crossed a few more times after my childhood.
When I was eighteen and the Navy figured I had been sufficiently trained that they could take a chance of putting me on an obsolete destroyer in the Pacific in 1944 my first stop on the way out was Pearl Harbor. I made a call on Bishop Kennedy at his "Palace" (as Anglican Bishop's residences are wont to be called). He took me to lunch at a place called the Pacific Club. The Governor of the Island, a Hawaiian Princess and a few Admirals were present. Everyone was either in uniform or wore suits and ties (not the Princess). Get the picture if you can. I am nineteen, a second-class electronics tech, and had never been anywhere to speak of. Bishop Kennedy as Anglican Bishop of a Diocese that included Hawaii, The Philippines and Samoa visited his flock in a four-engine flying boat. It was a daunting experience to say the least. I guess I didn't spill the soup.
On the way home from the wars I stopped again to see him and his wife. This time I got a speeding ticket going to his house out near Diamond Head. He refused to get it fixed. He said the police, many of whom were native Hawaiians, sort of resented the memory of the power that the Anglican Church had in the Islands when they were British. I saw some more magic; still as great as ever.
When I was assigned as a civilian science advisor to Third Fleet on Ford Island in 1971 my wife, youngest boy, and I saw more of the Kennedys, now retired. He came out of retirement and confirmed my son Patrick in his son's church in Pearl Harbor.
Getting back to St. Thomas; I was an Acolyte at that church until I left Alamosa for the Navy in 1943. My most vivid and fond memories are of the services in that precious small church and of making the rounds on Sunday to Monte and Saguache with either Norris Twitchel or Newton Carroll, priests during those years. My sister Jean was married there. We had dances in the small hall during the war for which we had organized a sort of pick up band. My mother played the piano, Bud Gibson the clarinet, Buster Wake the trumpet and I the drums. Fame and fortune never came our way. Nothing much has changed at the Church though. It still looks the same.
During a reunion in 1991 and with an odd feeling of being transported
back in time, Helen Gibson Parks and I attended services together on the
Sunday at St. Thomas. At the door after services we were greeted
by Fr. Lewis. Something miraculous seemed to occur. For some
reason I had brought a most unlikely book with me to Colorado to read at
night in my hotel room, The Cloud of Unknowing. Why I mentioned it,
I cannot know, but I did. Fr. Lewis beamed and in a way gave me a
special blessing. We had somehow touched together a very deep spiritual
level for a brief moment. I will never forget that special moment
with him in the little church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Alamosa.
Back in the 30's and 40's Alamosa had two movie houses, the Rialto, very much up scale - first run movies, and the Isis. The Isis was located on the north side of Main Street between State and San Juan. Frankie Kelly's Dad ran that theater for awhile I remember. It was there that we saw all our real heroes. Similarity of names seems to have a great fascination for kids. There was Hoot Gibson, which we could kid Bud Gibson about and then there was Johnny Mack Brown. I was actually called Johnny Mack a long time before he came on the scene though. Some of the others included Buck Jones; he was a lot like Gary Cooper but not near so famous. Then we had the singing types which we weren't so fond of. They did far too much singing and tended to have a guitar in their hands more often than six shooters. The most famous of these were Hop Along Cassidy and Gene Autrey. There was always a cartoon and serial, the favorite being Buck Rogers. For a quarter we could get 10 golf ball sized suckers and a ticket to the Saturday matinee. We all wanted to sit down in the first row and put our feet up on the edge of the stage. Today I cannot figure out how we ever managed to make out the picture at that short distance.
Later on in junior high and high school I went to the movies mostly up at the Rialto. There the schedule was about as follows: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday a first run grade A movie with super stars, etc. - maybe a Fred Astaire musical or something. Then a B grade potboiler on Wednesday and Thursday, and a pretty good show on Friday and Saturday - maybe an epic or a good adventure film with Errol Flynn. Earl Cole, our mayor and owner of the Rialto, stood watch at the rear of the theater nearly every night, or if it wasn't he, it would be Joe Bright after he had finished playing the organ interlude before the show. That musical treat in itself made it worth going to the theater.
