First Grade Fears in 1914

First Grade Fears in 1914

Yore Aspen

Washington School in Aspen’s West End. (Willoughby

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Tim Willoughby
September 29,

Starting school is a tough transition for children. The prevalence
of preschool has eased the transition between home and school, but the first few
weeks are still a challenge for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Kindergarten teachers tell hundreds of humorous stories about the
distorted perceptions and fearful experience of first-timers. The student who
asks, “Is it lunch yet?” a half-hour after the day starts. “Did I eat my lunch?”
asked a half-hour after the PB and J was consumed. Finding their lunch, knowing
what to do with an unpeeled orange, and the buckets of tears shed over the
slightest deviation from a home routine round out those long first days in

When my mother started first grade in 1914 there were more
ominous challenges.

For one, it wasn’t until the 1970s that there was a
larger first-grade class. Aspen was a shrinking-but-still-large town in 1914.
The Panic of 1907 had cut the population of the county by 25 percent but in 1910
it was still 4,600, about half the size of Albuquerque at that time. The 1914
first grade was the last big class. In 1917-1918, Aspen’s largest mine, the
Smuggler, shut down over an electricity rate dispute and the influenza struck,
reducing Aspen’s population an additional 30 percent.

Like most cities
of the time, Aspen was proud of its schools. Aspen had three elementary schools:
Lincoln, Garfield and Washington. In the beginning they were multi-grade
schools, each located in a different section of town. When the Washington School
opened in the West End in 1890, they began separating students by grade rather
than by location. First through fourth grades were located at the Washington

There was no kindergarten in Aspen’s
schools until 1955, so my mother entered school in first grade at the Washington
School. Most students in those days did not make it through high school, leaving
after eighth grade. The Washington School was a large, permanent brick structure
with big windows and Victorian flourishes, larger than the high school and still
a “modern” model, but it had one component that confounded my mother.

1914, indoor plumbing was rare. Children like my mother were used to using an
outhouse. Her term was “the chick sail,” a name popularized from a play about an
outhouse builder written by Chick Sale. Cold in the winter, smelly and always
too far from where ever you were, they still served their purpose. Spiders and
bees were a bother, and children always feared they might fall through the hole
into the gaping pit below.

The Washington School had a more modern
facility, an indoor one. It was located in the basement and had a whole line of
holes. What filled my mother with fear was that instead of the usual pit there
was a continuously running torrent of water running below the holes, a kind of
partially open sewer. Further complicating the situation, the holes were not
calibrated for first-graders; they were adult size. At least they seemed that
way to a first-grader.

“I was so afraid I would
fall through and be carried off to God knows where,” my mother told me.

She remembered little else from her first year of school. A 6-year old’s
nightmare aged into a senior’s amusing remembrance.

Tim Willoughby’s
family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for
Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his
native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Made In Aspen

Made In Aspen

The Durant Mine fabrication shop could make almost
anything. (Willoughby photo collection)

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Tim Willoughby
October 6,

Fifty years ago you would often encounter abandoned mining and
milling equipment around Aspen’s periphery. Many items had manufacturer’s names
and “New York, N.Y.” stamped into the thick cast iron with dates from
pre-railroad times.

How could heavy and often
large pieces of machinery have been moved so far? Although Columbia University
was a major mining and engineering school and its students did summer
internships in Aspen’s mines, that connection does not explain the mystery.

The explanation was a common practice in the earliest years. Aspen mines
made some of the equipment in Aspen using plans they bought from companies
headquartered in New York.

An example was the Durant Mine machine shop.
In its prime it could build almost anything. The blacksmiths and machinists
created from scratch, repaired, modified and assembled equipment delivered by

Mining and milling equipment was manufactured from very thick,
but brittle, cast iron that was prone to rapid destruction. In the clash of
metal against rock, rock often won. Mine machine shops battled to keep up with
repairs. Steam-driven equipment required boilers that developed leaks whenever a
rivet worked loose. Rock drills vibrated like present-day jackhammers, expanding
any metal weakness into fissures. Any metal part fractures under constant use
and the extreme weights that mining imposes.

Blacksmiths turned out everything from hinges to intricate fixtures.
Even today in former mining locations you can find locally forged square nails.
In a few places you may see metal pipe that was made by curling longs strips of
thick metal and riveting it every half-foot to hold the edges together.

Until about 1890, San Francisco foundries were the major manufacturers
of mining equipment. With the advent of the continental railroad, eastern
companies began shipping equipment westward. Closer to western mines, Denver,
Salt Lake City and Butte, Mont., dominated the business. After trains reached
Aspen in 1887, and in 1888 when standard-gauge trains could haul heavy loads,
most equipment came from out of town. Cheap shipping methods, and the
development of steel for building, shifted many Aspen mine structures, like
hoisting head frames, from wood to steel.

