How smart people banked before there was an FDIC

Letter from Eugene Lorig

Mountain Memories – June 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed and Martha,

Well, we have a new set of rascals in office and, in the words of the old horse in Animal Farm, “Things will continue much as before; that is, badly.”

Back in September, Fred Rosa complimented me by wanting more Eugene Lorig. Thanks, Fred, I’ll try to oblige. And my best to you and your lovely wife, Melanie, who officiated at the wedding of daughter Dorothy. But Fred, it’s “Gene,” except to telemarketers, evangelists, and other panderers.

Pa once told me that you could tell when the old Finn Ladies had been to the bank from the aroma of their five dollar bills, their bank being a coffee can nailed to the underside of the old two-holer out back. They were smarter than he was.

[Check stamped 'Bank Closed']
[Check stamped ‘Bank Closed’]

The check is one of several returned to him pre-FDIC. The mines were closing and the mountains were on the skids. Our banker, Buck Waggoner, euchred some of the New York banks out of half a million dollars to keep the bank open, but they caught him and threw him in jail and the bank closed.

I think Pa got about a third of his money back in the mid-30s when it really helped. Pa was a reasonably prosperous rag merchant in Telluride and Rico, but when the mines closed people scraped by on the necessities: food, gasoline and whisky. So we moved to Durango, where the smelter was still operating, in company with most Telluride business people.

When the smelter closed in 1932 we took in each others’ washing until 1939, when Telluride opened up again. One Christmas about twenty years ago Mom gave my brother and me each a two and one-half dollar gold piece. I was properly grateful, but curious, and asked her about the twenty dollar piece I knew she had also hoarded during the Depression. “Groceries!”

We hit your country twice last summer. Came home from Creede Repertory Theatre via Bonanza, where we’d never been. Ended up on a Forest Service road near Poncha Pass. It was a smooth, freshly graded road and I am glad we didn’t meet anyone as one of us would still be there. It was a little narrow for a Ford pickup with a pop-up camper. I will not tell anyone about the Bonanza country, and I hope it remains undiscovered. Walked part of the Mineral Belt Trail at Leadville, past the Robert E. Lee and the Matchless.

Grandpa Ebler, a 20-year-old German immigrant on his second shift at the Robert E. Lee, in 1883, fell down an unmarked shaft and almost ended the family. Anyway, we have been in the Colorado mountains ever since, and after Grandpa recovered, he and his partners built the toll road over Independence Pass, where he was tollgate keeper for two years. Migrated downhill to Aspen, met Grandma at Glenwood Springs and homesteaded on Piceance after the Silver Panic of ’93. Grandma was a Swedish girl who came over with her aunt and worked as a maid for some of the Denver nabobs. Came to Glenwood to take the waters for her bad heart, but it didn’t do any good, as she died of heart trouble at 82.

I blame it on Jeanne Englert. I thought that license plates were to identify the car and show that taxes had been properly paid. But after her story on Pioneer plates, I had to follow suit. It was easy for me, using Mom’s obituary, which I had written, but the honcha in charge would not accept the girls’ birth cards nor their report cards from Longmont. Finally accepted the oldest’s wedding story — written by her — showing me as her father and her sister as bridesmaid. The boys didn’t care.

If Pa were alive, he could have a Masonic Family plate, except he died becoming eligible. Since I served honorably, if without distinction, I could have the Honorably Discharged Veteran, and last winter, when I was parading around with a paralyzed right eye, maybe from Lyme Disease, maybe I could have gotten the handicapped plate. The Pioneer plate does make it easier to find a generic Honda in a parking lot.

Gene Lorig