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50 years later in Salida

Article by Orville Wright

Salida Lore – March 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

THE BETTER HALF AND I were born and raised in Salida. As such, it is our hometown. In July of 1957, I left Salida to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. When Diann Ayers and I got married in 1958, she also left Salida. After I was discharged from the military in 1961, we moved back to Colorado, to eventually make our home in Broomfield.

Aside from an overnight trip every five years or so to attend class reunions, we rarely visit Salida. A year or more ago, we stopped by while returning from a trip to Chama, New Mexico. We stayed just long enough to have lunch and take some flowers to Fairview Cemetery.

Last fall, things were different: After more than ten months of effort by Marilyn Struna Coleman, Doris Judge Donkle, Jacque Lotshaw Williams, Marsha Lanari Brady and Lonnie Lantz, Salida High School, Class of 1957, held its 50th reunion September 14th and 15th.

Thanks to those folks and most likely other un-named people behind the scenes, we had a wonderful time. Approximately 55 people — classmates and spouses — were able to attend.

One couple made the trip from Anchorage, Alaska. One man came from Washington State on a motorcycle. Others came from California, Missouri, Texas and New Mexico — pretty much all over. Quite a few of us live in the Denver Metro area. Strangely, several classmates presently living in Salida chose not to attend.

Sadly, eleven members of the class of ’57 are no longer alive. Age and circumstances have taken their toll.

So, how was it to “come home” after fifty years?

Arriving at the reunion gathering place, I thought we had mistakenly walked into a meeting of the Chaffee County Golden Age Club. (Who are all of those old people, anyway? Glad they have name tags.)

The trains don’t stop here anymore. We knew that had happened, but to see the result was certainly an eye-opener, particularly since the railroad was our families’ livelihood. The once busy railyard is now just a big open area with rusting rails, a few crumbling foundations and several abandoned buildings. Unfortunately, the City of Salida has also changed.

The number of 4-Way “STOP” signs in and around the business district is astounding. It seems there is one at every intersection. Apparently that’s what it takes to give side-street traffic a chance to get into the intersections. I can only imagine the back-ups that must occur during tourist season. The stop signs would also limit my ability to re-enact the smoke-screen stunt which was described in an earlier issue of this magazine.

Given the condition of the pavement, the posted 15 MPH on parts of “F” Street is an optimistic goal rather than a speed limit.

Saturday morning, we took a Sentimental Journey around our old neighborhoods. It was an experience in several ways:

Most of the locals seem to prefer taking their half of the road right down the middle of the street. It’s pretty much OK unless there is oncoming traffic. If cars are parked on both sides of the street, it doesn’t work at all. (Were the streets in Salida always this narrow?) On the plus side, thanks to narrow streets, old-fashioned driver courtesy might be alive and well in Salida. That’s something almost totally lacking in the big city.

Having endured the same thing in Broomfield several years ago, our sympathy was extended to the residents of several blocks on “E” Street, as well as several other neighborhoods in town, where repairs were in progress. Although the curb and pavement replacement was clearly needed, getting into or out of those neighborhoods must have been a chore for quite awhile. The dust was probably terrible, and I’ll bet the tire repair and alignment shops profited mightily. Things should be nice when things are completed (which we hoped would happen before the snows came).

Speaking of pavement and lack thereof, there was a time when the street in front of our place at 217- 219 East 7th Street was a dirt road with dust, ruts and bumps. It was a way of life. All the neighborhood kids used to get really excited when the water wagon or big red road grader came down the street. We always waved at the driver — I believe his name was Joe Perry — and Joe always waved back.

After the Sentimental Journey, we did a walkabout of Historic Downtown Salida. (Surprise!! I was able to parallel park the SUV in front of the building where Helen Hayes’ photo studio was once located. Didn’t even kiss the curb, either. Haven’t had to parallel park in ?? years.)

FOR AS LONG AS I can remember, there used to be tether rings set into the curb in front of several businesses on F Street between 1st and 3rd Streets. They’re gone now. So is the public water fountain that used to be on the sidewalk in front of the former Mehos & Trefone Grocery and Mercantile at the northeast corner of 1st & F Streets.

