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.




Christmas Eve Eve Snowstorm

In 1979 my Uncle Ted came to visit us for Christmas during his holiday break from Kent State University.  To say that Uncle Ted was my idol would be an understatement.  He taught me all sorts of things when I was younger… like “Peace Baby Man That Turns Me On” (said while holding up your fingers in a peace sign), he knew magic and how to make farts with your arm pits.  He was also “Speed Racer” in his Mach 5 and got in trouble from my grandparents when we came back from the store exclaiming how Uncle Ted drove just like Speed Racer.  In those days we lived on the east coast (Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey) and saw my grandparents and my Uncle Ted and Aunt LeAnna every summer.

After we moved west to Colorado we saw them less frequently, but Uncle Ted and Aunt LeAnna visited us once every few years and had many great adventures in Colorado.  In the winter of 1979, Uncle Ted came to visit us when we were living in the basement of the house.  While we had many fun times during his visit like concocting recipes of a “dubious” nature, drawing, talking late into the night and listening to Uncle Ted’s music – this is the story of Christmas 1979 and the blizzard of a few days before.

December 22nd

2011 re-creations of the decorations made in 1979. Thanks for your help Maya.

Getting a Christmas tree while living on private property in the middle of the Arapahoe National Forest is easy.  Pick one out, saw it down with a bow saw and drag it back home on a snowmobile.  Decorating it is another matter though.  This was our first year out this far in the woods and getting our food home was a higher priority than transporting our decorations from storage to the house.  So we improvised…

Garland made of popcorn hand-strung onto string and wrapped around the tree is an obvious one – and we made plenty.

We also created paper snowflakes by folding paper multiple times and cutting circles and triangles into the sides, then unfolding them, putting string through them and then hung them on the tree.

Less obvious was how to make actual decorations to hang from our tree. Well my father said that necessity was the mother of invention so we used what we had.  I certainly had my experience with tin snips building the house and we also had an abundance of lids from canned foods (since we didn’t have a garbage collection service).  So we improvised by cutting various shapes into the tin lids, punching holes in the top of the shapes with a nail and running string to hang them on the tree.  In the end we had stars, crescent moons, diamonds and of course the obvious circles hanging from our tree.

December 23rd

Mom and Dad hadn’t finished Christmas shopping and planned a trip to Denver with Uncle Ted and Charlie (my three-year old baby brother). Any trip to Denver is a day long event, so they left early in the day with instructions to my sister and I to get our chores completed before dark.  Duh! Honestly, our chores were “serious chores” like gathering water and cutting wood.  If we didn’t do them we would have nothing to cook with and no wood for the stove anyway.

This close to Christmas Jennifer and I were getting along really well and we worked together to get the chores done early in the day.  In fact, since Christmas was coming we actually hauled in enough wood and water to last us through Christmas Eve and Christmas so that we didn’t have any big chores on those days.  Of course, this was two days before Christmas and the days were as short as they would get, we worked hard early in the day to complete everything we needed to do and then spent the rest of the short day playing games.

Throughout the day we saw the weather looking worse and worse, but didn’t think too much of it. Even when it started to snow we weren’t concerned because we knew that Mom and Dad had taken the six-wheeler with the tank treads and it could make it through the snow.  When our parents didn’t get home before dark and the snow become a blizzard with the added wind – we started to worry.  Then when it became time for bed and still our parents weren’t home we were definitely concerned.  Of course, we didn’t have a phone at the house (since we didn’t have electricity either) and this was a LONG time before cellphones. There really wasn’t much we could do except go to bed listening to the howling wind and plan to walk into town the next morning to search for our parents.

December 24th

As is often the case, morning dawned with no clouds in the sky and the only reminder of the previous night’s blizzard was the new snow on the ground.  Jennifer and I swept off the wood that we gathered the day before and carried enough in for the day and night.  Then we put on our heaviest clothes and snowshoes and headed into town.  Our family had friends who lived at a place we called “the ranch” (even though it wasn’t) and that’s where Mom and Dad always parked the six-wheeler and got into the 4-wheel drive for trips into Denver – so that is where Jennifer and I headed out to.