One day Bud Gibson and I and Phil Huffaker decided to try to get into the Rialto for a reduced rate. To appreciate this story you would have to have seen Phil. He was a tall lanky guy, almost six feet at that time, with reddish hair and a very gentle personality. We understood that "babies in arms" got in free so we decided that Phil would be the baby. We wrapped him up in blanket. I picked him up with great difficulty and we presented ourselves at the box office. They let us take him in free all right but it was Joe Bright I believe who came down the aisle and made him sit on my lap for the entire show.
For some reason, which I was never able to figure out, Mr. Cole gave me a permanent pass to the theater. After that I went to the Rialto three times a week. Normally I sat in the balcony. I must have laughed a lot because people would stop me on the street next day and say "I heard you went to the movies last night."
In this age of TV it is hard to realize that it was the local movie houses through the medium of newsreels such as Movie Tone News that allowed us to experience some of the immediacy of the War. Films like those of 800 plane raids on Germany made quite a visual impact and were, as we know now, probably a very sanitized version of the actual war experience. It's hard to decide today whether we are better off knowing so much in "living color" (usually red) about the state of the world or not. I kind of miss the Movies - and the suckers.
In 1942 when I first began driving the school bus at age 17 most of the eligible males of draftable age were gone from Alamosa. This resulted in an apparent shortage of qualified commercial vehicle drivers. I am not sure of Colorado's current regulations for obtaining a driving license but in those days one got a learners permit at 14 and a regular license at 16. I liked driving a lot and it seemed that I would be able to get some pretty good jobs if I were just able to get a chauffeur's permit at the magic age of 16. This I was able to do and I received the license and badge that demonstrated to the world that I was into the "heavies." People must have been very distraught in those days with concerns about Pearl Harbor and the war (for you younger readers that was called World War II) because, for some inexplicable reason I, a callow youth, was immediately given a job driving a gasoline tanker truck up and down 285 delivering fuel to service stations from the Texaco bulk plant in Alamosa! Later I delivered home heating oil around town. An economic note on the history of inflation in this country: heating oil was about 8 or 10 cents a gallon then. My big break came in the fall of 1942 when as a senior at Alamosa High School I was offered the job of transporting the precious offspring of the farming families south of town to and from school in an old 1936 International school bus. The pay was $22.50 per month - a dollar a day. Our teacher of Spanish and Latin, Mr. LaPlante and I were the only two drivers for the fleet of two buses. He got the good one.
This old bus had a mind of its own as well as having it in for me. My friends still living in Alamosa will attest that I had to wear cowboy boots to even begin taming this beast. Some mistakenly attributed these boots to an affectation on my part since I had only ridden a horse twice in my life prior to this bus driving ordeal. But back to the story: there were three examples of pure terror for me during that year as well as some plain old annoying experiences.
As was my habit, I would ride my bike at a very early hour from my home in the 700 block of Third Street to the school garage on Poncha just behind the school (now Ortega). That cement block garage is still there. One morning in the dead of winter (cold) I arrived at the garage to find that the battery would not turn the engine over. I was panic-stricken. I had no back up, no communications, and had a very strong sense that it was my job to get it going and get the kids to school; no excuses. I figured that if I could get the bus rolling down the very shallow and short ramp to the street I could jump in, put it in reverse, let out the clutch and it might start. I don't know how much school buses weigh but I know that at that time I weighed about 130 and was about six feet tall. An unequal contest at best. I put my feet against the back wall of the garage and in the sure knowledge that I would be fired if the bus didn't fire I pushed. It miraculously relented, rolled out of the garage and actually started before it could roll up over the curb across Poncha. Saved by a higher Providence.
On a second occasion I was driving south on a section road about to pick up my first half dozen passengers when the bus decided to throw up all of its tools all over the floor next me from a small compartment next to the seat. I bent down (at 30 miles per hour) to try and keep them from skipping out the door. When I looked up I found that the bus had decided to take to the barrow ditch. I drove along the bottom of the ditch for a couple of hundred yards until I came to a feeder road that would allow me to climb back onto the road. The students were very puzzled as they boarded the bus. They said that they could see the top of the bus coming just beyond a slight rise when all of a sudden it disappeared only to reappear a short time later at a much closer distance. I let them believe it was a magical trick rather than admit that I couldn't keep to the road.
