Colorado History – Part II
By Maggie Magoffin
My grandparents were Henry A. and Vina S. Ramstetter. My Grandfather Henry’s parents homesteaded the Guy Hill Ranch, and what follows are some of my most treasured memories.
During World War II, my dad was in the Navy, Uncle Walt was in the Army, and Uncle Paul was in the Merchant Marines. Once or twice during the war, the three brothers all came home on furlough for a couple of days. What a wild time that was! They all looked so handsome in their uniforms.
One time, Dad and Mom got into an argument and Mom threw a pot of beans at him. It hit the wall instead of Dad, and beans streamed down the wall. There went dinner! They started laughing, but I did not see the humor in the situation.
World War II finally ended and my dad came home for good. What a celebration that was! Sadly, Uncle Walt was killed in action ten days after the war was declared over. It was a terrible blow to our family. He received the Purple Heart and is buried in Holland. For many years, Grandma Ramstetter kept in touch with the family who cared for his grave. She had a book in the Dutch language and corresponded with them in their language.
Then Dad decided we’d move to the family ranch up in Golden Gate Canyon. Grandpa and Grandma needed help, and we did too. I was elated. My cousin, Gordon, Dad, and Grandpa built us a little house. When the house was completed we had two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and pantry. No electricity. No running water. No bathroom. We had to use an outhouse, and we had to haul water for everything. Water for baths was heated on the old coal and wood stove in the kitchen and we bathed in a big silver tub. We had an ice box, which looked like a cupboard, where we put blocks of ice to keep things cold. It had one compartment with a metal tray to hold the big block of ice we got from town or the ice man. We made Jell-O by putting the dish in the snow outside the back kitchen window. A potbellied stove warmed the living room and the coal and wood cooking stove warmed the kitchen. It was a real trick to get the fires going, but Dad new how to keep the embers burning through the night so they were easy to start in the morning.
We hand-washed clothes—this was a specific procedure. Two washtubs sat side-by-side with a hand-operated wringer. One tub had hot, soapy water (heated on the stove), the other had cold water with a bluing solution to help make clothes brighter. A washboard was placed in the hot water to scrub the clothes on to get them clean, then we put them through the wringer into the cold bluing solution. The clothes then went back through the wringer, then into a basket which we carried outside, and then we hung the clothes on the line to dry. We had to iron most everything. That was done with flat-irons heated on the stove. You had to sprinkle water on them to make sure they weren’t too hot or not hot enough. We used at least two irons so when one cooled it was replaced with the hot one, and so on. To curl our hair, we had to heat the curling iron on top of the stove. If it got too hot, it would burn our hair.
I loved living on the ranch. I walked all over the hills—usually by myself. My favorite spot was on the side of the summer pasture where there was a little stream. I’d read or play with the water bugs and just watch the clouds. Sometimes, Ralphie came with me, but he liked doing boy things more, like lining up my dolls and shooting them with a BB gun! But I fixed him! I pushed him into a big puddle filled with pollywogs! When we played house, I made him eat chocolate chip cookies made of dirt and pebbles. I loved him and still do, but he was a pest.
I’d like to share an experience I will always remember. It was a cold, wintery day and a big snow came that morning. By early afternoon, the sun came out and the snow began to melt. The trees were heavily laden with the soft, wet snow. Days are short in winter, so the sun went away and the air became very cold. A full moon rose above the trees and there was only a slight breeze. I dressed warmly and ventured out to get a better look. I was literally stopped in my tracks by the scene before me. The full moon shining through the leafless branches made a luminous path on the snow-covered ground. The sun had begun to melt the snow on the trees, and the cold air created icicles that hung below the branches. Glistening and moving gently as the breezes caressed them, the icicles made a faint, magical, tinkling sound. Those amazing sights and sounds etched a truly special, forever memory in my mind.
We ordered our clothes mostly from the Sears or Montgomery Ward’s catalogs. We called it “Monkey Wards.” When we ordered shoes, we traced our feet on a piece of paper and sent it in with our order. We loved the Christmas catalogs, and wore them out. We used the old catalogs for paper in the outhouses. Flour came in cloth sacks with a variety of printed patterns, and Grandma Ramstetter used the sacks to make me dresses. Now, that’s recycling!
