Friday, November 4, 2022

Cousin Lucy

Today is my cousin Lucy's 75th birthday. She and I were born just 6 months apart and we are the daughters of sisters, women who died way too young. Finding ourselves here in 2022, both celebrating our 75th birthdays, is a surprise and a blessing. LuAnn McGill was her given name and somebody, probably her daddy, nicknamed her Lucy.








She was a pretty little girl who learned to play the piano, accordion, and sing gospel songs in church while she was very young.









Our mothers' Smith family, Verla and Will's seven children, grew up in Southern Illinois and after they married moved where there was work, several making their homes in Indiana, others in northern Illinois, and for awhile my parents moved "out west". But we all tried to get back to Southern Illinois for family reunions when school got out in early summer. 









And Lucy's parents visited all of us cousins in our homes. I have such fond memories of Aunt Betty arriving with the makings for bologna sandwiches with sliced onions and mustard, with cold coca-colas. We loved to laugh together, poke fun at ourselves, and catch up on how everybody was doing.










And my visits to Oaklawn, going to rummage sales, late night visits to Chicago hot dog stands, sewing "tight skirts", so tight they tore when we stepped down one step, and going to church with you, are precious memories.










Before long Verla and Will's grandchildren were getting married and having children of their own. 








Lucy's and Otis's wedding party in 1966.

We continued to gather together in Southern Illinois each summer, but now we were scattered across the country, and some flew in on planes while others drove many miles across several states.






 Karen, Otis, Lucy, and Johnnie







 Aunt Lou and Lucy










Pat, Lucy, James, and Tracy








And then, in 2017, Lucy and Otis came to Colorado to visit me and Bob! We loved having them here and Lucy played Bob's piano for us and sang. Wow! We knew it might be a once-in-a-lifetime visit so we savored every moment. 









Thank you, Otis and Lucy, for making that long drive across the country, from Tennessee to Colorado.





Over these last 75 years we have maintained a close connection as cousins. The Internet and Facebook have helped us stay in touch, share photos, reminisce, and get to know the newest, youngest members of our family.

Happy Birthday, Lucy!! I am posting this earliest photo I have of you and I together when we were just babies. 75 years of shared memories, some of them fun and some of them sad, even tragic. But here we are cousin, headed in to our 76th year.





Remember the fun times, always.

We didn't even know how to swim!

And Lucy, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your faith with me, teaching me about the Lord. Through all your pain and heartache you have shown us cousins how to trust God, always.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Celebrating Fifty Years of Living Here

This month, October 2022, marks the fiftieth anniversary of our moving to this place, our home, a little bit of Heaven on Earth here in Northern Colorado. 

In 1972 there was an old farm house on the property along with a barn, silo, granery, and chicken house. We decided to remodel the house and while doing so needed a place to live so we bought a mobile home and placed it a few yards east of the house.



At that time Bob and I were both working for Union Manufacturing and Supply Co. located at the old Sugar Factory in Fort Collins. Working around lumber and home building each day, we loved the idea of not only remodeling the farm house but adding on to it, transforming the house to fit our dreams. With input from a couple of friends and Lloyd Kahn's two Domebooks, Bob drew up plans for a geodesic dome attached to the farm house. Domes were touted as the least expensive design per cubic foot of space and easy to build. And they were groovy!


Before he could start building the dome he had to put a foundation under the house. That was quite a project. The house was built about 1900 and there was a crude foundation supporting it, one of concrete with large rocks in it but without footings. The people who lived there dug out a cellar and over the years the dirt walls eroded and caused failure of the foundation.







Using stacks of used railroad ties as cripples and long beams provided by Bob's dad, Bob supported the house while Lee Tucker and his son dug out the dirt and piled it high to the north of the house. Some of that dirt was used to backfill around the foundation and the rest became a landmark, a dirt bike trail when our son Patrick was young, and years later a place to build a fort with those same railroad ties for Patrick's son Cortland.

Bob designed a full basement beneath the house and the dome. Working on a tight budget, and doing most of the work on weekends he bartered with local brickmason and friend Lloyd Vlcek to build the basement walls of concrete blocks in a circular pattern to support the dome.  In trade Bob drew the house plans for Lloyd's own home. 


Now the dome construction began. I could go on and on about the process of building and who participated and what happened when. Suffice to say that it took a long time! I like to tell people that building our home became our lifestyle. Sometimes we ran short of money and sometimes our enthusiasm lagged. And the winters were cold and snowy back in the early 70s!