The last harrowing experience occurred one bright spring morning north bound on 285 about three miles from the city limits. I had a full load of forty. I felt a slight bump but paid it no attention. Soon I became aware of a wheel bounding along beside me in the barrow ditch which bore a suspicious resemblance to those with which my bus was equipped. I stopped and found that the tire and iron rim, normally held on by a type of clamp lug to the five-spoked cast iron wheel, had come off and the wheel dragging on the pavement had worn down almost to the axle. Mr. LaPlante had to drive both routes after that while the school officials because of war shortages had to scour the country for a replacement wheel for an old 36 international bus. Eventually one was found in Kansas City and I, miraculously, was allowed to continue my driving duties to terms end. I often suspected that the school officials didn't know about the other incidents. At least I hadn't told them. I often wonder how it was that Frankie Kelly wound up driving tanks and I wound up riding ships in the years following.
I guess there were some similarities between me and Bart Simpson's
bus driver. His hair is longer than mine was, but I smoked cigarettes
I was very happy to hear that you and your husband have decided to stay on in Alamosa. I have not lived in Alamosa since 1943 but I have a great many very happy and important memories of the community. I remember my years in Alamosa and often have described them as "The Golden Age." Having been back many times since for reunions and to visit friends I see now that I was mistaken in that labeling of just those distant years. As far as I can tell the Golden Age never ended and continues to this day.
I was delivered by a predecessor of yours many times removed on the eleventh day of June in 1925 at the Lutheran Hospital which stood on the north side of Main between San Juan and Edison. Later the building became the home of the predecessor of this paper, the Alamosa Daily Courier. I delivered those papers from that location and later became the editor of the High School page that appeared in the Courier. Our doctor's name was Charles A. Davlin. His home still stands in the 100 block of San Juan. Besides doing deliveries of little people like me he did surgery and even treated our dog once when that other wonderful doctor, Dr. Berthelson, the vet, was out of town. Dr. Davlin served as president of the State Medical Association and was well known statewide in other capacities. When his first wife, Louise, the mother of his children, died at a tragically young age he married a wonderful gal, Ione Page, who was an art instructor at the College. They had a wonderful life together. After both he in 1949 and my mother, Gladys in 1964, had died my father and Ione were married and had eight happy years together. Ione's sister-in-law, Helen Page, still lives in Greeley hale and hearty.
I don't think any of us ever thought of Alamosa as a rural community in spite of the fact that I, at least, have lived in such places as Denver, Boulder, Chicago, Long Beach and San Diego. Alamosa is a little smaller in population than those places but from the point of view of culture and loving friendships it must by all odds be better. I remember the music, the High School band and orchestra, the Philharmonic from the College, the plays, the Alamosa Pageant, the Art.
As I said I'm glad you and your husband are staying. You have some mighty big shoes to fill but from what I read in the Courier you have probably already done it. Please accept my hearty welcome even from afar. Next summer when our graduating class has their fiftieth reunion drop in and you may be considerably surprised by the very large number of people in attendance and even more surprised to see how well they have all done with their lives. We are not surprised, though, because we had Alamosa to give us the right kick start.
I was talking with one of the Courier staff writers the other day and she said "So you wrote columns once for the Courier. Send in some more. We'll print them." I am sure she held the reservation that they better not be libelous. I will try to keep them clean and relatively inoffensive. I have one floating around in my head on school and guns but let's leave that one to get ripe for awhile.
Several recent articles in the Courier have discussed the plans for a giant Walmart west of Alamosa on parcels owned by the Carrollís. I have wondered in my annual trips to my old home town when that remote motel and six-plex theatre would be hooked up with civilization. Our editor damned with faint praise the whole idea. I can't say I disagree with him. It is a shame to ship out all the profits from such a place to a bunch of faceless shareholders, which includes one of the ten richest men in the entire world. Yet we are all philistines and shop where the selection is largest and the prices lowest. I don't pretend to have any answers. When my Dad ran the Penney store in Alamosa it was a different deal. Mr. Penney gave managers in those days a chance to have 25% ownership of the store they managed. A lot of the profits did come right back into the community as a result. If you don't believe that ask anyone who is still alive and knew John Hood, life member of the Elks Lodge, 32nd Degree Mason and Shriner, Life member of Rotary International and pillar of the Seven Gables Methodist Church.
