Cooking On A Macrowave

I think everyone’s mom is probably the best cook ever. Over time, other cooks will also come into your life, but certain dishes will always remain a favorite when prepared by mom.

The title to the story is my mom’s. For years she told me she would write it. As far as I know she never did.

Ours was a Buck Stove similar to this one and was my mother’s pride and joy.

Lighting a fire from a cold wood stove

Hands down the best kindling is cedar wedges, like from a roof. If that is not available, small twigs of dry wood like Aspen. Gathering kindling was Charlie’s chore, probably to make up for the fact that us older kids had so many. He complained so much about it… but I guess he was entitled since he was only three or four.

First though, you will need to clear the previous night’s ashes from the fire box by moving the crank back and forth to release it into the ash chamber below.

Open the vent just outside the fire box completely to give it as much air as possible. Three or four crumpled full pages of news paper laid across the bottom and covered with eight to twelve pieces of kindling should be enough to start it.

Oh no! Did we remember to move the lever at the back of the cooking surface? The one that diverts the smoke and heat around the oven instead of directly out the top of the stove into the pipe?

The best paper to start the fire with is newspaper, but just the part with news, not the advertisements. Comics are okay, but better saved for wrapping Christmas gifts.

Yah, that’s why the smoke is backing up, just turn that lever. That’s it, open that top-left front door with a fireproof tool, see how the flames are being pulled so much faster when you look through the fire box door? Before that burns out grab a couple of aspen logs from the stack, perhaps four with 2-4” diameter. Carefully place them in through the front door without burning yourself.

Okay, that’ll be good for a minute or two. Start another stove or fill up the tea kettle and place it on the hot-most point on the left burners. Breakfast isn’t for a little while so when the first fire burns down a little, grab some larger Aspen and then maybe a couple of pieces of pine and put them in the fire box. When that’s going well, flip that little lever at the back of the oven to the right. That’ll heat up the whole stove including the hot water tank on the one pictured.


For the most part, dad started the first fire of the day. I think mom just stayed under the warm covers like Jen and I did before he got them started.

Mom could have just as easily started that fire as dad, (he just got up earlier), but in any event mom usually took over the fire tending after dad got started on whatever his chores were for the day.


The science behind cooking on a macrowave oven

How the fire was nurtured is really dependent on what was going to be cooked on this macrowave next. A fire for a family breakfast was different than a cake for a family birthday for instance.

Aspen is great to get a fire started, but for cooking, mom often used pine to create a longer lasting fire. The amount of air coming in through the side vent and the bottom vent made a huge difference in the fire as well.

But honestly the biggest thing was that lever at the back of the oven. Let me explain more about how that worked.

In the first position, the flames & smoke are directed to the back of the fire box and directly out the top of the 6” stove pipe, then somewhere up this flue and out of the house.

In the second position the smoke, air and flames are directed into a gap above the oven and under the cast iron stove top. Yes, the entire stove top is made of the same material as the cast iron cookware of today. So these hot flames are heating up the burners, then continuing down around the right side of the oven. By now the flames are out and it is just smoke and heat. Then, under the oven, it is diverted once again to the backside of the stove and finally out through the top where it exits like normal.

Mom managed all these variables of cooking on top of the fact that the thermostat on the oven was inaccurate. Need more heat? turn that lever to the right and put another log on the fire. Less heat? turn it to the left. Some fancy ovens also allowed you to put it somewhere in the middle of the two.

Between the stove at the cabin and the stove in the basement and later the main floor of our log home, mom managed to cook many, many, many meals for our family on a wood cook stove during the years we lived together in the Colorado Rockies.

Spaghetti & garlic bread, chili & cornbread, fried chicken & mashed potatoes, every breakfast item under the sun, Thanksgiving, Christmas; mom cooked everything. But my most favorite thing to this day is Porcupine Balls.

Here they are shown as cooked by more conventional means and served by my wonderful wife with mashed potatoes and spinach, just like mom used to make from her recipe website.

Central City – Underground

When I went to Clark School in Central City, Colorado we had a huge gymnasium across the street in front of the school. This is not a story about that gymnasium.

Outside the gymnasium on the uphill side was a huge gulch, or ravine depending on where you are from. In this gulch two creeks converged after they exited from large pipes. Both pipes, or culverts as my dad called them, were about six feet in diameter and the water dropped about four feet to the ground where they joined and continued on to Mountain City and then Blackhawk.

