Eating Local column: The apples of his eye are in the past
On a hot summer day from the bank of the Roseman Ditch overlooking my agricultural neighborhood, Cole Moulton pointed out a stucco building below with a small white addition on the backside. He told me how it served to store apples from the orchard that once surrounded it and housed a cider press in back with two redwood barrels for the sweet juice. He reckoned it was the biggest cider press on the whole Western Slope.
The cider press is long gone, the barrels disassembled. The valuable staves of redwood sit in storage at his father’s house near the Colorado River, awaiting an adequate purpose.
It was 1936 when Cole’s dad, Bill Moulton, moved to Rifle. As a 9-year-old, he found it paradise. He recalls it 80 years later through the eyes of an old man, a place lost to the world in the obscuring mists of time and progress, but still sparkling and vivid with detail in his memory.
In those days, Rifle was a bustling town of perhaps 1,500 souls. The Depression still exerted its rigors, but the economy of Rifle displayed a healthy diversity. A vanadium mill processed ore from a local mine. One day the uranium discarded as waste from the ore would be salvaged for reprocessing in the atomic age. But that was much later.
Rifle was a train town, as Bill remembers, with three passenger trains departing east and two more to the west each day.
“They were a fascination in those days,” Bill says of the big 3600 steam engines. “They looked like they could pull the world inside out, and sounded like it.”
Before serving in the Great War, his father worked for the railroad, so he didn’t mind Bill idling at the train station.
“I spent, as a kid, hours at the depot. They had some awful nice station agents. I’d go down at night, just as a kid, and sit in there, and they’d try to teach me how to operate a hand key,” which was used for sending Morse code messages.
Rifle was also a ranching town. Its stockyards and the railroad tracks located near the river, where a multiplex theater and the state highway are today, were second only to Denver’s.
In the fall, cowboys drove steers to Rifle from grazing lands to the north.
Bill remembers the last big cattle drive down Railroad Avenue. By then he was about 11 years old. “I believe it was 3,000 head of steer,” he recalls. “My dad had just built this house, and we had a lawn, and he sent me out there to keep those steers from getting over on the lawn. When I went out there on Sixth Street and looked north, all I could see was stock from where I was” up to what is now Highway 13.
“That was a big drive, and I’ll bet you they didn’t have over eight or 10 cowboys. Now if you see 10 cows you probably see 30 or 40 cowboys,” he added with a hearty laugh. “I don’t know how far they drove them that day; probably 25 or 30 miles. They were tame as pussycats.”
In 1939 his father acquired the 27-acre Peach Valley farm where Bill Moulton would raise Cole and his other children. It came with an orchard that an aunt and uncle increased to 250 apple and 50 prune and plum trees. But war brings unpredictable impacts. Gas rationing crippled a profitable business selling fruit to truckers from the Front Range.
In 1962 the Moulton family moved to Peach Valley and took over the orchard, the cider press and two 1,200-gallon redwood tanks. They made cider for a couple of years and could produce 2,000 gallons in a day.
“The difference between that cider and the one you can buy is just the difference between daylight and dark,” Bill reminisces. “It was good cider. Everybody loved it. And boy I did, and I tell you I could drink a lot of it.”
“We ran it one year and tried to get by on that,” he said, but instead Moulton made a living mostly at the uranium mine and in construction.
After a year or two, an abnormally warm fall wreaked havoc on the orchard. On Christmas Eve as Bill cut weeds along the ditch, he noticed sap still running in the apple twigs. The snow finally came on Christmas. That night he awakened to sounds like gunshots from a .22. He stepped outside and listened to the sharp popping noises.
The next day he found cracks in all the apple trees from the ground to the first fork in the branches. Many survived, but many didn’t.
In the Moultons’ home by the dining table, a sunny watercolor depicting Rifle in the 1930s hangs on the wall.
Bill Moulton’s most cherished memories go back to those early years in Rifle, a childhood of summers spent swimming in the Colorado River and the sloughs, and snowy winters careening down the sledding hill on Fourth Street, ice skating on Fravert reservoir, and skiing on barrel staves strapped to his boots.
“I was just a kid in Rifle,” Bill says. “For me it was perfect. It couldn’t have been any better, really, I don’t believe.”
Marilyn Gleason works at eating locally on her Peach Valley farm. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.