When I was a kid and before my friends and I went off to war I used to have the high honor and privilege of getting the use of my folks' black 1940 deluxe Ford sedan for dates. Now that was a fine automobile - still is today if you can find one. I met a girl who had been sent to Alamosa to recover from having been buried by a tornado in the ruins of a five and dime store in Pryor, Oklahoma. I used to take her out for evening drives in my beautiful car. One of the few things that we could do, which was permitted, that is, was to take drives in the early evening. Her relative - older sister I believe - was very careful that she not get into any trouble. I was deemed more or less safe. But then they weren't mind readers, were they? The long long drive to Monte, about 34 miles there and back, was the opportunity to drive left-handed and stretch the time out as far as possible. I don't know how slow the car would go in high gear but it was pretty slow. We had gas rationing so one drove light-footed at all times. I could stretch out that road to Monte and back to well over an hour. This was pretty safe driving since there was hardly anyone else on the road.
With the current development marching inexorably westward the
slow road to Monte will make a comeback. I have been trying to think of
a creative new name for this megalopolis in the making. "Stringtown Moosie"
is just too irreverent and smacks of the old gold rush days. That's out.
How about Montyalavistamosa? This name can be reserved to that time when
the rural stretch of 160 between town boundaries shrinks to one half mile
The SLV Courier headline for the 27th of November, 1992, "Brrrr....it's cold ..," turned me back again to some of the glorious winters I used to enjoy as a youth in Alamosa. In rummaging through some old school memorabilia and thinking about next summers 50th reunion for our high school graduating class I ran across a poem I wrote about seeing frozen artesian wells at dawn from the school bus I was driving which I believe carries the kind of feelings I had then for winter. I cannot recall for the life of me any instance that I would have considered unpleasant in those long ago winters.
These feelings were reinforced just this month when my wife, Barbara, and I had occasion to drive to Denver for Thanksgiving and the wedding of my grand niece, Meredith, a school teacher in Denver. We got to Denver just as the Interstates were more or less cleared and managed to get in on the big snow on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. We left on the next Monday in crystal clear weather and could watch Pikes Peak all the way from Denver to Walsenburg. We could not resist abandoning our plan to follow I25 to Santa Fe and took a chance on 160 over La Veta pass and 159 through Fort Garland and down through Taos. What a lucky choice. The views of the snow covered Spanish Peaks were awe inspiring. It would be impossible for me to impart my love of winter in the San Luis Valley to my average California neighbor. They just wouldn't get it. Anyway here is my 50 year old poem - not very good and never published.
ARTESIAN WELLS SEEN FROM A SCHOOL BUS AT SUNRISE
A tree devoid of green and splendid raiment,
Is not an ugly sight;
The early morning sun will gild it,
As the sky is washed from dark and silent night.
The pinnacle of grace is seen afield,
In bubbling wells at dawn,
Stopped still by God's own mighty hand,
For all the world to view and dream upon.
A palace glints with rose and golden light;
Each crystal spreads the wonder.
Each fairy arch looks deep within,
Where life's waters scatter crystal balls asunder.
A cold and hard white blanket, diamond studded,
Pierced through by blades of grass.
Each ringed by finest opal gem.
And through each perfect stone the emerald blades will pass.
Well, there are other winter memories, too. Remember please don't try these next things in Alamosa today. We were "professionals" and besides it's probably against the law now. We used to tie sleds to the back of cars and have glorious rides around the snow covered streets of Alamosa in the evening. Most of the streets were unplowed and the hard packed snow made for great rides. The best rides of all were on Todd Gibson's sled. Mr. Gibson, Bud's father, had built a sled that seated twelve. The sled was made from a long plank, probably a 2" x 12" which had cross pieces in front and rear with large wooden runners. The front piece may have been articulated and was probably controlled by the first person. I never got to sit in front so I don't really know. There were many adults involved as well as all of us kids and at least one of the adults always got the front seat. Anyway, it was hooked to someone's car and we traveled up and down the streets of Alamosa on the frostiest nights of winter.
