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posted in: Love Story, Travel 4

How it all began

I came across some old photos that brought back old memories that I would like to share. Brewer and Shipley had been doing a show at a long since forgotten bar in Denver. For some unknown reason, we played for a week, had a week off, followed by a second week of playing to people that had too much to drink. What were a couple of broke musicians to do in such a situation? Colorado was piled high with snow. Our good fortune. Some friends came down from the mountains and suggested we come with them to Crested Butte. A very small mountain town where some of our Kansas City crowd had migrated. 

The snow was getting deeper as we headed west. This was my first venture into Colorado’s winter mountains and I was totally unprepared for what lay ahead. The town was old and tiny. There wasn’t a square right angle in any building I saw. Between houses, paths had been cut in the snow which reached to my shoulders. And everybody had a dog. A huge dog. I began to get the feeling that this was my kind of place. Old, worn out, and full of life.

Old Wooden House, "Everybody's House" in Crested Butte.
Everybody’s House

The Second Time Around

It was not long after that Brewer and Shipley found some success and were playing Red Rocks south of Denver. Our friends from Crested Butte had come down to see us and let us know the town was having it’s first “art festival.” So it was back up the mountain to this little, and as yet, undiscovered piece of paradise. I’m still not sure how it came about but we found ourselves playing an impromptu concert in front of the Princess Theater. I don’t remember what they used for a sound system but I will never forget the lights. A single old Coleman pump-up lantern someone had managed to hang above the spot where we would be playing.  

Our lodging was a grand old building called the Elk Mountain Lodge which would become an important part of my life. The owners, Jim and Joan Adams, became like a second family to me. Jim was a fly fisherman and over the years we spent many wonderful days on the rivers that abounded in those mountains. I was hooked. While Michael and the others headed back to Missouri, I continued with the party in Crested Butte. At that point, I don’t remember many specifics, probably because I was having way too much fun. And I had found a place to hide when the road or life, in general, got too hairy.

Coty Hall, also known as "City Hall" in Crested Butte.
City Hall

The Hideout

As the pace of life quickened with the release of “One Toke Over The Line,” The Elk Mountain Lodge became the place where I could go to be anonymous. Along with Jim Adams, I had accumulated a small group of fly fishing friends. I remember times when we would be joined by the ladies for an evening picnic if we managed to catch a trout of two. On other afternoons I would find myself on Slate River, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The rocks and “gravel” that covered the bottom and lined the shore were polished slate. A ribbon of black winding it’s way through the green meadows dotted by beaver ponds. “This is what heaven must look like,” I thought to myself.

Often, when I was on the road, I would head to Crested Butte on my few days off. It had become my second home. And every time I arrived I would see someone I knew. It seemed like a lot of my friends had come to know the place as had I. The Elk Mountain Lodge was famous for its breakfasts. Bacon so thick it almost took a knife to cut. And there, at the large table, would be someone I knew. Connie, Peter, Smokey, and others from various places around the country.

Circa 1969 in Crested Butte is the Elk Mountain Lodge.
The Elk Mountain Lodge around 1969

Adventures Abound

The Aspens were turning gold but the sky had become a nasty gray as I hiked up to the Peeler lakes. Being young and full of myself I hadn’t bothered to check the weather before departing. I did manage to get my tent set up but just in the nick of time. The wind had begun to howl. My little tent, which had been flapping in the wind, now became the landing spot for the sleet that came as the skies open up, followed by more wind. Enough wind to collapse the nylon, leaving me flat on my back covered in what once had been my tent. And there I lay from the last light of day to the next sunrise. 

I finally managed to get my head out from under the mess of nylon and aluminum tent poles to see that I had truly weathered a snowstorm. My tenant and I were nothing more than a hump in the snow covered landscape. I packed things up and fortunately made it back down the mountain. I was lucky!  The snow kept coming for days as an early winter set in. 

Kiss It, Goodby  

My love affair with that little mountain town continued for several years until real-life caught up with me. Finally, after too many years, we received an offer to play the beautiful new arts center in Crested Butte. Fortunately Randy, my old Missouri fishing buddy, and his wife already had plans to be in Crested Butte that week. So there we were on the creeks and rivers that had meant so much to me and another set of friends so many years earlier. And the town itself. Well, it was no longer the little hideout I held so dearly. It was now a major resort full of all the stuff you find in Colorado resort towns. I would love to go back but then again it is said that “you can’t go back home.” It has also been said that “once you call it paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

City limit sign for Crested Butte in 1969
The Sight I Would Dream About

4 Responses

  1. Phyllis Wilson
    | Reply

    W e Crested Butte, but we love Gunnison even more. Living in Pueblo makes it easy to go at least once a summer. So glad that you found it in the early days. Enjoyed reading your story. You and Jan and boys have a wonderful Christmas and ring in a New Year that we all can be proud to see coming. Phyllis and Jim Wiison

