“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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The “Curve”

The last leg of the journey home began at what we called the curve. This photo shows a small part of the sometimes narrow road and, of course, the curve itself.

The edge of the road is actually a drop off to a valley far below – a steep drop off. On the topographical maps it was marked as Hamlin Gulch and we built our log house nearly at the top of it. It cannot be seen through the trees, but is nestled in the pines in the far left center (or so).

This being literally the last leg and the first line of site to our property, it was also the first place we could hear people coming around the mountain.

In the summer (when the roads were clear) I drove my parent’s 1970 Super Beetle back and forth to town. In the winter we passed this part of the road covered in a snow drift on our snowmobiles.

No matter who was driving and no matter what they were driving; if it had an engine we could hear it echo through the valley as soon as they reached this curve.

In the springtime, we could hear the 4×4 clubs getting closer and closer to our house once they got past the curve. In later years, once neighbors started moving in, we also began to recognize their individual vehicles. Our Jeep sounded much differently from the neighbor’s Scout and even individual snowmobiles can be identified by their sound echoing through the valley as soon as they reach the curve.

Mom would often announce,

“Dad is at the curve, wrap up your chores, dinner in 10 minutes!

Well, she did in the summer time anyway.

In the winter it would take longer because the next part of the road home was a big series of sometimes impassable drifts.