Across the river on what the map labels the "Municipal Golf Course" and "Country Club Drive" was the "Slough." My how times change! That piece of water always froze over in the winter and was our favorite skating place. One of our great ambitions was to build a high speed "ice boat." We actually got this machine together in Bud's back yard on San Juan using 2 x 4's and bolts. I forget what the mast consisted of but I remember the sail as being a bed sheet. The building of this craft was a fabulous experience and took place, as I remember, in the more gentle airs of summer or fall, but it never took to the ice the next winter. Somehow we didn't mind since we had already sailed it many times in the vivid world of our imaginations.
George Mead took me out to the site of the old ice house in East Alamosa a year ago. That was a nostalgic trip. Almost nothing remains. It's almost like visiting an archeological site where only the barest traces remain of former glories. At one time this ice house stood as a magnificent monument to the Valley's principal enterprise, the raising of vegetables. Each winter the ice from the adjoining lake was cut into huge blocks and raised on a long conveyer into the upper part of the structure to be stored until summer. It was then used to ice the produce in the rail cars that came along side for shipment to the rest of the country. Even up at Silver Lakes a small icehouse was used to store ice buried in saw dust through the summer for the use of the Bethmans and the Davlins and others who had summer homes there.
Before the ice was cut, though, it was our earnest aim to get our cars out onto that lake (another "don't try this at home"). I hate to say this in a public newspaper but it was the very greatest of experiences. There is nothing that can match gunning a model A or a 36 Ford across that ice and yanking the wheel hard over and spinning round and round. This must have been the bungee jumping of that day. An additional joy was just watching that ice being sawed out with big power saws and running up that conveyor. Early in the season we used to walk out on the lake listening to the ice groan and crack and trying to judge when it would be safe enough to drive on. The idea we foolishly subscribed to then was that if you kept moving, walking or driving, you could outrun the collapsing ice. someone is going to write me and tell me that some one did fall through and die. I vaguely remember but can't call to mind the details or time.
Well, winter in Alamosa can't be all that bad if you've got a place to go to get warm after you've been out having fun. My San Diego editor said, "don't send this. It's too long and itís all dangerous and illegal anyway."
The winter 1993 issue of AMERICAN HERITAGE OF INVENTION AND TECHNOLOGY has an interesting article on how the 100 or so different gauges that railroads had for track in the early days came to be the standard gauge that we all have somehow assumed was with us from the beginning.
Not so. I remember that in Alamosa trains seemed to need three rails! I didn't give it a lot of thought at the time and I have to confess that I was grown and long gone from Alamosa before I tumbled to the fact that not all trains seemed to require these three rails. In fact no train requires three rails with one exception.
When I was about eight I got an electric train for Christmas. It was a beautiful model of the Burlington Zephyr (which by the way is still a miracle of modern engineering but sadly no longer running). This toy train had the cars suspended in such a way that they could tilt a little on the longitudinal axis while rounding a curve. And, of course, it ran on three rails. I seemed to recall that I understood this very well as there was a brass tongue that protruded underneath the engine that touched the center rail and provided the "hot" connection to the motor. The return connection was one of the outer rails. This all made a lot of sense and I actually understood it however I failed to extend this understanding to the real life trains that ran on coal, not electricity. This lack of extension of understanding went along with my early conviction that clouds were made of tomatoes. Let's not pursue that.
I also failed to notice that not all tracks in Alamosa had three rails, only those that seemed to head south toward Antonito. Rolling stock in the valley were of both narrow and standard gauge back in the 30s and 40s. North and south lines had the three rails to accommodate both kinds of cars. The east line out of the Valley to Denver had only the two rails.
Now we can enjoy a wonderful ride on a true narrow gauge train from Antonito to Chama on the Toltek and Cumbres line.
In earlier days Colorado was laced with narrow gauge lines. They served mining and farming communities throughout the Rocky Mountains. The railroads were primarily engineered and built by English engineers. It is easy to see the reasoning that if you are going to build the Georgetown Loop or cut a rail bed through the mountains from Antonito to Durango through Chama and then on up into the mining country of Silverton its a lot cheaper and faster to stick with the narrow gauge with its lighter loading. Only remnants of these lines remain.
One of them disappeared lock, stock, and barrel (or tie perhaps) and reappeared on Oahu to serve the sugar cane fields in and around Pearl Harbor.
Alamosa was the meeting place of the two gauges and there was even a special facility for lifting loads off of flatcars of one gauge and placing it aboard cars of the other. A 1949 photo in the aforementioned article shows this facility in use shifting lumber.
