Grand County traditions fading into the past
August 15, 2008
Bud Linke, 88, sits in the breakfast nook of his kitchen where’s he’s shared meals with his wife since 1950.
His hands are hardened from decades of ranch life.
“I’m all bruised up,” he said. “We ran them the day before yesterday, and I got knocked down, bruised a couple of legs and an elbow. Branded all the calves and then the cows.”
Passed down five generations in his family, such work is stone familiar.
It’s the tide of change that takes getting used to.
The house feels emptier since Helen left.
“When we went to Kremmling the other day, and she asked me the other day, ‘What are they going to do with my piano?’ and I said, ‘It’s still there, it’ll be there’
“I don’t know who’s going to end up with it.”
The bay window of the house Helen’s father built for her and Bud before they were married invites light into the silence.
“But she’s got Alzheimer’s. Your golden years go if you can’t talk over old things that you had together. It’s a loss. And by losing her memory, she’s lost a lot.”
What she’s lost are early rises in the ranch house, which over the years grew from one room to accommodate a growing family. She’s lost a lowering sun upon acres of valley soil, pasture land divided for Linke brothers and cousins, leased to some, sold to others.
Out of reach is Highway 40 that leads to it, the road once of dirt traveled by homesteaders, hitchhikers or folks passing through during Depression years. Bud’s mother would take people in for a few nights’ stay and meals, their Model T stranded on the road.
Memories are fading of the ranching town of Granby down the road, where neighbors once attended dances after a hard day of haying.
That past rich with resilience, self-preservation, and a strong community bond is what old-timers say is slipping away – hardly recognizable anymore.
The loss aches.
“There’s history buried every day from Grand County,” Bud said.
“They say you can’t take it with you, but you take your memories with you and nobody else knows them.”
Connie Clayton’s cat leaps from the table onto the antique hutch that belonged to her mother.
Now 60, Connie takes great pride in her family’s past, one steeped in Fraser.
Her grandad George Goranson arrived in 1908, worked at the sawmill and bought the whole meadow that is now Grand Park and where the shopping center sits.
Arriving in 1924, Connie’s paternal grandfather Charles Clayton “worked in the woods,” she said, “and my dad’s mother (Ethel) was the first mistress at the post office.”
Eventually, Connie’s father, Chuck Clayton, would become the first mayor of Fraser, the owner of a hamburger stand called “Clayton’s” where the Crooked Creek Saloon is now. They sold pies and gasoline as well as burgers.
“I miss the community,” Connie said.
Growth has changed her little town more in the past 20 years than all the years before. Development springs up on all sides.
“These are my mountains,” she said, remembering her childhood filled with long days playing down in the willows or having “horse apple” wars.
“It was cool to live in a gravel-streeted town,” she said. “When you were a kid, you had such great mud puddles in the summer in the rain, and you could go out and pick worms.”
Now, looking out the window of her home on Doc Susie Avenue, she wonders how long it will be before another resident complains about the clothes line in her yard.
Resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, community
“There are not very many people who have roots here anymore; it’s different learning about it second-hand than having lived it,” said Martha Boehner, a 65-year-old Grand Lake native. “That’s why it’s hard for me, I see it through different eyes than other people do.”
Grand Lake’s vast community and cultural transformation in recent years, like all area mountain towns, is largely attributed to an overall shift in society.
Thanks to emerging technologies, people are now able to work remotely more than ever, making the chance to own a piece of the mountains more appealing.
An influx of part-time residency in what used to be a sleepy village for most of the year has created a less “homogenous” population economically, in Martha’s view.
Some long-time residents mark Grand Lake doomed an “artificial” community, with the majority of its population made up of people whose lives are invested elsewhere.
“The Grand Lake that I grew up in hardly resembles what’s going on now,” Martha said.
Tellingly, the town is threatened to lose its elementary school due to a lack of enrollment. The town is scrambling for ways to encourage attainable housing to attract young families. The Grand Lake Historical Society and the town lobby to save century’s-old buildings as others fade into the past.
Meanwhile, factions attempt to define – even reinvent – Grand Lake.
“Actually, I think a big portion of the things I would not want to see go are already gone.” Martha said.
A much smaller Grand Lake she knew was simple and “close-nit.”
“You pretty much knew everybody, and everybody looked out for each other, knew each other, did things together, and the schools and the churches were important establishments,” she said.
Martha’s grandfather Fred McLaren was an early district park ranger in what was then a newly chartered Rocky Mountain National Park and later served as mayor of Grand Lake.