When looking uphill at the two, the rightmost culvert was made of corrugated steel and had a good amount of water pouring out of it. As it turned out, this same creek ran in front of the Sauer House where our family lived then and started further up the hill toward the cemeteries and the Boodle Mine. I did try to float a toy boat down the culvert in front of our house and look for it to come out by the school. My dad said it was possible, but not probable that I would find it. I did not.

The leftmost culvert was also round, but constructed from the kind of concrete pipe that fits together. The water coming from this pipe was barely a trickle in comparison to the other.

Now, in the winter time, the water in both of these giant pipes froze to varying degrees. The steel one, with the most water, eventually froze up almost completely and left only a small gap at the top.

The left side, with less water volume, backed up inside of the pipe and froze into a very long pool of ice. You might have guessed that some of the more adventurous kids would climb up the rocks, over the ice and snow and into the big pipe to “ice skate” in our regular boots or shoes. I was one of the kids inviting all the others to join me after school.

Sometimes I could only get my little sister to go along. Mostly, though it was at least Alexis and I. He was my best friend then and we would run from as far back in the pipe as the ice went, then skid on down to the end before the drop off. Hopefully missing any embedded rocks along the way which would certainly make you stop quickly and bust your face. This would go on until it was time to walk home and end our afternoon of fun.

In the summer…

There was more time during the day and Alexis and I vowed to explore the “tunnels” until we got to the other side because by now they had taken on a life of their own and were more than just a water pipe diverting water through the city.

The corrugated pipe with the big creek was impassable because the water never slowed down enough to even consider going into that dark and scary hole.

The second option was much more inviting. By summer, the creek turned into more of a trickle. Alexis and I told our parents some semi-plausible story not involving tunnels and then collected walking sticks, flashlights and provisions for our exploration. Probably liverwurst sandwiches. Because “liver is the worst, but liverwurst is the best”. This was a saying we made up one previous afternoon.

After climbing up the rocks to the entrance of the concrete pipe, Alexis and I made our way up it by straddling the now small creek; like penguins, flashlights in hand feebly revealing what was ahead of us. Real or imagined rodents scrambled away through the smaller pipes branching to the sides of our dim walkway.

Then, amazingly, the formerly round pipe opened up into a huge squarish area much larger than what we had encountered in our journey so far. Our six foot tall tunnel turned into a huge space much wider and taller than our previously cramped area. Dim light from somewhere provided an eerie feel to what was now more like a gigantic, long room. It was full of sand, some rocks, a bit of human trash and various debris.

It looked desolate and a bit freakish. Alexis and I dubbed the new area “the catacombs” and we dared not continue further that day. We ate our lunch… er, I mean provisions, and turned back the way we came.

Day two

During our next foray we found that the round part of the tunnels didn’t last as long as we previously thought and we made our way to the catacombs quickly.

Alexis and I looked for elves, dwarves and goblins first as boys that age would do after reading certain books. Not finding any, we then searched for other treasures in the catacombs under the city.

What we did find was that it really wasn’t a catacomb at all. By our definition catacombs were a series of large, walkable tunnels going in all directions. This was more of a really, really long concrete room with another smaller, darker tunnel at the far end.

We could just make out the sounds of the mechanical prisoners in the wax museum through a steel grate in the street far above us. That meant we were under the city and right in front of the old jailhouse. Exciting!

We recognized that this grate and the others (like the one down by the Tollgate saloon) were for water run off in the city. This explained the river-like sediment through the chamber and also meant that we should never ever be here in the rain.

We ate our provisions more soberly this time. Wondering aloud what the weather might do – we headed back where we came and emerged into full sunlight.

Another summer day

When the weather was definitely not going to include rain, Alexis and I planned a trip back to the catacombs to discover what mysteries were beyond that next dark tunnel entrance.

Up close it looked like the opening to a mine. In we went, only to find that the going was much tougher. We continued with sometimes brick or some really old concrete and even with timber supports in places.

Scrambling over many fallen sections and squeezing through some really tights areas Alexis and I crawled out into daylight again at last.

We exited the tunnel just past the second “free parking” lot, well on our way to Nevadaville. Dusting off our clothes, we walked down past the second and first free parking lots, the triangle (paid) parking lot and the old jailhouse turned museum we had passed from below hours earlier.

In the days of summer that year and next I ventured all the way through maybe two of three more times. Only ever with friends. Probably Jimmy and maybe some of the other “Tolkieneers”.