I went to school in a one-room schoolhouse in Golden Gate Canyon. All eight grades were in one room. Most of the students were related. That school was later moved to the Golden Historical Park. Grandma Vina taught me in third grade. More teachers were hired. One was Miss Wilmington who lived in a trailer alongside the school. My cousin Kenneth enjoyed annoying her. He put dead mice or dead snakes in her desk. Sometimes at night, Kenneth and Phil Nelson would pretend to be wild animals and bang around her trailer. Once they flattened her tires, and the next day volunteered to fix them. She paid them. At recess, we played anti-over over the roof of the schoolhouse. We played on swings, played jump rope, and played hop scotch with pieces of broken, colored glass. We had treasure hunts, played hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, red rover, and such. When recess was over, the teacher rang the hand-held bell.
Each week, Sunday School was held in the schoolhouse. Later I helped teach Sunday School. We loved the old felt boards we used to tell the Bible stories. Camp ID RA HA JE was a summer camp where we slept in cabins, did KP duty (kitchen patrol), and we washed up outside the cabins each morning and evening—with cold water. There were no showers. We had inspections of cabins while we ate breakfast and had our morning lessons. Winners of the cabin inspections had no KP. We went hiking and camping. We had sing-a-longs and roasted marshmallows. Lots of good memories!
On the ranch, our chores had to be done before and after school—rain, shine or snow. We milked cows by hand for years. When we got electricity, there were quite a number of changes, and milking machines were one of them. The cows didn’t seem to care for them at first, but they finally adjusted. Grandpa put a radio in the barn and played music for them. He said it helped them give more milk. The barn cat missed having milk squirted into his mouth, so Dad and Grandpa would treat him with a squirt or two. He loved it and looked so funny with milk all over his face—like the TV ad “Got Milk?” As the milk pails filled with the fresh milk, we had to take them to the milk house. There it was put through special filters—a lot like today’s coffee filters only much bigger. The milk cans were stored in cold, cold spring water in water troughs made of thick cement. After the milk settled, it was time to skim the cream off the top—thick and rich. Then we prepared the cans for delivery to the milk truck that met us at the end our road on Guy Hill.
Sometimes someone would drive me to school, but mostly I walked, and I usually walked home from school. On the way, I’d stop by my cousins for a short visit. They lived in the big house that used to be a stagecoach stop. There was a store, a place for visitors and their animals, and it was a place for travelers to rest and get some good food. The house was also used for Grange meetings and other community services. I learned to roller skate around the old corn silo, which is still there. I’ve been told a story about my dad getting tipsy and dancing around the top edge of that silo. Norma and I would go to the kitchen where Aunt Bertha always had a snack for us. After playing with the new baby chicks behind the stove, we’d go upstairs to the big ballroom and slide on pillowcases across the wood floor. Then home I went.
Box social and dances were held at the big house. The box socials were held before the dances. Ladies made up special box dinners and put them in lavishly decorated boxes, which were auctioned off to the gentlemen. Later these events were held in the one room schoolhouse.
When I got home from school, I usually brought the cows home from the pasture for milking. Old Buster, our horse, along with Duke, our dog, sometimes helped. Old Buster got his name because he liked to stomp on cans. Duke looked like a wolf with floppy ears and he liked to chew cans. Most of the time, we just walked until we heard the old cowbell on the head cow, then we’d find the herd and bring them home. We found one of those old cowbells and I count it as one of my special treasures. It still makes the same sound.
We collected eggs from the chicken coup, which used to be the old homestead house—it is over one hundred years old. Behind the coup is a wall of rocks with a sheltered spot we called the “puppy place” because that’s where momma dog used to have her litters. We cleaned the chimneys on the kerosene lamps and trimmed the wicks. We churned butter, and did whatever needed doing.
Before electricity, we used generators—were they noisy! After we got electricity, Grandma got a wringer washer—no more washboard. Then they ran running water to her house and built a bathroom. We got telephones and had party lines. Everyone had a special ring—one ring, or two rings, or three rings, and you could listen in on other people’s conversations.
Many thanks to Edrie Jeanne Hostetler (Ramstetter) for graciously sharing her memoires.