We Are the Children of Clark School

The Schoolyard at Clark was a 4th grader’s dream and every modern mother’s nightmare. The kind of excitement we had then cannot be found on a playground today.

As I recall, the swing was on the only flat part of the yard and constructed of three inch iron pipe. Tall, three-legged triangles on each end with a supporting pipe between them all painted a glossy black. The swing seats hung down on chains from the support bar far above. Deep troughs in the dirt beneath the seats were worn by the countless children before us.

This was the setting for one of our playground challenges – Who can jump out of the the swing at the high point and land the furthest from the swing set?

By the 5th grade, I was one of the kids who could climb to the very top of the swing, shimmy out the chain support and drag the seat up and around the pipe thereby lifting the seats higher and providing greater distance for our flying jumps.

Tetherball provided additional modes of combat. Yes, combat. If you’ve not played tetherball in the schoolyard and had your face pounded by a hard ball swinging around a pole as fast as another kid can propel it, you just don’t know. Like the rest of the playground, the tetherball was on a hill. Surrounded by a few trees and the furthest away from the eyes we imagined on the second floor of the building, was another pipe. This one mounted vertically into the ground with concrete peeking out on the downhill side where water had washed away the dirt.

We creamed one another with the ball. Learning that the uphill position was the superior one helped me to at least win sometimes.

Another memorable game in the schoolyard was a variation on tag that could only be played here in this unique place and time.

The school, like the rest of Central City, was built on a hill. Sitting between Gregory Street and First High as it was, there was a need to ensure that run off water from the street above did not flood or wash out the playground. Stone masons from years past had built a stone wall on the north side of the yard, perhaps ten or twelve feet high supporting the road above. In the wall was left an opening that resembled a big fireplace or a small jail cell without bars. In reality it provided open access to the water flowing down from the street above, through the chamber and then down to a small corrugated drainage pipe in the floor that whisked the water away under the playground and the street into the creek in front of the school.

It was into this jail that we boys locked the girls during tag. The small chamber became sort of the opposite of a base with room enough for at least 4 kids. We captured the girls by tagging them, this meant that they also had to go up to the jail with the rest of the captured girls until they were let out by another girl who was in the game and had yet to be captured. This was pretty much the sum of the rules. A voluntary game on the part of all participants and a made up excuse to hang out on the playground with the opposite gender. In elementary school I was apparently partial to blondes, especially two particular ones. One with straight long hair and the other with shorter curly locks.

It wasn’t all fun and games though, not with Mrs. Gray as our principal. Now I’m sure she was a perfectly nice woman to adults. But to us kids she was terrifying. I had never been in a school setting and had anyone bang stainless steel utensils on a cafeteria table before. No doubt she had to yell and bang to be heard over the lunch noise of who knows how many elementary students. Nevertheless, it was frightening. The only time I got in trouble was when my sister and I were throwing rocks at on another after school. She called my parents and they handled that back at home. I was never in a chair in her office.

The hallways of Clark were lined with lockers, a reminder that it was a high school before it was repurposed into an elementary. The science room on the first floor also retained its high school lab equipment. Science class was taught by Mr. Allen who let the students light crayons on fire with the gas burners and draw colorful wax  drawings by dripping them onto paper. One year, during field day at Columbine Campground, Mr. Allen was in charge of lighting the grills for the cookout. He used a can of ether to get them started. I think he might have been a closet pyromaniac, but us kids loved him anyway.

Mrs. Quiller was probably a favorite teacher for most of the students. As the reading teacher, she certainly was one of mine. I especially loved reading alone in Mrs. Quiller’s reading loft — a literal loft built in the room to one side for the sole purpose of reading. When I started in 4th grade she moved me to a 5th grade reading book. When I advanced to 5th grade she moved me to the 6th grade reader. When it came to 6th grade though, Mrs. Quiller ran into a problem – there was not a 7th grade reader available in the elementary school. I was presented with the 4th grade reader since “at least it has new stories”. I knew that Mrs. Quiller was doing the best she could by giving me new material. I also totally understood the logic in why there were not 7th grade reading books available, but I still talked to my Dad. He talked to Mrs. Quiller and the new principal, Mr. Myers. Everyone agreed that it was silly and something needed to be done. That asking a 7th grade level reader to read a 4th grade level book simply because another book was not available in an institution of education…?

I received a new 7th grade reading book compliments of the Clear Creek County school system. Like all readers at that time, the book was named something related to the content within. On the front of my new reader was printed Serendipity.

Our Elementary Alma Mater

We are the children of Clark School,
We try to live by the Golden Rule,
We are the pride of our mother’s eye’s,
You know it true we really try,
We try to be our very best,
Do what’s good,
Forget the rest…

Or something like that, seriously, it has been 40 years! The song was written by one of the school administration, but I don’t recall who specifically.

