Coping With Winter


My uncle Ray and his two brothers, Wallace and Warren owned a ranch in the upper Rio Grande Valley in Colorado. Pump in the front yard, outhouse in back. Ice cut from winter lakes & stored in ice-house to cool ice-boxes in the summer. This was pre-REA, so they had their own generator and shut it off at 11pm – after that it was kerosene lanterns or darkness. The phone was party-line and hand-cranked. Folks used to have concerts, each playing piano, fiddle, harmonica, accordion – whatever. Music online before the Internet! Snow 8-10′ deep in the meadow, took a sleigh out to feed the cattle every day and a rifle at night to scare off the elk. Roads were plowed, maybe, sometimes, barely – you didn’t depend on the County. By today’s standards, they would be considered low-tech or even primitive.

About 6pm one February evening, Aunt Mabel got a call that a neighbor was coming back from Creede and his Model T got stuck in the snow about two miles down the road. He asked if Ray and Wal could bring a 4-horse team and fetch the car. The brothers snorted at the need for a big team, figuring he was exaggerating and set out to help, Wal driving a pair of bays pulling a sleigh, Ray on his favorite gelding and carrying a kerosene lantern. Mabel started a pot of soup, figuring they’d need the warmth.

8pm, Mabel stirred the soup, wrote a couple of letters.

10pm Mabel moved the soup to the back of the (coal) stove to simmer, looked at the falling snow, 6 more inches in the last couple of hours.

11pm, Mabel calling up and down the line for any news. Nothing.

11:30, Mabel heard sounds from down the road, started ladling soup into bowls.

12:00 still sounds but no people. Amazing how far sound travels in the cold air. Soup back into the pot.

12:15, Ray and Wal and the neighbors arrive, cold and snowy. Wal opines the horses/sleigh were okay, but he wished he’d taken the four-horse team. Ray wished he hadn’t smashed the lantern against a fence post and felt grateful there was a full moon to light their way.

Mabel served soup and sheepdip (Colorado coffee).

Snow stood 48 inches by morning – fence top.

Leave a Reply