In 1898, my maternal grandfather, Julius Wulfsohn, purchased a 640-acre ranch on the Colorado River, just west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The seller was a wealthy British coal magnate — one of the town's founders — who had built a beautiful all brick, three-story, five bedroom ranch house which came lavishly furnished (I have two of the antiques in my apartment). The basement was unfinished but had three built-in wood-burning fired-brick bread ovens. The red brick walls were three feet thick, assuring a cool house during the warm summers. A wrap-around roofed porch provided unrivaled views of Colorado’s mountains.
About two hundred feet north and down a rocky embankment ran the Colorado River which provided many trout and whitefish dinners. My grandad's fishing technique involved using a length of heavy twine tied to a hefty stone, with short drop lines every foot or so that ended with hooks baited with worms. He would throw this stone out toward the middle of the river after tying the loose end to a boulder on shore. After several hours, he would return, pull in the line, and harvest fish.
I was privileged, as a city boy living in Michigan, to spend all my summers on the ranch as a country boy. We called it a ranch, but the main activity was farming, and there were several dairy cows. There was a tenant farmer who took care of all of this while Grandad and my two spinster aunts ran a mercantile store selling Levi’s, Stetsons and other clothing items to farmers, cowboys, town folks and railroad workers. The crops were potatoes, wheat, and hay. As I grew older, I learned how to mow, rake, and stack hay behind Tom and Dolly, a pair of friendly workhorses. I also learned to milk cows but avoided that whenever I could.
The crops were irrigated with water from the Roaring Fork River, which began in Aspen and emptied into the Colorado River in Glenwood. About 10 miles up the Fork, an irrigation ditch had been hand dug to feed water from the river directly to the ranch through a series of control gates. In the summertime, after supper, Grandad would put a shovel over his shoulder, and we would walk the area near the house to divert water from small ditches to feed pastures, lawns, and the flower and vegetable gardens.
Before I was born, Grandad had purchased a beautiful black and white pinto horse for my older brother, Woody. The seller was a Chicago gangster named Diamond Jim Altaire, part of the early Capone gang, whose framed picture hangs in the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood. Woody and I both learned to ride on Pinto. He was an intelligent animal — anytime he saw us, he would gallop across the pasture to greet us at the fence and get his favorite treat, an apple from our lone apple tree.
I learned a lot from my grandfather. He was a loving but practical man and had a wry sense of humor. He was a staunch Democrat, and one election year in the 30’s, a cousin from Chicago who was a staunch Republican visited us. On his first day at the ranch, we were having an outdoor grilled steak dinner. Everyone sat on benches around the picnic table except cousin Ralph, who had a custom seat fashioned from an empty 55-gallon drum, with no lid, and a hand-lettered cut-out cardboard back with something derogatory written on it in Russian (my grandfather was from Latvia). If that wasn't enough, he short-sheeted Ralph's bed and put small logs under his pillows. Ralph was still laughing about that when he left five days later.
Grandad became ill and had to sell the business and the ranch in the late 1940’s when he moved to Flint, Michigan, to be near his family. Sadly, the ranch and the house are long gone, but Woody and I still reminisce about our years as country boys.