Aspen was the first mining
town to replace steam power with electricity. One consequence was that there was
less boiler repair, but electric motors became the new shop activity. Aspen
Novelty Works, operated by the Blackburn brothers, on the corner of Hyman Avenue
and Mill Street, offered rewinding for dynamos and motors and other electrical
repairs. At another location they sold and repaired traditional mining

The 1890s were the height of American machinery. There seemed
to be no end to how powerful an engine could be or how huge a drive wheel could
be forged. Aspen used the biggest and best and manufactured some of its

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels
Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School
and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it
with historical perspective. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Jeep Brakes and the Wonderful Willys

Jeep Brakes and the Wonderful Willys

Yore Aspen

Jeanne Willoughby Englert sitting atop a 1950s
Willys in front of what later became La Cocina restaurant on East Hopkins
Avenue. (Doris Willoughby/Willoughby photo collection)

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Tim Willoughby
October 13,

Recently a caller to National Public Radio’s “Car Talk” asked if
something could be done about his Jeep brakes. The Magliozzi brothers’ answer
was a derisive laugh. Jeeps are notorious for poor brakes. They became dangerous
when they put bigger motors in them so they could go faster than the brakes
could slow them down.

In the 1950s, Jeeps were the vehicles of choice
for anyone in Aspen who could afford one. They were the perfect match for
Aspen’s unpaved streets and the most reliable way to navigate deep snow in the
winter. The Willys Jeep, made by Kaiser in Toledo, Ohio, was not designed for
fast travel. Speeds over 45 mph could be attained only if you were traveling
downhill on pavement. At 35 mph on gravel washboard surfaces like Maroon and
Castle Creek roads, you signed up for a noisy, teeth-shattering

But if you wanted to tackle Aspen Mountain
you could slip the Willys CJ (civilian jeep) into four-wheel-low range and it
would purr straight up Little Nell. The low gearing enabled it to climb any
slope at any altitude, even with its low-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Coming down was more interesting. You could stand on the brakes and even
at slow speeds you might not stop, at least not for a long, nail-biting
distance. However, shifting into low range held your speed to a reasonable
crawl. Many Aspenites tell stories of careening down Aspen Mountain or Pearl
Pass, top to bottom, with no brakes at all. Not by choice, but because their
brakes had gone out altogether.

Then there was that other Willys

While going downhill with the gears holding back the speed, a bump
from hitting a rock (on four-wheel-drive roads that’s all there is) could throw
the vehicle out of gear. The law of unanticipated consequences ordained this
catastrophe when you were on the steepest grade, the sharpest turn and the
narrowest of roads with a precipitous cliff alongside as far ahead as you could

John Healy worked on all the Jeeps in
Aspen, making him the most likely the national Willys expert. He devised and
patented a device to keep jeeps from slipping out of gear, and installed it on
many Aspen jeeps. Who knows how many fatalities he prevented.

Some Jeeps
had a forward-facing back seat, but most didn’t. Children, or any other
passengers, sat facing sideways on the narrow metal benches above the rear
wheels. There was just enough room for a big dog and a small child, or a big
child and a small dog, and a couple bags of groceries.

There was no
upholstery in a Jeep. The only hint of extravagance was a tiny glove compartment
where you could keep a spare fan belt. Early models, which lacked a keyed
ignition, sported a button you pushed to run the starter motor. That was OK in
Aspen because most people, even if they had keys, left them in their

Except for the brake, the Willys was
one of the most reliable and durable vehicles ever built. They started in the
coldest weather and required minimal maintenance. Because you wouldn’t take a
trip to Denver in one, and usually just used them to get around town, even the
old ones had low mileage accumulations.

Those blessed with having one
will never part with it. Admire them, but if you see one coming up fast in your
rearview mirror, then remember their brakes.

Tim Willoughby’s family
story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen
Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native
town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Spring Ahead – Fall Back?

Spring Ahead – Fall Back?

Yore Aspen

Changing the time was a bit of work on this clock
gracing the lobby of the Hotel Jerome. (T. Willoughby)

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Tim Willoughby
October 27,

phrase for remembering what to do with your clocks makes it easy to handle
daylight saving time (DST). It wasn’t always so simple in Aspen; you really
needed two clocks to track time.

Aspen has a long history of wanting to
pioneer new ideas. This was especially true in the 1960s. While the rest of the
state debated whether to go on daylight saving time, Aspen decided it was such a
good idea that it would go it alone.

Even though
daylight saving time had been implemented nationally during both world wars and
some European countries had been using it since 1918, the elderly, who tend to
be early risers and uncomfortable with change, complained. I remember my
great-aunt being most upset. She collected cuckoo clocks. It was always
interesting to visit her because they were not all set on the same time and one
clock or another would gong, clang or cuckoo every few minutes.

“I’m just
not going to change the time on my clocks,” she said.

The agricultural
communities of Colorado had the most influence in the state Legislature, and
they were unanimously opposed to daylight saving time. Local ranchers said,
“Animals run on sun time.” Feeding one hour earlier than “bright and early” was
just not going to happen.

The staunchest opponents to Aspen’s solo clock
change came from those who did not live in Aspen. What time would you run on if
you lived in Watson or Snowmass? Would the school bus run on state time or Aspen
time? People would come to town for an appointment and forget about the
difference in time. With doctors often being an hour behind schedule in the late
afternoon anyway, it didn’t always matter. Complicating matters, the post office
and state offices were required to operate on standard time.