This was our band of five boys that hung out sometimes and did boys stuff like this together in the late 70’s.

The Duration

Another night out for the Gibbins family while living on the outskirts of Central City.

We bundled up for the winter weather and left the Buck House on our way to town. Dad decided to drive through Nevadaville as that way was more direct. The old Jeep might have started blowing warm air by the time we passed the Stone House. My dad knew the guy that lived there, he was apparently the mayor by virtue of being the only year round resident. Although I visited the hardware store he owned several times, I was more interested in his outhouse with the moon shape cut into the door.

Which reminds me of the time I watched Paper Moon at the Belvidere Theatre… maybe I’ll recount the time Tatum O’Neil said “shit box Ford” in another story.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination and parked in the dirt parking lot just down the street. Then we climbed down from the Jeep, got Charlie settled in his baby carrier and traipsed the short distance uphill through the frozen snow to the stone entrance. We were greeted with warmth, music and cigarette smoke as we walked through the door. After all, it was the late 70’s.

Dad greeted each of the locals he knew on the way to our table. We removed our wet jackets and hung them on the back of the wooden chairs and mom arranged our family of five for a meal.

The establishment was located in yet another historic building and called The Duration. Why? I think it was because if you ordered their signature hamburger, you would be there for the duration. Seriously! It was a one pound hamburger with toppings on a giant bun!

I seem to remember that there was some deal if you ate the entire hamburger. I was only 11 years old or so and I could not have finished “the Duration Burger”. But I think dad gave it a shot.

After I finished my smaller burger and my picky sister finished whatever she ordered, it was time for dessert. Our eyes widened in amazement when the chocolate chip cookie was served. Another house special, a cookie the same size as that giant hamburger. Our family shared only one; with my sister, Jennifer, and I vying to get the most bites.

“The Duration”, with its stone walls and welcome atmosphere is one more of my favorite memories of living in Central.

“Turkeys” aka tourists

Central City is what my father called a tourist town. The height of tourist season was in the summer, and many stores completely closed up during the winter. Somewhere along the way, our family started referring to a tourist as a turkey. I don’t remember why it started exactly. I had always assumed that it was a fairly commonplace term and that all of the local townspeople used it. Certainly all of our family and friends did.

Beginning in the spring, people would come to Central and, while visiting, ask the shop owners where they could drive for sightseeing. Oftentimes proprietors would send them up the hill to the right of free parking and then into the ghost town of Nevadaville, past the Buck House, then across King’s Flat, down the hill and around the switchback at the ranch, past the Boodle Mine and down Gregory Street back into the heart of the city.

All summer long, vehicle after vehicle would drive by the Buck House. Sometimes a station wagon with a family and their dog, other times five or six 4x4s in a row, part of a club up from Denver. Not that anyone blamed them for coming. We lived in the midst of one of the most beautiful places on earth. Mountains, meadows, wildlife and wild flowers attracted everyone. Then in the fall, at the height of Colorado’s leaf season, someone from town would inevitably drive the loop stopping every once in awhile to hammer a home made sign into the dirt. These would safely lead the tourists along this road back into town.

With three dogs a part of our family, we knew each and every time someone drove by, even if we didn’t hear their engines directly. Sometimes the strangers would even come down our driveway looking for directions further up Bald Mountain or back to town if they missed the signs. These were the turkeys. 

Later, as we built our log house even further out in the woods, we found that the casual drivers in the station wagons gave way to mostly 4x4s and motorcycles. By and large I’m sure that most people are respectful of nature, but with that many people driving out into the woods to test the abilities of their vehicles and their own driving skills, there were plenty of bad apples. Sometimes they would decide to go completely off road through meadows or up hills tearing up the countryside and the destroying the pristine beauty. Particularly in the spring, when the snow runoff was highest, folks would race across bogs trying to make it to the other side. When they didn’t, their buddies would get their tug-ropes out, attach them to the bumper and pull them back out making even more of a mess. These were the turkeys. 

Especially during the summer weekends, campers would come up from Denver. Our property, like that of our neighbors, was a former mining claim. A piece of land granted to someone else years ago because silver or gold was found there. A five-acre strip of land otherwise surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest. The forestry department did not require a pass or otherwise restrict campers at all here in the middle of the woods. Too frequently, Mother Nature’s guests would leave their trash at their makeshift campsites by Pisgah Lake. Beer cans and diapers would be left behind to be carted off by wildlife or picked up by nearby families like ours. These were the turkeys. 

