Grand County Biography: Toots Cherrington
Toots has seen quite a few calving seasons in her life time. This one started off “a bit rough” as two sets of twins have died early on, even though the weather has been really warm. She said that on cold years you can tell pretty easily because, “a lot of ears and tails are frozen off.”
When she was young Toot’s parents, Redwood and Helen Fisher, had told her that they couldn’t take her to see the people of the world, so we’ll bring them to you. The FISHERANCHO was a family run cattle ranch with a couple of extra cabins. Dudes (that’s ‘city folk’; not necessarily guys in baggy pants riding skate boards) initially were required to work and one thing led to another and before long the ranch could accommodate 25 paying guests. The barn is still there below the dam surrounded by great fishing, hunting, and mountainous terrain. Toots spent her days waiting tables, cleaning cabins, and taking folks out on rides. They even took the dudes out on a real cattle drive to Meadow Creek where they had a National Forest permit for grazing cattle. Lake Granby wasn’t there back then so they could drive the cattle up through the Knight Ranch, under present day Arapahoe Bay. Charles Lindbergh had once flown to a landing strip near there. The ‘Lone Eagle’, as he was known, has a mountain named after him in the Indian Peaks Wilderness above that area.
Toots’s mother,Helen was one of seven sisters, so some of them would come up as well as people from New York, Chicago, Kansas City and elsewhere. Her parents were fulfilling their promise to bring the people of the world to her. At times they hired a cook, a wrangler and college girls to serve the guests. They painted a badminton court on the second floor of the barn and had contests up there. Square dances were also common. Saturday nights were ‘cookout night’ with a campfire down by the river where you could hear famous locals like Singing Sam; a country singer with shriveled legs who hobbled around on crutches. Lawrence Welk even played at the ranch once after Toot’s mother had seen him play at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and asked him to come over!
A lot of the dudes became close with each other and arranged to visit the ranch at the same time the following year so the families and friends could share the experience again. Weddings were also a common event at Fisher Rancho. Toot’s dad, Redwood, was an avid hunter, rock hound and cowman. One year he had a two headed calf mounted on the wall at the ranch. Then next year he told the guests that the same cow had had a calf with no head! Yeah well, he probably invented the Jackalope and the Rocky Mountain Wooly Booger too! The Big Thompson/Three Lakes Project was in the works after the war and brought a lot of workers, veterans and their families into the area. (That’s World War II for those of you under the age of a hundred and three.) Toots went to school with a lot of their kids in Grand Lake and Granby. Not surprisingly, quite a few people back then were into skiing. Toot’s dad was a ski jumping judge and there were even some Olympic skiers around. Mac Ruske of Grand Lake came up with the idea of a ski meet the first week of June called the Sunrise Slalom. Everyone went up into Rocky Mountain National Park above tree line on the east side and skied the snowfield near where the visitor center is now. Trouble was, it wasn’t just a ‘snow’ skiing event. Everyone then went ‘water’ skiing in Grand Lake immediately after that. It hadn’t been water for very long and some of the ‘snow’ skiers didn’t fare as well while ‘water’ skiing. In an age before wet suits, the results were predictable.
The 7V/ ranch that Toots and her husband Mark work now was bought by her father back around the late 20’s or early 30’s. At 450 acres it produces 450-500 tons of hay a season, some of which they sell. It takes about two to two and a half tons of hay per cow to get their cattle through the winter. Spring is spent dragging meadows, cleaning ditches and corrals, and being as it’s calving season; looking after mothers and their new born calves. Coyotes and stray dogs are a threat to them as well. Summertime is for irrigation, branding and getting equipment ready for haying season. The cows are checked on daily and pastures are rotated on a regular basis.
When it’s time to harvest the hay; a mower, fluffer, bailer and stack wagon are used. Everything has to happen before the first snow, no matter what. Piling bails by hand is no longer necessary and is a bit of a lost art. For instructions on this ancient sport, Cal Cherrington and his sister Christie are the ones to see.
Toots’s great grandfather, Redwood Fisher (same as her dad’s name) was one of the original surveyors of Berthoud Pass in the 1860’s. As a fireman in Denver, he was killed in his late twenties trying to stop a runaway team of horses that a family was on. He was the reason that Toots ended up here. This would qualify her as a “local”, I suppose.
Late April brings snow, rain, sleet, mud and sun above Lake Granby. Toots has to go out and check on the “girls” numerous times a day. You probably won’t find her at the post office, she’s busy. Besides, she still has a mail box out on the highway.
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The Grand Lake Fire Protection District has abandoned a voter-approved effort to run its own EMS transports as the department and county officials re-evaluate how that service might be provided.