Remembering some great times, and even a little frostbite
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A wicked snowstorm swept into the region. These types of storms weren’t rare in the mountains of Colorado. Snow fell all weekend in the rugged, narrow valley.
On Monday morning, there was close to three feet of snow, outside the tiny cabin up East Sopris Creek.
A little more than four miles down the trail was the one-room schoolhouse of Emma. Eight children would be in school on this day. The third grader inside the cabin pulled on overshoes, a heavy coat and the rest of his winter clothes. He had a long ride ahead of him.
Fuzzy was saddled and ready to go. The third grader hoisted himself atop the old mare and they were off on the long ride to school. The ride could take as long as an hour and a half.
Powering through the deep snow, the horse methodically trudged along. The lanky, slim boy hunched his shoulders against the bitter morning cold. It was around 7:30.
The year was 1938 and that third grader was my dad, Don Shrull.
For eight years, he would make that trip. The first two years he rode on the same horse with his older brother Charles.
Following the school’s annual Christmas performance, the kids went on break. But the winters were just too harsh in January, so my dad took that month off and caught up on his studies when he returned around February 1.
It’s hard to believe that today we have computers, this thing called the Internet, washers and dryers, microwaves, cable TV, cell phones and all these other modern wonders. It’s hard to believe that 70 years ago, a lanky, rugged third grader rode his horse more than four miles to school.
My father is as low key and unassuming as they come. Riding through deep snow was no big deal, it’s just what needed to be done.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he says in his usual humble tone. “I never really thought about it. I did get a little frostbite on my toes.”
Most of his stories he tells with a small grin as he reflects back or just his typical matter-of-fact way.
But frostbite for just going to school? That’s an amazing story.
When I was a third grader, I could actually see my school from the living room window. But for him, every day was an adventure.
He’d meet up with a couple of other kids along the way and they would ride to the Emma school where 8 to 10 other kids would absorb the daily lessons in the cramped one-room schoolhouse where a coal stove provided heat.
He smiles as he remembers those days. He unveils the details as vividly as if he was still a child. The memories of when he climbed off Fuzzy and joined his classmates in that tiny schoolhouse are still as stark as ever.
His mother would pack his lunch in a meat sack, and he’d tie it onto the horse. A grocery story was close by so he would pick up supplies and the mail after school, stuff them into the meat sack for the long trip home.
Today we have a microwave, but for him, there was a different way.
Freezing temperatures would do a number on his lunch by the time he arrived at school.
“Sometimes I would take the meat sack and hang it on the coat hook then put my coat over it so it would thaw out before lunch,” he says, again with a little grin.
The schoolhouse was a single room set up in rows. Each row a different grade from first to eighth.
My dad laughs when he remembers how kids learned back then.
“When I was in first grade, I’d listened to what the teacher was teaching the second graders, then the third graders.”
Kind of an accelerated lesson plan. By the time he was in eighth-grade he was familiar with every lesson in the book.
After finishing the eighth grade, a decision had to be made. An hour-and-a-half ride was one thing but it would take another 30-40 minutes to ride to the high school in Basalt. So as summer was coming to a close, my dad would pack his things, hop on the train and head to Palmer Lake north of Colorado Springs. He stayed with his aunt and uncle and attended Lewis-Palmer High School.
High school was easy.
“I pretty much knew everything they were teaching when I got there because I’d already had those lessons at Emma, so I spent a lot of time in shop class,” he says with a smile.
Now 80, his fond memories of his school days at Emma are still sharp. He talks about recess, playing softball, taking turns on a swing set made of cedars, and a partaking in a game called pom pom pullaway.
He remembers every teacher and names them off one by one. He remembers his former classmates and where they lived.
Back in the 1930s, the Shrull ranch was in a remote area of East Sopris Creek. The homestead had a small cabin, barn, smokehouse, underground cellar and of course, the outhouse.
They had a few cows, sheep, turkeys, chickens and pigs. In the summer, my grandfather would cut hay.
My dad laughs aloud when he remembers the day my grandmother tried to kill a hawk that was after the chickens. She grabbed the shotgun from the house but it accidentally went off and blew a big hole in the side of the cabin. At first she thought she might have put a hole in her son, too.
“There was a big hole in the wall and a dead turkey,” my dad says laughing. “We had turkey for a few days after that.”
It was a different way of life seven decades ago.
Today, the old homestead is a huge ranch worth millions. My grandfather sold the land- not for millions – and moved to a ranch near Harvey Gap north of Silt.
Back in the day, as old timers like to say, everybody went to one-room schools. Some had to travel more than others but that’s what had to be done to go to school. Some got frostbite.
The one-room schoolhouse legacy is now long gone. Some of the old schools still remain scattered along country roads. For many, the memories may have faded but they still bring smiles remembering those times.
It was a different time and one that most of us can’t even imagine.
My dad shrugs and smiles. He’s a great storyteller, letting his memories paint an unforgettable picture of his days growing up.
School days, life on the ranch, hunting, tending sheep and eating his mom’s spectacular cooking, Dad can tell amazing stories.
“I remember one time when … ,” he starts with a smile.
Dale Shrull is the editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He’s a New Castle native.
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