Uphill In The Snow Both Ways

Jennifer and I walked to school when we lived in the log home that our family built… and it was uphill both ways in the snow. Okay, not all of that is true. We really didn’t walk ALL the way to school. We only walked to the bus stop, but that was at least a three mile walk (depending on which way we went) and there wasn’t always snow. But, it was partly uphill both ways… and partly down hill. We had two alternatives for the hike, both with their own advantages.

Typical snow shoes with wood frame and leather straps.

The Main Route

Officially our bus stop was 2.15 miles from the house (the blue marker).  This walk required us to walk to the top of the hill from the house less than 1,000 linear feet.  Then it was “mostly” down hill from an elevation of 9,640 to roughly 8,800.  Of course, nothing is truly all down hill when you live in the Rockies.  In the winter time steps that might have been downhill in the summer become uphill over a large snow drift.

We usually walked this way in the late spring and early fall before the snows really set in.  Honestly, it was a very pleasant and beautiful walk.  Once we got over the hill we walked a ways down a real dirt road through tall pines.  The track then meandered at the side of a meadow and then turned into a cattle trail.  At this point we crossed a creek and traveled on the side of the mountain with the southern exposure; which meant less snow.  After awhile we would walk through Aspen trees which in the fall were absolutely gorgeous with their coin sized gold leaves quaking in the sun.

Then it was time to cross the creek again and walk through the pine forest and down a much steeper grade which finally met up with another four-wheel drive track that led to the main dirt road where our bus stop was.  The first year we lived in “the boonies” this was always the way we walked to school.  In the winter we wore snow shoes that allowed us to walk on the top of the drifts.  Once we got to the bus stop we removed the snow shoes and stored them in the back of the bus until we made the return hike.

The Secondary Route

Once other folks with school-age children moved nearby we started taking this longer route to school.  Jennifer and I walked near their house and they would meet up with us for the hike.  From our house to the other bus stop it was 3.6 miles (the green marker); nearly 1.5 miles further than our other route.  Advantages though where that Ronald and Rusty Stringfellow walked with us, it relieved some of the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other and with other families living in the “neighborhood” there was a higher likelihood of getting a ride from one family or another.

For this hike we followed the road the whole way. Of course road may be a misnomer because it was mostly a four-wheel drive track over rocks, but at least it was pretty well worn.  We traveled past the Stringfellow’s house on Lloyd Hill, past Pisgah Lake and then down the hill to the upper parts of Columbine Campground.  Once we got to the campground itself we reached a maintained road that was mostly plowed during the winter.

Another distinct advantage of this route was that sometimes we could ride the snowmobiles in and park them at the Boodle Mine (where the bus stop was).  Then they would be available for the ride home too.

The Sauer House

In the fall of 1976 my family moved from Lakewood, Colorado to Central City, Colorado. Central City is a very small tourist town almost due west and 3,600 feet up. These days it is a gambling town which is much different from the tourist town it was. Back then the Central City Opera Company provided houses to the opera performers during the summer months and in the winter they rented them out. These houses were Victorian in architecture and fully furnished with antiques. They were perfect for a family to move into into in the fall, but only if they would be ready to move back out six months later.

We moved into a two story house at 218 Eureka Street called “The Sauer House” just up the street from the elementary school I would attend for 4th grade. Many of the homes in Central City were named after the original owners of the homes. This one was no different, but I have no idea who “Sauer” was and what he meant to the community… just that at one time the family owned the home.

This house was very exciting to move into when you are nine years old. After all, I had never lived in a house with a parlour – and didn’t even know what one was until I did. Ours had an upright piano, something that my mom was really excited about too even though she didn’t actually play. Baby Charlie slept in the master bedroom with mom and dad, Jen and I had separate rooms upstairs. The rooms were up a very steep staircase on the left and right side of the upper landing for the stairs. We thought it was very cool that each of us had a little door on the east side of the room. The door was short because this was where the roof of the house came down and space became unusable. So the owners of the house built in closets… but not just any closet… this was “wardrobe” that I could walk into, turn left and end up in my sister’s wardrobe. It connected our two rooms and for a young boy who had just found Narnia the year before this was seriously cool stuff.

As much as Jennifer and I were very happy to have our own rooms, before the six months were up we had moved back in with each other and made the unused room a playroom. The house was old, mom and dad were an awful long way away and Jen and I were very close siblings who had spent the previous year sharing a room in an apartment. So it just made sense to us to share a room again. Funny now when I think about it, Jen was the same age as my youngest daughter is now and I can see her wanting to share a room… and long as she didn’t have to and it was her choice.

The Sauer House was very unique and something I will always remember, but the six months were up very quickly and my family moved into a house that my dad built with his boss Greg. We called it The Buck House.