Mr. Linza no longer holds court in the sun at the side of the building on the northwest corner of 1st & F; it’s vacant. Fred McNew’s (later Gene Post’s) Barber Shop used to be in the next building beyond the corner on the same side of the street. It’s another vacant storefront.

The Garduno brothers are no longer a fixture on Front (Sackett) or First Streets. They drowned in the Arkansas River several years ago.

The movie theater is now padlocked. The Stewart Mortuary is a pizza place. Looked like business was “dead” when we went by.

Spike Everett isn’t sweeping the downtown streets and gutters anymore. Spike was a “whistle-while- he-worked” person. Diann’s father called him “Whistling Rufus.” Spike’s all-season uniform was a floppy-brimmed straw hat, a blue denim shirt, bib overalls, and a big smile for everyone. He always carried a red or blue bandana in his back pocket.

I’ll bet that Spike, his push broom, and rolling dustbin have been replaced by a noisy mechanical monster that creates more dust than it picks up.

In today’s world, a bandana is frequently called a “do-rag.” In some places, one can buy a lot of trouble by wearing red in a “blue” neighborhood or visa-versa. I’m not talking about Democratic or Republican neighborhoods, either.

The Billiard Parlor on First Street is gone. We called it “The Pool Hall.” Most kids from blue-collar families used an empty cigar box from the Pool Hall as a pencil case for school. (Diann and I still have one.) Fifty years ago, “good” kids didn’t go to the Pool Hall. However, if one didn’t care about his reputation, he could shoot a game of pool for two bits a line.

Regular readers of Colorado Central may recall an earlier article I wrote concerning family skeletons in my tie-tac box and the Wright family’s involvement with the Klan.

My better half also has a family skeleton of sorts connected to the Pool Hall. Diann’s uncle, William (Baldy) Cline, used to run the card game in the back room.

The Salida Candy Kitchen (a.k.a. The Greek’s) is gone, too. Diann’s mother, Svea Lofgren, and my aunt, Frances Hoffman, worked there before they got married. In its place we found a little shop called “Cowgirl Coffee.” The Italian Sodas were really good, but we missed seeing Old Jim and his Greek buddies holding court in a cloud of cigar smoke in the booth at the back of the store. The big Wurlitzer jukebox just inside the front door is also missing. There weren’t any straw wrappers stuck to the tin ceiling, either.

The bakery is where it always was; but it no longer makes donuts. That’s a bummer. However, a new shop called The Mixing Bowl, right next door then, had some super stuff Diann couldn’t pass up. The owner of the shop knows the daughter of one of Diann’s school chums, the former Lenna Barone.

We spent two nights at the Holiday Inn Express. The morning of our departure, we were chatting with the night manager in the breakfast room. Come to find out, her father-in-law was Milton Meyers, a personal acquaintance and long-time member of the Salida Fire Department.

Milton signed the slip when I earned the Boy Scout First Aid Merit Badge in 1953. He also signed my initial American Red Cross First Aid certification.

OK, Salida is still a small town. We met some people that knew some people that we knew. One big fact remains, however. We now know more people at Fairview Cemetery than we know in Salida.

After all is said and done though, we enjoyed the trip very much.

Is Salida still “home?” No, it is not. Too much of the familiar furniture has been moved or is missing altogether. Let’s settle for “hometown” instead.

We’ll probably be back next year. Diann graduated from Salida High School in 1958, and her 50th reunion is yet to come.

Regards from Broomfield, Orville Wright, Class of ’57

Orville Wright is still a retired Colorado State Patrol Captain, still tinkers with ham radio and still does volunteer work for the Broomfield P.D. He is now also actively involved with the El Jebel Shrine. (Sometimes facetiously called the men’s branch of The Red Hat Society.) Diann Wright is a retired histologist/veterinary assistant and still quite active as a part-time water aerobics instructor for the City & County of Broomfield. S.A.M., a Rotten-wild mix, was recently added to the fleet of three spoiled felines that run the Wright household.