Many weekend visitors didn’t even realize that private property criss-crossed the mountainsides. That while they were driving on the actual road that it was perfectly fine, but depending on where they left the road they might be on private property – whether marked or not. Our log home was built down the hill from where public access crossed our property. Because we built our log home stockade style, it was mostly invisible to most passersby during the summer. Before we finished all of the matching log outhouse walls, you could could sit there, on the throne, tissue in hand waving at the tourists and not one would even know. These were the turkeys. 

My brother is nine years younger than I am. He learned to talk during our adventures in the middle of the woods. So naturally, he learned what a turkey was based on our family’s use of the word. We lamented the sounds of the turkeys coming around the curve on their motorcycles. We complained when we had to pick up trash the turkeys left. Dad bitched like hell every time we passed one of the pretty meadows now turned bog by the turkeys.

Sometimes the turkeys would stop in the middle of our property and start to unload for the long weekend. Tents, coolers, kids, and dogs would try to move in, not realizing that they were camping 1500 feet from our house. Before they completely unpacked, Dad would get his 12-gauge shotgun, open it and put two red shells side by side into it. Then, leaving it open, he would walk up the hill and approach the folks very friendly, but seriously and ask if they knew that they were on private property. Occasionally he would have them look not far from where they were unpacking to find the stone marker that proved it.

There was also the time that turkeys stopped at a meadow the other direction from our house where we used to play softball. We knew when they started shooting guns at our No Shooting sign, not because of the gunshots, but because we heard the bullets whizzing into the trees above our house. Dad loaded the shotgun, then loaded the Doberman into the Jeep. He mumbled something about the mother of these turkeys before he sped up the driveway. Mom made us stay inside the house away from the windows where we heard more gunshots and then one final loud one. It turns out that dad had to fire his 12-gauge into the air to get their attention and stop them from shooting. They were understandably mortified to know why Dad was standing there with a shotgun and why he was more than a little upset at them shooting toward our house.

As more and more colorful leaves joined their brothers and sisters on the ground, fewer and fewer tourists came by. Snow fell and stayed longer. Labor Day marked the last day of the season, then Halloween came and went. By the end of October snow is a permanent part of the landscape until spring. As Thanksgiving approached mom and dad began to talk about what we were going to have for our Thanksgiving dinner.  Mom told my sister, my little brother and I that there would be pumpkin pie of course at the end, but we would have ham, green bean casserole, yams and mashed potatoes with stuffing from the turkey.

Little Charlie started crying hysterically, loudly and rather inconsolably. “Why are we going to eat turkey”, he said between sobs. “I didn’t think we would eat them!”

It took us a very long while to calm him down and to explain that we would not be eating people this Thanksgiving.

The Belvidere Theater

It was Friday night and the Gibbins family was going to the movies. Not to one of the fancy new two-plex theaters like they had in Denver though. We were going to the Belvidere and like many places in Central City, this building had historical significance.

We had to descend one of two wood staircases that were on either side of the theater down to the main floor where we would watch the movie. We picked one of the round tables and spread our family of five around it. This was the first time I had ever been to a movie theater like this.  One with actual servers instead of concessions where adults could order adult beverages. We got to order real food too, not just popcorn.

In front of us was a stage and on the stage was a screen. That too was different from other theaters. I guessed that maybe they put on plays sometimes. I enjoyed looking around the big open area as our food was served.

So, the movie begins.  Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox was apparently a western. It wasn’t long into the movie when I realized that I was sitting in the middle of the scene that was being shown on the big screen in front of me. That I was sitting at a table that was in the scene facing the stage where Goldie Hawn was… er… she was… well dancing and singing about her fruit.

I was new to Central City at the time, so I didn’t even notice the opening sequences were taken in the town I lived in too. A few years later when video rentals became a thing, I got a copy of the tape for myself and watched it many times.

This was my first time seeing the movie though and I was enthralled. I loved seeing the buildings that I walked past on my way to school. Dad said that they had to cover the paved road in dirt for the movie. I guess he already knew that it was partly filmed here, but was keeping it quiet until we noticed.

Years later I met and became friends with the son of the people who owned and operated the theater. He was one of the older kids so I didn’t really hang out with him much, but I did get to go into the projector room with him sometimes.

Got Milk?