We must have been walking doubly fast in our worry about our family because we made it to the ranch in record time.  Imagine our parents surprise when the children they had spent all night worrying about snowshoe in just as they were getting ready to try and make it home again!

What happened the night before

This photo shows what our six-wheeler looked like without the tracks, but is not actually ours (thanks Google).

While Jennifer and I were spending our day together, the rest of the family had trekked to Denver, completed their shopping and made it back to the ranch – but not before the blizzard set in.  Of course, Mom and Dad were worried about Jennifer and I all alone at the house and were bound and determined to make it back to us.

But the elements and luck were against them.  As they piled everyone into the six-wheeler and started off through the blizzard, the machine threw a track off.  Investigation showed that the track had come loose because an entire tire had come out from the drive train.  Even still, they tried to make it with no tracks and only five tires.  After making it less than a 1/4 mile through the snow they realized the futility and walked back through the blizzard to the ranch (which must have been a distant and yet welcoming light seen occasionally through the blowing snow).

Uncle Ted was in charge of carrying Charlie held close against his chest while Dad helped Mom back to the ranch through the blinding snow.  Uncle Ted said later that he was crying on the way because he just knew that baby Charlie must have frozen to death during the endless walk.  The relief must have been astounding as he unbundled his seemingly lifeless, but in fact only sleeping, form in front of the fire in the huge fireplace at the ranch.

They spent the rest of the sleepless night hoping for an end to the blizzard so they could make it back to the house.

Since Jennifer and I showed up early, there were two extra sets of arms to carry things back home.  We limped the now five-wheel drive back home walking along side it.  The walk was much longer since we had to take the long way around (Jennifer and I went cross-country on our way in).

When we finally got back home (well before dark), we found that the dogs had made it into the house by climbing in through a missing pane in the window (which was only covered up with cardboard).  They knocked the Christmas tree over and ate every last bit of popcorn off of it.  We were grateful to be home though so we righted the tree, popped more popcorn and made new garland.  The dogs stayed in for the night and with full bellies didn’t eat any more of the garland.

December 25th

Christmas Day dawned just as Christmas Eve did.  No sign of snow and the temperature probably rose close to freezing.  It was the most memorable Christmas ever – even if all the excitement happened in the days leading up to it.

And yes, Santa did make it out to the Gibbins’ home and surprised us all Christmas morning.

Bath In A Bucket

A porcelain wash basin similar to what we used "back in the old days" - you know 1979-1983.

Water conservation was pretty much a way of life when “running water” meant that the winter temperatures hadn’t frozen the creek over.

One of the many chores that my sister and I shared was referred to simply as getting water.  It really wasn’t actually simple though. Most often this was achieved by carrying empty gallon milk jugs down to the creek and filling them up with fresh water.  Calculating just how much water was needed for a family of five was an art.  At 15 my hands were large enough and my fingers strong enough to actually carry three gallon jugs in each hand (provided I didn’t need mittens).  I always took time to remind my sister that I was doing more than she was – at a stretch, she could only manage a total of four – wimp!

Bath night required more water to be gathered – in fact about 4 extra gallons per person.  Yes, we pretty much bathed in as little water as necessary.  We had two porcelain covered steel pans that would be placed on the wood stove and filled with 2 gallons of water each.  One pan was for washing with soap, and the other for rinsing off afterwards.  After the water was heated we would move the pans to a bedroom area, stand in front of the pan and painstakingly wash our bodies by using a rag with soap.  Not too much soap though, because if the water became too soapy, then the rinse water in the other pan would become soapy too.

In the winter, when clean snow was on the ground for collecting right outside of the door we sometimes just spent  the day melting the snow into the pans to make enough water to bathe.  You would be surprised just how little water is actually in snow.  That’s why it took all day. No sense in hauling in extra water when Mother Nature provided for us so amply.

To be fair, we didn’t always have to bring in the water by hand.  In the summer time we often just stopped by the spring on the way home, filled up the jugs and loaded them into the back of the truck.  In fact, sometimes we filled up a 55 gallon steel drum with water and brought it home for use as non-drinking water.  These bath days were nice because that water was sometimes poured into a horse trough, left to warm (kind of) in the sun and then at the end of the day we could enjoy a real bath – well, a bath you could actually climb into and soak.