The last time I was in Alamosa I forgot to look and see if the three rails were still there in the tracks running south towards LaJara. I hope so.
My friend Bud Gibson's father, Todd, used to own a railroad in the Valley. It ran from Blanca or Fort Garland south a ways. I don't think it was much of money maker. It was about depression time then anyway and these little short line railroads were fast disappearing in favor of the model T or model A Ford. It must have been standard gauge because Todd told my Dad once "Well, it may not be as long as the big ones but it's just as wide."
The last two of these stories were not submitted to the paper
so they have not been published.
Guns I Have Known
I've been thinking quite a lot lately about guns. Who hasn't? Recent articles in this paper about worries at graduation sparked a lot of memories. I told one of my close friends, a very conservative fellow, an astronomer and a lover of guns, that I was about to write this piece. His remark was, "I bet I won't like it." I told him that he might. Guns are peculiar and seductive things, especially for the male of our species. They hold a fascination that no one can deny. They are beautifully crafted as a rule and they have power out of all proportion to their size. One attribute of a gun that is seldom mentioned is its inordinately long life. It occurred to me that one of the factors in the proliferation of guns in our country is just this fact, seldom recognized. People die of old age or otherwise but guns tend to just go on and on as individual objects. Thus it is clear that the population of guns surely will outstrip the population of people at some point in time. I think we are about there. Although there are only about 80 million gun owners in this country, by some counts there are nearly as many guns now as people. Some anecdotal stories illustrate my point. When I was very young, maybe eight or so, my friend Frank Kelly and I were taken for ride south of Alamosa in his father's very elegant 1926 Hudson Super Six Touring Car. This car had large wheels and a straight up windshield that folded out to let the breezes in and a leatherette top - open at the sides. I can vividly recollect the moment when Mr. Kelly stopped the car near a bridge and fired his revolver. This was the first time I had ever heard a gun shot and it was loud, terrifying and thrilling. I talked to Frank's brother Bert the other day and asked him about that gun. He said he had never fired it. The gun now belongs to Bert's son Larry and is treasured as a family heirloom and antique. It is a long- barreled Colt 44. I am sure it was old when I was very young
My Dad had two guns, one of which I still have, a World War One officer's revolver, Smith and Wesson 45. Both my wife and I have fired that gun and know how to use it. It is kept put away, however. The other was a pump-action 22 that held about 10 shorts or longs. It wasn't much of a gun but my Dad liked to shoot tin cans up the Conejos or at Silver Lakes. One day at about age ten when no one was around I got that gun out in the kitchen at 815 Third St. and accidentally, or on purpose, fired a shot into the floor near the entrance to the back hallway. I was scared to death but no one ever learned about this. The small pellet of lead buried itself in the linoleum and went unnoticed. Unless new linoleum has been put down maybe Charlie Blickhahn could find that small piece of lead even today.
As a much older person I had a chance to buy an Italian sniper rifle said to be a duplicate of the one that killed Kennedy along with a good supply of the special ammunition it required. I missed the chance and was disappointed then but today I realize the corrosive seductive power of knowing that I could have had this powerful thing as my own personal possession. A friend at about that time sold me a beautiful Fox 410 shotgun for which I had no use whatsoever along with all the paraphernalia for loading my own shells. I never fired it in the twenty years I owned it and eventually I sold it to a colleague at San Diego State University who was a gun collector.
One final little anecdote that I hope the dear friend who was a participant in the episode will forgive for relating. It could have been any of us in his position. This friend and I must have had something of an argument. He was going to get revenge and showed up at my house with a hammer, presumably with which to hit me. I didn't go outside and he went away and the next day we were good buds again. I sure am glad we didn't have as many guns then as there seems to be now. Guns may not kill people but they sure provide a powerful assist to the grim reaper in that transitory moment of passion that most of us are subject to, especially as children. I read the other day that of the 14,000 gun deaths a year in this country, over 9000 are children.
What's the point of all this? I don't know really. Some people love guns. Some love money. I like money pretty well and still guns intrigue me. And some people just love other people. In my old age I think I have come to just love people most of all and I mourn for all who have died early and missed all the fun that I have had in life.