“We are going to have a force of well trained officers, modestly armed and trained not to display or use weapons except in extreme need. We are going to insist on a combination of courtesy, understanding, and firmness and the patrolman who hasn’t these qualities won’t last long.”
— Chief Joseph Marsh, Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol, September 1935
Raymond E. Dow of Glenwood Springs examined the application for the position of patrolman of the newly formed Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol. Immediately, he knew this was no ordinary job application. In addition to his name, questions into the very details of his life required answer. To be accepted to the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol, a man must possess extraordinary character.
It was August 1935, but the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol had been years in the making. Throughout Colorado’s history, various law enforcement agencies had been created, but many were short lived due to finances, need or politics. In fact, Gov. Edwin Johnson in May 1933 vetoed a bill that would have created the Colorado Motor Patrol, questioning the value of such an organization to the state. However, by April 1935, the political winds had changed, and Senate Bill Number 6 “To Create and Establish a State Highway Courtesy Patrol” was passed. The bill was signed into law a month later.
To quell fears this new agency would become too powerful, the duties of the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol supervisors and patrolmen “while in uniform and badge” were clearly outlined in Senate Bill Number 6. Highway safety and motorist assistance were the duties of the patrol. Along with that came the responsibility to investigate and file reports of traffic accidents, and to investigate motor vehicle thefts. The patrolmen had the right to stop and possibly arrest any motorist violating the state’s traffic laws. With Colorado citizens neglecting to pay motor vehicle taxes, fuel taxes or vehicle inspection taxes, the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol could also collect unpaid taxes, which were estimated to be $300,000 annually. However, courtesy was stressed, and with Colorado in the economic grip of the Great Depression, the state hoped to direct very limited tourist dollars to the state. The patrol was there to provide roadside assistance and direction to Colorado’s visitors.
Dow completed his application and returned to his job on a survey crew near the Colorado-Utah border. His was one of more than 6,000 applicants for the 38 patrol positions available. Dow had less than a 1 percent chance of being selected.
At the end of August 1935, Dow was called to Glenwood Springs for an interview with Charles Vail, Colorado Highway Engineer; Ed Wheeler of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission; and Secretary of State James Carr. In mid-September he was notified of his selection to the patrol. At the age of 25, Dow was slightly younger than the average 30 year age of the new patrol members. On average, the patrolmen were about 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. All were affiliated with the Democratic Party.
In late September 1935 the new patrolmen reported to Camp George West near Golden for training. Major R.W. Combs provided the camp’s military discipline, while the patrolmen learned motor vehicle laws, tax collection, police science, Colorado geography, courtesy, firearms, first aid and motorcycle operation. All this study was necessary for the men had the duties equivalent to that of “policemen, guides, lawyers and tax collectors.”
The patrolmen of the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol began their duties in late October 1935, proudly wearing the uniform of blue shirt and cap to match the Colorado skies, silver-gray slacks with black stripe for Colorado’s silver and coal industries, and gold badge for Colorado’s gold industry. The patrol cars and motorcycles were painted black and silver. During their first year of service, each patrolman would earn no more than $125 per month. Within the first year, automobile accidents in the state of Colorado dropped dramatically, and soon the men of the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol won the respect and admiration of the residents they served.
Patrolman Dow was assigned to the Alamosa Division of the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol, along with his Supervisor Charles Shumate, Deputy Supervisor Ellis Nash, and fellow patrolmen Arnold Gulzow, Russell DeSalvo and William Magill. By 1940 he had transferred with the patrol to Weld County where he lived in Hudson with his wife Ada and his growing family.
Today, the Colorado Highway Courtesy Patrol is now the Colorado State Patrol, with the men and women of the patrol continuing to make Colorado’s highways safe with professionalism and courtesy.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.