Of course the horse trough was out in the middle of the meadow in front of the house – so you had a choice between modesty and cleanliness.

Fifty Steps To The Outhouse

Charlie and I as the outhouse was being built. The seat actually faced the road so you could wave at people as they drove by.

Or so… actually, I probably never really counted.  But it was off in the woods a little way.  The thing is that we didn’t actually finish the walls on the outhouse that first year either.

Dad got up first in the morning and the rest of us just waited for him to restart the fires and take the chill off the basement.  You could hear him moving around, building up the fires in both the wood cookstove and the potbelly.  You could only see him by the glow of his cigarette and the occasional light from the open stove doors.

Once he had his tea and cigarette he would make his way to the outhouse.  He was the first each morning to make a path from the house, through any new fallen snow to the privy.  Since the walls weren’t completed, neither was the roof.  So dad would have to first shovel of the snow from the floor and sweep it off of the “throne”.

Now think about that a moment.  That’s one cold toilet seat!  Unless you detach the seat and bring it inside.  That’s right.  Just behind the potbelly stove we had a large nail in the wall where we hung up the toilet seat to warm by the fire.  So when you went to the outhouse you actually grabbed your coat, the hot seat, the roll of TP and then you headed out.

Generally, this worked pretty well except that sometimes, when the fire was really hot… you burned your ass.

Raking Rocks And Watering The Floor

The first winter in the Cabin wasn’t really “in” the cabin at all, but kind of under it.  Since we only got two of the vertical log walls (mostly) up before the winter really hit, we had to live in the basement all winter.

While this might not sound horrid to the casual reader there are things one must know to understand what it was like.  The basement was NOT a finished basement, in fact it was so far from finished that there were really only tin walls with some insulation around the outside of the basement and dirt for a floor.  No really, not a dirty floor… a dirt floor.  It was actually a lot living in a cave. Basically, since the basement was a “walkout”, the roughly 10 foot walls started out ground level in the front of the basement, but as it went toward the back we had a 7 foot wall of natural dirt with about a 3 foot shelf to the back of the house (remember how the hole wasn’t dug out far enough ref. Beginning Work on the House).

Two year old “Charlie” helping around the basement by hammering nails into an old board.

This meant that as we walked across the floor we were constantly uncovering little rocks.  Mom dutifully used a rake to remove the rocks and smooth over the floor again. With the continued walking, or Charlie playing with his toy trucks on the dirt floor, or the dogs digging out a comfortable place to sleep… huge amounts of dust were raised.  Mom had an answer for that too.  She used a steel watering can to sprinkle water onto the floor.  Not enough to make mud, but enough to keep the dust down.

Once the snows came and settled on the flat basement roof, which was really just the plywood floor of the cabin above us… the watering can became unnecessary.  With a wood burning cookstove on one side of the basement and a wood burning potbelly on the other side we generated a lot of wasted heat which, of course, rose to the uninsulated plywood-floor ceiling above us and melted the snow.  This turned the snow into water that leaked into the basement in 4 foot by 8 foot sections (from the plywood seams).

This time it was Dad who came up with the solution when we didn’t have enough buckets or pots to trap the leaks.  We hung up plastic tarps and Visqueen scraps above the important areas (like our beds) at an angle and with a trough so that as the water leaked in, it was more or less directed into 5 gallon pails. This incessant dripping made a LOT of noise as we slept and perhaps that is why to this day I can sleep through pretty much whatever is going on around me.

Any time I hear the Phil Collins song “The Roof Is Leaking” I always think of the first winter in our house or rather the basement.

The roof is leaking and the wind is howling
Kids are crying ‘cos the sheets are so cold
I woke this morning found my hands were frozen
I’ve tried to fix the fire, but you know the damn thing’s too old

Many, many times I would wake early in the morning and wait for Dad to get up and start the fires in the stoves to warm up the basement just a bit… I know Jen did too.  Before we got up and out of bed, we would wait for Dad to get his first cup of morning tea and then take his trip to the outhouse… but that is another story.

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.