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An Old Man’s First Memories of Lake City

by Richard La Sance

 

 

 

In 1947, my father’s doctor told him he needed to take a month off from work and relax. He had been to Lake City the year before and wanted to come back, so the day after my school was out for the summer we began our adventure. We had a 1941 Ford two-door sedan and limited funds, no camping equipment except a Coleman stove so innovation was required. We made a two-person sleeping bag by sewing a couple of quilts together. The front seat had independent bucket seat backs, which we removed and used as a bridge between the front and back seats bottoms. We made a box to fit on the floor between the front and back seat that would keep the seat backs from falling to the floor and made a less than level bed out of the seats. When we went to bed, we removed the seat backs, rolled out our sleeping bag, and emptied our pockets – placing the contents on the area below the back window. The box additionally served as a storage place for cans of Campbell Pork and Beans, Spam, etc. – our meals, excluding what we caught. Basically, we had fish three times a day.

 

The trip lasted six weeks, during which we supplemented our regular fish and canned-goods diet with hamburgers twice. Our other expenditure was gasoline, which at that time ran in the area of 13-cents a gallon or less. On Mondays, we washed our clothes by boiling water in a dish pan over a campfire and erecting a clothesline for drying. Daily bathing in a Colorado stream was, to say the least, an experience not to be forgotten. While in the Lake City area, we camped on the Cebolla River at the Hidden Valley Campground and in a cottonwood grove off of County Road 30, just south of Lake San Cristobal. The Red Mountain Gulch Day Area did not exist at that time.

 

The Central District of Lake City has not changed much since 1947, but the ownership of the businesses has changed a number of times. The Boettchler Building, Southern Vittles and the Back Country Navigator are new. The buildings that currently house Murphy Realty and Mean Jeans replace a group of quaint cabins that to me were more representative of the city. Lake City had limited electrical power, which to my memory was supplied by an individually owned diesel power plant and a gas generator. Twenty-five-watt lights were the maximum in use, with most of the power going to merchants needing refrigeration. At nine o’clock the lights wet out most nights.

 

Phone service was limited and was housed in the location of the current Smoke Shack Restaurant. The switchboard had many wires with which the operator connected the calling party with the party called. If we wanted to place a long distance call to Mother, it was necessary to come to the phone company and the call’s duration was limited. The original switchboard is currently located in the Lake City Museum.

 

Radio reception was nonexistent in the mountains until after dark or until you could find the perfect rock to set the radio on for reception. My dad liked to listen to the boxing matches at the time, frequently between the World Champion Joe Lewis and Jersey Joe Walcott. Mike Pavich owned the grocery store, liquor store, and had a theater located at the present Mary Stigall Theatre. We would go to the grocery store on fight nights as did many of the local citizens. Mr. Mike, as he was known I believe, was also the Mayor and always wore a white shirt with a narrow black tie. Our first hamburgers came after a number of weeks of only fish, beans and spam as our diet. We purchased hamburger meat at Mr. Mike’s, cooked it to just beyond raw, and had a fine meal.

 

One of Mike’s sons, Jesse, and his family owned the soda fountain located in the same location as the current soda fountain. We got there infrequently, as we ate mostly what we caught. A very nice lady, Mrs. Craig, owned what I recall was a drug store located in the current Lake City Shirt Company building. The Elk Horn Saloon, later to become a leather goods store, is now the location of the bank.

 

Camping in the cottonwood grove near us was Ernie Crumb and his wife. I loved to sit around the campfire and listen to Ernie’s stories. He had driven the stage between Rifle and Meeker; and, according to him, one winter night was so cold that, upon arrival, they had to lift him out of the boot. Another job he had was snowshoeing across country inspecting phone lines. Not sure when and where that took place. He also told of the time his tonsils swelled and became infected. He purported to go to a doctor who painted his tonsils with silver iodide. After leaving the office and reaching the street, he threw his tonsils up in the street.