Fishermen found fixing the time to be a great advantage. Aspen
stores for years had closed at 5:30 or 6 p.m. and, without DST, fishing after
work was limited. An extra hour on the streams saved more than time; it may have
saved the day.

Concerts at the often-cold tent were a bit warmer.
Working gardeners found more time to pull weeds even though the daylight saved
did not extend the growing season.

People outside Aspen thought the town
had gone crazy. They already believed people who lived there had “no common
sense” so Aspen continued to serve as the punch line for numerous jokes.

Aspen was saved in 1966 when Congress established a national time
standard. It did so because, between 1960 and 1966, some states, counties and
cities, including Chicago, had gone on DST while others had not. The Aspen
problem had gone national. By 1966, 100 million Americans used DST. The act
required each state to go “all on” or “all off.”

The statewide debate pitted the outdoor community against the
entrenched traditionalists. It’s hard to believe, but much of the opposition
arose because some people couldn’t figure out what to do with their clocks, and
many had no understanding about time in general. One opponent said, “The extra
hour of sunlight is burning up my yard.” Another said, “Government has no
business fiddling with God’s time.”

You would think that after 40 years
of DST the idea would have taken root, but in 2000 Mary Anne Tebedo of Colorado
Springs introduced a bill to take Colorado off DST. The legislation

The music group Chicago’s song “Does Anybody Really Know What
Time It Is?” was released just after Aspen’s DST affair. It really resonated
with anyone who lived through Aspen’s timely “experiment.”

Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a
teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a
tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be
contacted at [email protected].

Aspen bucked political fashion then, too

Aspen bucked political fashion then,

Yore Aspen

Republican headquarters, on Mill Street behind the
Wheeler Opera House, in 1900 Aspen. The photos in the window are presidential
candidate William McKinley and running mate Theodore Roosevelt. (Courtesy Aspen
Historical Society)

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Tim Willoughby
November 3,

“Some unseen force is hard at work to hold back the figures until
they are right,” reported The Aspen Democrat the day after the 1906 election.
The charge was leveled against an official in Arapahoe County, where the vote
count for several judges was very close. Election fraud was as much an issue
then as now, and for good reason.

A century ago
Aspen still had a fairly large population, and Pitkin County’s votes accounted
for about 1 percent of the statewide tally. Pitkin County cast 1,979 votes in
1906 compared to 6,717 in 2006. However, in 1906 all but 338 of those votes came
from Aspen. Most of the other votes were from the Watson precinct (Aspen Village
area) and Redstone. Ashcroft boasted a dozen voters.

Republicans made a
clean sweep in 1906 but not in Pitkin County. As has often been the case, Aspen
bucked the state trend and voted for Democrats. In the governor’s race Democrat
Alva Adams garnered 40 percent of Pitkin voters while the winning Republican
candidate received only 29 percent, barely ahead of the Socialist Party
candidate. An independent candidate received about 10 percent. “Third party”
candidates enjoyed near parity with the major parties during this period,
especially the Socialist and Populist parties.

Alva Adams was one of
Colorado’s best-known politicians. He was elected governor three times with
breaks between each term. The Ute Uprising took place during his first term. At
the onset of his second term, in 1897, he had to deal with a miner’s strike in
Leadville. Miners, who had made a deal with owners pressed by the Panic of 1893
to lower wages, struck to restore $3-a-day wages. The National Guard had been
sent to defend the position of the owners. Just after taking office, Adams
removed the Guard and established the State Board of Arbitration to settle
future strikes.

Adams won again in 1904, the
most contentious election in the state’s history. Each side accused the other of
election fraud. In the Denver area, Democrats got more votes than there were
voters. Republicans were accused of forcing thousands of immigrant workers to
vote for their candidates or lose their jobs. The postelection fight continued
into the Legislature. After a bitter battle, Adams stepped down as governor, the
Republican runner-up was bypassed and another Republican, the lieutenant
governor, was appointed as governor. Adams’ streak of three victories ended with
his 1906 loss to Republican Augustus Buchtel, who during his two-year term
regulated businesses and built many bridges, miles of highway, and state

State office races got more attention than federal ones at the
turn of the century. Of equal importance were judgeships, especially the state
Supreme Court. During this business reform period, voters followed closely the
rulings of state judges as well as the battles between capital and labor. The
Western Federation of Miners, one of the first successful labor organizations,
was especially involved in judicial races. Candidates were recruited, groomed
and promoted by political parties. Every voter knew judges’ personalities,
partisanship and judicial preferences. Democrats’ only statewide victories in
1906 were Supreme Court seats.

Democrats swept local offices. The only Republican to win in Aspen was Henry
Beck, who joined the 75 percent Republican majority in the state Legislature in
electing Simon Guggenheim to be senator. Henry Beck immigrated to America from
Sweden, worked in the Lake Superior iron mines and moved to Aspen from Leadville
in 1892. He owned and operated a wholesale liquor business and invested in
mining. Henry was the patriarch of generations of Aspen Becks. Guggenheim served
one term and then moved to New York, where he assumed the presidency of the
American Smelting and Refining Company and became a noted

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He
began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado
Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical
perspective. He can be contacted at [email protected].