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Railroad reminisces

Letter from Ray Schoch

Colorado Central – January 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed & Martha:

It was a pleasure to meet you both at the Headwaters Conference, and I always enjoy being able to put a face with the name on the byline. I also enjoyed Ed’s irreverent — I hope — comment that “legalizing poverty” might be one way the Headwaters region might adapt to the rapidly changing economy of the 21st century.

In the December issue, George Sibley wasn’t listed among the contributing writers, though his piece on page 28 would suggest that he is one. Has George offended the Quillens in some way?

“On Mountain Time” continues to inform, entertain and amuse. I hope Clint and Lara keep up the good work through the winter. Also pleasing was Art Goodtimes’ electoral victory. I enjoyed a chance to talk with him briefly at the Headwaters Conference.

I can’t agree with Representative Hefley that the Great Sand Dunes are “…just a pile of sand,” but I also understand at least some of the objections to making the Dunes a National Park. As usual, the issue is more complicated up close than it appears from the distance of the front range, and water, as always, turns out to be of more importance than anyone east of the Mississippi might guess.

I can’t say I share the interest of those dedicated to “…Colorado’s only indigenous sport…” but certainly appreciate their enthusiasm, and remain convinced by Rob Pedretti’s injury that my suspicion of things even vaguely equine remains well-founded.

I thoroughly enjoyed Margaret Rush’s “Ride the Rockies” experience, primarily because it isn’t something I’m likely to be involved in personally, though I’m sure my own experience would be rather more painful than hers. I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was 12, so getting in shape to ride a single Rocky, much less multiple Rockies, would be a very long-term project.

Even more than Margaret’s story, however, I enjoyed Jim Stitzel’s nostalgic trip (not to mention the gorgeous photos from the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection) over Marshall Pass on the D&RG. When I was 10 years old, my first independent trip away from home was made via Greyhound bus to the Centralia, Illinois, shops of the Illinois Central because that’s where the IC’s very last operating steam locomotives were based.

My friend and I got picked up by the police, who were quite skeptical of the steam-engine-fueled enthusiasm of a couple of 10-year-olds from out of town — and who insisted we call our respective mothers to prove that we weren’t on some nefarious errand of some sort. Then we had to walk back to the IC shops from the police station. I came home by Greyhound bus with several precious rolls of black-and-white photos taken with my Brownie camera, several of which are still in my archives.

I also enjoyed Ken Wright’s review of Heartsblood: Hunting Spirituality, and Wildness in America, as well as Hal Walter’s piece in issue 81, which shared some of the same spirit. Though I enjoy shooting, and have built a couple of quite capable muzzle-loaders from parts, I’m not a hunter. That said, however, I certainly wish there were more hunters with mindsets like Hal Walter and David Petersen. While one can go overboard with the “ethereal spirituality” of the hunt, I agree with the philosophical point being made — that it’s a life being taken in a successful hunt, not just an enjoyable afternoon being spent in the mountains or on the prairie — and killing an animal shouldn’t be done lightly. “Wildness, solitude, simplicity” aren’t just the lynchpins of hunting, they’re essential ingredients in most genuine outdoor experiences, including fishing (the aquatic equivalent of hunting), the often-overlooked camping trip, and even a day hike.

I SHOULD ADD that all the book reviews were informative reading in the December issue, and since the rural West is what makes up the bulk of the region’s romantic appeal to Easterners and “People of Money” (as a former Easterner, I can attest to the former first-hand, though it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to attest to the latter), I’m going to make a special effort to find Carl Abbott’s, The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West.

Hal Walter also provided me with perhaps the most interesting mental image of the entire December issue. It would never have occurred to me before, of course, but now that Hal has mentioned it in throwaway fashion, I find myself quite intrigued by the thought (the reality being quite unlikely), and its resultant image, of the college of cardinals convening in Hal’s house, whether the chimney is creosote-choked or freshly-cleaned.

As a neo-not-hardly-native myself, I can certainly identify with John Clayton’s piece, as well. Actually, I bought my Neon specifically because it had enough headroom for me to drive with my Stetson on, whereas the Saturns being manufactured half a dozen years ago did not.

It seems Chaffee County has the best electoral system in the country. What are the chances that the state legislature will adopt it for Colorado as a whole? What are the chances that, at least, the state’s most populous county (Jefferson), which is currently stuck with the very same outdated punch cards and hanging chad that plagued Florida, will adopt the Chaffee county equipment and system? I’ll write to my representative if you’ll write to yours.

I’m not sure my vote was counted even once by Jefferson County, though I made a point of turning the card over to remove any hanging chad.

Ray Schoch