I don’t recall how old Q.T. Pie and H.O.B. were when they came to us. The whole family enjoyed watching them with their antics of climbing woodpiles and head butting one another. They were larger than most of the little ones that prance around on YouTube, but they were just as playful. Imagine a bigger version – like a grown dog – bouncing around and jumping off the highest object they could find.

Only a few weeks later, Dad brought home another goat. Star was their mother and as soon as they saw her they ran toward her. It was so precious and cute with Q.T. Pie’s bell ringing and both of them jumping with joy. Until they ran past her, dropped to their knees on either side of her and drank every last bit of milk.

We were just as stunned as you… the whole family was witness to this bizarre animal reunion. Dad said something colorful and we just looked at one another for an explanation.

None was forthcoming, but the obvious finally set in. The kids were clearly not fully weaned from their mother. Dad told us later that the previous owner told him he had the same problem, but he thought it would have been enough time for them to stop.

Really? No, really? Yep, and that was our first lesson about about herding goats.

We had to keep Star separate from Q.T. Pie and her brother H.O.B. for that entire milk season. Once we did, Star gave our family about a quart of fresh milk in the morning and another quart in the evening.

Of course, when I say that Star gave us milk, I mean that I learned to milk a goat. Dad learned from the previous owner and showed us how. Once you got the hang of it, the milk flowed fairly easily.  Star was clearly used to it and not nearly as offended by the job as I would have thought – you know – all things considered.

I would like to say that later, when Q.T. Pie got pregnant and gave birth to her own set of twins, she didn’t find out that she had her own milk supply even closer at hand.

But, I would be lying. We actually did have that problem and there really wasn’t a solution to it. That first milking season for Q.T. Pie we didn’t get any milk.

It was a good thing that the herd grew quickly in other ways.

Mom also had a great sense of humor when naming our animals. I’m not sure if this is “This” or if this is a picture of “That”.

What Do I Care What a Goat Herd?

It started with two kids and before we knew it we had a herd.

The first winter in the basement was an eye opener in many ways for our family of five. We learned that the Jeep couldn’t make it home every time and that we had to plan on walking part of the way. We also learned that a family of five goes through about a gallon of milk per day. In a backpack, that is around 63 pounds of whole milk per week.

Have you tried powdered milk? Me too!

That spring, Dad unexpectedly brought home the answer to our problem. Two kids recently weaned from their mother and ready to live with our menagerie of people, dogs, cats, horses and rabbits.

To me it didn’t look like much of an answer. The young nanny didn’t appear to even have a milk supply and I wasn’t sure why we would have a billy at all. Dad assured us that once they mated, the nanny would have milk. He also brought home a couple of quart jars filled with their mother’s milk for our family to try.

Have you ever tried goat’s milk? I mean really, fresh goat’s milk that has been handled properly? I have, it’s delicious and super creamy. But, then it was gone and we would have to wait for more.

The little nanny’s coat was various shades of brown with white mixed in here and there. The billy was a little larger and black with occasional white patches. Neither of them had horns because they were both pure-bred Nubian, a fact I found strange at that age, but got used to over time.

The nanny was already named when we got her, Q.T. Pie. I thought it was a dumb name, but Jennifer liked it and the girl goat was “hers”. But, I got to spell her name. Can you tell?

The billy goat didn’t have a name. Which meant, of course, that I got to name him. What to name this boy goat though? I wasn’t going to make a rash decision. My sister and I already had disagreements with my decision to name my puppy Arwen (from my favorite book series The Lord of the Rings).

After a better understanding of just how we were going to get the milk started and after watching the billy chase Q.T. Pie around the yard, I asked my dad if I could name him H.O.B. Naturally, he wanted to know why I chose that name. When I told him he said, “Yes, but do not tell your sister why. Just call him Hob and let it go.” He and my mom had a good laugh at it though.

 

The Jeep (Pt 2)

This is not our Jeep. It is very close to it though. I took this photo in June 2016 while on family vacation in Washington state. It was parked on the side of the road. Likely unused until winter.

Ours was nearly like this, but there were some custom modifications that made it even more of a beast.

  • Nearly this color, but darker and two-tone with a creme made it look more like a panel wagon.
  • The rear windows on ours went all the way to the back, with the furthest back being sliders.
  • We had an extra fuel tank behind the passenger seat, so there was another gas fill-hole and cap on the same side, but closer to the front.
  • We also had five gallon Jerry cans hanging on both sides just in front of the doors.
  • Our Jeep had heavy steel bumpers on the front and back.
  • We also had a PTO winch (this one didn’t, I looked).