  2. Jan Walsh
    | Reply

    Your story (tent) reminded me of Road to the Land of Enchantment

    In the spring of 1957, I took my first step onto the platform of the train station in Clovis, NM. Barely 20 years old, I was on my way to Walker Air Force Base in Roswell to begin my duty as a jet engine mechanic. I couldn’t explain the feeling that came over me that day. I still can’t, but I knew I was at home for the first time in my life.
    Jump ahead to Indianapolis, Indiana, September 1982. Every year, for nearly 25 years, I had been telling myself that I was going back to New Mexico. It didn’t matter that my son Josh was less than a year and a half old and Chris was only three months. It didn’t matter that we had very little money, because I had job waiting for me. This was the year I was going back. I had faith that it would all work out. It was going to be a grand adventure. This is how it came to pass.
    A friend of mine knew a guy that wanted to start an annual country music festival in the little ghost town of White Oakes, NM. As it turned out it was the first and last annual music festival in White Oakes. The guy, whose name I can’t remember, lived in Bloomington, IN, and had a small recording studio and music publishing business there. He also had a home in Ruidoso NM, near White Oakes. Because of my experience with managing a folk rock band in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, I was hired to help set up and promote the festival and then work for the guy in some capacity for the rest of the year.
    I had a Ford Super Cab pick-up. A friend and I did a lot of work on the engine prior to making the trip . Josh must have helped, because there is a picture somewhere of him sitting on the upside down hood of the truck in the front yard in diapers with grease all over him and a beer bottle in his hand. The last thing I did was put new 8-ply tires on the truck.
    My wife and I had some friends in the psychic world. Right before we left we had a tarot card reading from a lady who said that about four hundred miles west of Indy the radiator in the truck was going to go bad. I went to a junk yard and got a used radiator.
    After we got the truck loaded to the max with the extra radiator and jugs of water strapped on top of the cab we headed out, somewhat like the Beverly Hillbillies. When we got on the interstate we discovered that the truck had a broken rear spring that hadn’t shown up, when the truck was empty. We could not go over 45 to 50 miles per hour because the truck swayed so bad. It was slow going, to say the least, and we were already late.
    The worst trouble started about four hundred miles west of Indy, just like the psychic lady said, but it wasn’t the radiator. It was the tires. Because of the broken spring, and the truck being overloaded, we started blowing rear tires. It was maybe 3 AM and we were on the side of the Interstate with a blowout and two small kids. I walked to a truck stop and they came and put another new tire on the truck. We went a few more miles and another tire blew. We got that one replaced and continued on to Ruidoso, very slowly.
    We finally got to Ruidoso the day before the festival was to start. We rented a storage locker, unloaded the truck, and headed for White Oakes. I was not going to be there in time to help promote and set up the festival, but hoped I could still be of help and save my job with the promoter.
    We got to town and set up our tent. It was colder than normal for early October and very windy. In less than an hour our tent was shredded. The stitching in the seams was rotten because we had had the tent set up in the Indiana humidity all summer.
    At first we tried to camp in the truck. It was way too cold. We then found someone who had the keys to the abandoned building that had once been a general store or something. The outside wall was going to be used as the backdrop for the festival stage. The glass had been broken out of all the doors and windows and they were boarded up. There wasn’t much to stop the wind. But we moved in anyway. We found some straw bales in there and made a sort of a three walled shelter for ourselves. We pulled an extension cord inside and rigged up an electric heater and a bare light bulb. It was kind of like the stable at the inn, without the Wise Men, Jesus, or the animals.
    As it turned out, I didn’t have much to do with the festival and didn’t have a job with the promoter after it was over. But I did have a wife, and two small kids to take care of.
    The first night of the festival I tripped over a guy who was drunk and sleeping halfway under my truck. His name was Sammy. Sammy was part Indian and part Hispanic. He was not a happy drunk, but ok when he was sober. He and his girl friend Cathie had hitchhiked up from Ruidoso. They hung out with us for the rest of the weekend. We offered them a ride back to Ruidoso and they offered to let us stay at their place until we could find one of our own.
    Early Monday morning a guy pulled into the driveway of Sammy’s house and tooted his horn. It was Sammy’s boss. He was a contractor whose name was Bill Smith. Sammy asked me to go out and tell him that he was too sick to go to work. Bill said, “Drunk again, I’ll bet”. Then he asked me if I wanted a job. I said, “Yes, Sir!” That was the first day I met Mr. Manuel Labor and started our new life in the Land of Enchantment.
    © 2018 Jan Covert Walsh

  3. Connie
    | Reply

    I remember your first trip to CB well… going to the funky old general store to get you and Michael some long Johns… you both tried them on at my house and modeled them for us. I have photographic evidence. I’ll get those scanned in one of these days, soon.

    • Tom Shipley
      | Reply

      Connie. I remember it well. Few folks know just how cool and primitive CB was back then. Like I said in the article, I almost moved there but, after seeing what happened to it I’m glad I’m down here in the Ozarks. Those were the best of times, weren’t they?

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