I promised more photos of the picnic location in the post below. It is an area called Johnson Park off the Little Cimarron Road in Western Colorado.
In the early 1950s, my father and several of his relatives brought sawmills to the mountains of Colorado from Arkansas. This was a summertime adventure, as Johnson Park and the other places they placed their portable sawmills were not generally accessible in winter.
I was born in 1953, when the sawmill was located near Sapinero, Colorado. That’s not the Sapinero you will find on current maps. The Sapinero my parents lived in was moved when the Blue Mesa Reservoir was created in the early 1960s. The original location is now under water. I was born in the hospital in Gunnison, Colorado in mid July.
My very earliest memories are of living in a “sawmill shack” in Johnson Park. These memories probably date 1956-1957, making me about four years old.
Here are two Johnson Park photos of the slab pile burning and a lunchtime “picnic” for the men. It could have been a Sunday afternoon. The photos were developed and dated Aug 1955.
Here’s Here’s the sawmill site, 2008
Never underestimate the power of nature. It’s hardly recognizable as an industrial site, is it?
I’ve been looking for a photo of the “sawmill shack” we lived in. It consisted of a kitchen (wood burning stove and table) and a bunk room. My parents had no privacy, nor did we children. It was basically a tarpaper shack built with slabs. I know a photo exists — I can see it but I can’t find it.
Here’s the current view from the front of where our shack sat:
Here’s the view from the back (to the right):
My mother had a dream that I drowned when she was pregnant with me, so she was paranoid about me going near the water. Nevertheless, I remember wading in the creek at the back of the shack. My brother remembers rescuing me from the middle of the creek when I was very young. He says that’s the only time he remembers me being quite that glad to see him.
Why did my father go to Colorado to make his “fortune”? The answer lies in his WWII service, which he spent most of at Fitzsimmons Hospital near Denver. He said he looked from his hospital window and dreamed of trucks hauling his logs and his lumber out of the mountains, but especially all those trucks had his name on the doors.
He is one of the fortunate people who saw their dream come true. Here he is during his time at Fitzsimmons:
That man does not resemble the robust character that I’ve always known as my father. He overcame a lot.
In the summer of 1959, there was a forest fire that threatened the timber my father wanted to cut. It also threatened the sawmill itself, but we stayed there throughout the summer. Dad has recently told of his theft of Forest Service water trucks which were not to be used on private land. The Forest Service was waiting for the fire to reach public land before helping to fight it.
Thanks to my Dad (and his relatives/crew) the fire didn’t reach public land. It would have if they’d not stolen, er… borrowed the water trucks.
I remember my mother cooking night and day for the crews fighting the fire. It wasn’t just our sawmill crews, but the men from ranches who had cattle and sheep in the area. Night and day she cooked and had food ready for the men fighting the fire. I cannot today imagine the labor and sheer strength it took to do this on a wood-fired stove with little help. What I remember is not being allowed to go outside and the ominous wall of flame I saw from the door.
This is one memory that helped form my distrust of “authority”. That fall, I was enrolled in public school in Montrose, CO and asked to tell about my summer “vacation”. I told about the forest fire and the teacher accused me of making it up. If I’d wanted to make something up, I would have told her about the fairies living in the skunk cabbage.
It’s obvious I do not know what I am doing when it comes to placing photos properly in WordPress. Yes, I’m ignorant here, but I’m also tired of messing with this post… so, if you can’t figure out which photo goes with which text, email. I’ll try to explain.