My family bundled up and drove home in the Jeep during winter as far as we could. Sometimes we would park it either at a friends house either in town or at a place we called the ranch and take our snowmobiles from there.

Many, many times my father would be driving our family along home and find another 4×4 stuck in the snow. Sometimes they were even stuck exactly where we needed to drive through to get home.

Dad would hop out of the Jeep and introduce himself by walking through the snow toward them and assessing the situation.

If this poor soul was stuck because he and his friends forgot the golden rule of what a 4 wheel drive is for; or if he was stuck so bad that his 4×4 club buddies had already tried and failed to pull him out; or especially if he wasn’t polite…

Dad would charge the driver $50 to $75 to hook up our winch and slowly pull him back out of where he shouldn’t have been.

If this was a man out with his family for a weekend of sightseeing in their 4×4 and just happened to go a little too far because he never learned the golden rule.

Dad would pull them out for free, then direct the driver and his family to a better location and probably share the golden rule again.

Sometimes we would pull folks out of snow banks, other times it was the annual spring bogs and more than once we pulled people out of Pisgah Lake.

The most memorable time was when my father got to pull out the realtor that sold us the property that we owned. My father had always felt like they were dishonest when they sold the first piece of land to us near the Buck House. Dishonest in that the road on Bald Mountain was not plowed throughout the winter as they stated.

This time they had come out to check out the land we swapped our original property for a couple of years prior. They got stuck in the snow in a place on our property that they shouldn’t be driving through. Not because it was our property, but because it was impossible to drive through that drift. I knew because it was part of my walk to school.

I did learn how it was possible to be stuck with a winch when it was electric if you didn’t know enough to keep the engine running. They had run down their battery on their fancy Jeep Cherokee by endlessly trying to pull themselves deeper into a drift.

Dad pulled them back out and charged them I don’t know what. He and Mom laughed about how they got stuck on our property for many years after.

The Jeep (Pt 1)

If we were going to spend a winter in the house we were building, we were going to need more than the 2-wheel drive truck we had.

That fall, Dad brought home The Jeep.

Photo of early Columbines and other wildflowers taken from the Jeep at the base of Mt. Pisgah.

We just called it The Jeep since we didn’t really name vehicles and we only had one Jeep. Dad had already taught me the basics in the truck and I had been steering around rocks for him all summer from the passenger seat at 12 years old. But back to the Jeep…

The 1953 Jeep Willy’s Wagon was a little more complicated, and it took a while at that age for me to get all five gear shift levers correct in my head.

  • The tallest and most obvious one was the main gear box. Gears 1-3, reverse and of course neutral (which isn’t exactly a gear).
  • We also had an overdrive which I never really learned how to use since it was supposed to be for higher speeds. This was a separate control which I never needed.
  • Then we had the shifter that switched between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive. Often I would have to get out and lock or unlock the hubs as part of our trek one direction or another.
  • Our transmission also had another shift on the floor that would change all of the first set of 4 gears (yes, even reverse) into a lower version of each once it was in four-wheel drive.
  • Finally, the last thing in the cluster on the floor was the gear shift for the PTO winch. When the winch was engaged, the engine and clutch controlled the speed going forward or reverse.

The entire chassis and body was raised up higher (out of the snow) by special suspension. This made it almost impossible to climb into without a hand up. It wouldn’t be until next year that I actually drove the Jeep (and never on the public roads), but I spent hours upon hours in the Jeep, occasionally jumping out and then back in and back out again. Not just for the hubs, but also the occasional barbed wire fence or to run the winch out to a nearby tree.

I preferred when dad pulled the cold cable out of the box, trudged through the snow to wrap it around a tree and clip it to itself while I got to operate the winch from inside the warm Jeep.  That didn’t happen often, but it did once or twice.

Mostly though it went like this…

After getting off the pavement and to the Boodle Mine above Central City we would stop and I would hop out and lock in the hubs so Dad could switch to 4 wheel drive. First one, then the other, then hop back in. That was pretty simple.

Depending on whether there was snow falling and how much, we might also have to stop and put on the chains on our oversized tires. For this I would jump up on the back bumper, lift the top window, then release the latches on the left and right sides of the heavy tailgate and lower it slowly. Then we could get all the chains out and separate them before we put them on. We had chains for all four tires, but sometimes we would just put them on the front.