Martha’s father Ed Howard, a wood craftsman and musician, scratched a living year-round in Grand Lake ” an eclectic western town with the bare basics such as a grocery /general store, a post office, a gas station, a community house and more than one horse stable.
Only during a few warm months out of the year did it cater to tourism.
“When I was growing up, we just accepted the fact that there weren’t any businesses, or very few, that were open in the wintertime, and that was fine,” she said. “We were OK with that. You just made it work. But now, people are less tolerant of inconveniences.”
Dependence on the land
Throughout Grand County, a diminishing native elderly population silently stomachs a rapidly altering landscape and the disappearance of familiarity.
It’s still home, they say, but it’s just not the same.
A predominate ranching and logging tradition has transformed to one based on tourism and recreation.
“In my life, I never thought we’d see a Grand County with five golf courses,” said Nina Wood, 58, third-generation Middle Park, born and raised in Kremmling.
Nina’s grandparents Herb and Lillian Wood came to the area in 1905. Nina’s father Leonard Wood acquired 2,200 acres of land at Williams Fork. The family’s ranching life continues today on a much smaller scale.
Yet, even the small independent operations are dwindling as ranchers fight to preserve a longstanding lifestyle.
What used to be “rural” was that isolation forced a strong alliance with one’s neighbors and the nearest community, Nina said.
“How do we get back our sense of community? In most cases, when you talk about that to somebody who doesn’t understand it, you can’t explain it,” she said. “I think population is one reason our sense of community is gone, so what are you going to do? Tell these people to go away?”
Resort culture is closing in on her agricultural town, she said.
Many of its residents find jobs in neighboring Summit and Routt counties, and a new mix of community members is buying up open space for vacation homes.
County-fair agricultural numbers are decreasing along with related skills such as handiwork, baking and sewing.
To Nina, the change reflects a shift in what is valued.
“I feel agriculture is one of the few areas where people’s feet are still buried in the dirt and they still have some sense of reality,” she said.
“We see people who come in that go, ‘Oh, we so enjoy and appreciate what you have, it just would be so much better if…’ and then they mention factory stores, or whatever, and I think, ‘Wait, stop. We live here because we don’t want that stuff.'”
Married 67 years, Ed O’Neil braces his bride Jean, and arm-in-arm they enter for the first time into an established Fraser coffee shop, a place they knew years ago as a hay meadow.
He attended grade school in Tabernash when the town Winter Park was “Hideaway Park” and the Moffat Railroad defined “West Portal” ” now Old Town Winter Park ” long before a world-class ski resort did.
Born and raised in Fraser, she graduated from the high school that is now occupied by Fraser’s town hall.
A photo of the very first house they shared hangs on a courthouse wall in Hot Sulphur Spring’s county seat. The photo, taken in 1927, shows a modest three-room house.
Since then, life has had its trials. The couple nearly lost two children out of four to polio and endured a pioneer life with the economic ebb-and-flow of a living embedded in logging and ranching.
They are second-generation Fraser Valley residents and have lived off of County Road 5 near Fraser 52 years. After sharing land with their children, 160 acres of leased pasture remains. “The traffic on Country Road 5 is like Highway 40 used to be,” Ed said.
They have eight grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grand children.
The youngest among them will experience a Fraser strikingly different from the one they remember.
“I think it’s ruined,” Jean, 84, said. “But it’s progress, they say. In our days, everybody put up hay and worked, and everybody knew everybody and helped. Nowadays, you can hardly leave your house without locking the door. But then, that’s progress.”
Like Connie Clayton, who the couple knew when she was a baby, they see growth displacing forested hillsides and empty fields and nighttime lights crowding a starlit sky.
“You can’t stop it,” Jean said. “When people own ground, I think they should be able to do what they want to do with it. A lot of people worked hard to get to where they were, and then all this big money came, so I don’t blame them. Down our way, my gosh, we have houses-after-houses, and they’re not little houses.”
Fraser old-timers have attempted to stay in touch by meeting in Denver every second Wednesday of the month, “but it’s dwindled down. Nobody goes that much anymore,” the O’Neils said. “They’ve all died off.”
As the window for capturing the history and stories of this colorful place gradually closes, Jean wonders, how can memories truly be recorded?
“We just lived it,” she said.
“You know, you can’t preserve something that’s already gone.”
” To reach Tonya Bina, e-mail email@example.com or 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.