For each of the tires we would untangle the tire chain and lay it in a line in front of the tire. When two or four were lined up, Dad would drive slowly on top of the chains and stop about three-quarters of the way. That way, when we pulled the rest of the chain (now behind the tire) up around to meet the other chain it would be easier to fasten them together without one or the other end constantly falling down into the snow. Mittens are out of the question to get this job done, and gloves would only get you so far. By the time we were attaching the chains we usually went down to bare fingers that were getting colder and colder by the moment. Keeping chains out of snow was really self-preservation to keep your fingers out of the snow.  Once the ends were connected on both the inside and outside of all the tires, we criss-crossed rubber bungie straps across the tires and got back into the warmth of the Jeep.

Now, here’s what many people don’t realize about snow. They think of it falling down, but they don’t really think about the blowing snow unless they’ve experienced it themselves.  Even a day of no snowfall while it is windy, could change our ability to get home easily or at all. So, while there was a fair amount of just driving through the snow in our Jeep while in 4 wheel drive with chains – that wasn’t the real problem. It was the snow drifts.

The Jeep was able to go through a lot of snow, but even she had limits. My Dad always said that 4 wheel drive was for getting you out of shit you shouldn’t have done in 2 wheel drive.  Of all the times we were stuck in the snow, we were never stuck both directions by accident.

Not only did the two of us know the road and each drift location well, but we also knew exactly how far our winch would reach and which trees were nearby from previous experience. Dad knew exactly how far into the drift to take the Jeep without getting stuck before backing out and hitting it again and pushing a little further. Once we were far enough into the drift that we could reach a nearby tree with the winch, Dad would push the Jeep even harder into the snow. Sometimes we would even go hard enough that last time to bust through the drift and be able to travel on for a bit.

Eventually though, we would get to a drift that we knew the Jeep couldn’t handle. We would repeat the previous steps to get within winch distance of a tree. Then, I would then get out, get my hands dressed again for the cold and pull the cable out as Dad ran the winch in reverse. He would keep the engine running at just the right speed for me to walk into the snow, pulling the long cable behind me while still keeping it tight. Then I would wrap it around a tree and clip it back to itself. Depending on just how far away the tree was we might also need to extend the reach with one or both of our heavy pull chains which where also kept in the back of the Jeep at all times. Dad would get the chains out and follow through the snow in the path I made to the tree and would then help get everything connected on these bigger jobs.

Then we would get back in the Jeep and Dad would put the winch in gear and let it pull us through the drift.  This sounds pretty exhausting and labor intensive just once. There were times that we did this three times in a single section of the road. I could point to the section today if I were to drive by it.

Mostly though we pulled ourselves through drifts only when we had to. Sometimes that meant we could only get so far toward home before we had to walk the rest of the way.

The section of the road home is closest to the house and often part of our walk to get to the Jeep (or other vehicle) so we could drive the rest of the way into town.

The Little Colonel

In a tourist town like Central City or Blackhawk there are a large variety of interesting summer jobs. One year mom got a summer job working in a mine. Seriously.

Of course, it’s not what you might be thinking with a helmet and headlamp. She was a tour guide for the Little Colonel Gold Mine.

Charlie, mom and Joe enjoying a fine Colorado afternoon.

This wasn’t as fancy as the “donkey pulled mine train” across the street. But, there was rarely a line and it was cheaper, so I suspect that a lot of families stopped here instead. It also helped to have our friend Joe’s teepee, or my Dad carving spoons in a lawn chair, or someone panning for gold in the half barrel in front of the mine. Or even my little brother standing in front of the teepee. It all helped to bring visitors in.

This was a real mine (at one time) and after collecting the $1 admission at the entrance, mom would guide them by foot into the dimly lit, horizontal hole in the mountain. Fascinated children would hold close to their parents as she pointed out the stalactite on the low ceiling of rock. Admirers had to look very, very close and try to understand that this was a young stalactite and therefore only a few disappointing centimeters long.

Not far in, the mine appeared to end, but just as you thought your party would have to turn around, the tunnel turned left and went further into the mountain. Mom brought them deeper into the gloom to another left turn. Then all of a sudden the rock turned to concrete and the darkness changed to the indoor lighting of the gift shop next door to the mine.

Yes, wasn’t that a convenient surprise? This is one of the many places you could stop and buy souvenirs of your trip to the mountains — from fools gold to decoupaged aspen leaves to corn cob toilet paper.