As the photos show, there were very few trees on our property when we bought the place, and no grass. Slowly but steadily we worked on that situation. And most years we planted a garden. 






We were young, healthy, and working full time in town while building the house on the weekends and evenings. We were living our lives, raising our son, and enjoying life out in the country. We have had so many cats that we've lost track of their names. And horses and dogs and chickens and peacocks and more.





The best part of living in our home has been sharing it with family and friends, filling it with music and laughter. We like to think it's a peaceful place with good vibes. And suddenly, fifty years have come and gone, leaving memories of the people who've visited us, eaten at our table, slept in our beds (and some on the couch). And this old house has witnessed it all. Now the floors talk back with creaks and groans when you walk on those fir boards that once supported school kids and desks in LaPorte. Doyle salvaged that flooring when the school house was torn down. And the unfinished pine boards on the walls have absorbed the scents of bacon frying and pot roasts and tacos so when I walk in the door after being outside it smells like home. 

Our son was only four years old that Halloween Day in 1972 when we moved into the trailer house. I remember that because Patrick was concerned he might miss trick-or-treating with the West boys since we no longer lived near them. And now he is fifty-four with three children of his own - I say children but the youngest is seventeen. I am so pleased that all of them, and Patrick's wife, Alejandra for the last twenty years, have "grown up" in our domehome.

The exterior of our place has changed a great deal with the growth of the plains cottonwoods and the addition of Colorado blue spruce. And over the years Bob has added the greenhouse along the south-facing front of the original farm house. He also replaced the small deck on the east side with a larger, more useful deck and added balusters and railing.

And as for us, after fifty years we are still relatively healthy, happy to be still living in our handmade home, enjoying the wildlife and the trees. But like the old barn out back we tilt a little, need some propping up from one another, and have changed in our looks a bit. In fact, that old barn is a visual metaphor for how we've weathered the winds of change. (Photo by Dan Klein)

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Glorywagon - Part II

I recently wrote the story of "The Glorywagon", the 1920's ranch cook shack turned bachelor's home that has been in the Russell family since 1962, and commented on the task of bringing it to our place in 2000, but did not give proper acknowledgement and thanks to Bill Hilgenberg and his son Steven for their role in loading and hauling it the ten miles or so from Doyle Russell's place to ours. 



The main axle beneath the body of the wagon is broken and has been for many years. I asked Bob Russell how he and his dad were able to tow it behind their farm truck the thirteen miles from Nunn to Doyle's place north of Wellington in 1962 with the axle broken and he said "we cobbled something up." But when it came time to bring it south about ten miles to our place on Highway 1 in 2000 he asked Bill Hilgenberg to load it on one of his trailers and deliver it to us.


Bill has had lots of experience loading heavy equipment on trailers. He owned his own backhoe business for fifty years or so in Larimer County and knows how to load, tie down, and unload as efficiently as can be done. Watching Bill and Steven load the Glorywagon was fascinating. 

The trailer was just barely wide enough, or maybe I should say the wagon was almost too wide and too long to fit on the trailer. In the photo one wheel is hanging over the edge a few inches.

And the weight of the wagon required some careful tugging and shoving by Bill's heavy equipment to get it up on the trailer. I remember watching Steven assist his dad in this operation, throwing chains, cinching them down, laying beneath the wagon as he worked, and I appreciated his skill with his hands and willingness to get dirty, do the hard stuff. His dad taught him well.

Bill and Bob inspected the loaded wagon and found it road ready.

Twenty minutes later the guys arrived with the Glorywagon, backed the trailer into place, and started the process of removing the chains and offloading the wagon. Frankly, I don't remember how they did that! They rolled it off and positioned it exactly where Bob wanted it placed.

Job well done! Thank you Hilgenberg and Sons for bringing the Glorywagon to us. Delivering it to us is not the only project Bill Hilgenberg has done for us over the years. He's hauled gravel for our driveway, moved broken concrete slabs into a heap and covered them with soil, breaking off large cottonwood branches with his backhoe, all in an effort to create a place to sit and watch Bob train his horses out back. Bill has dug water lines, installed hydrants, and more. The most exciting project was when he tore down our silo! I took photos that day and movie film and when the silo finally collapsed my movie captured a few of the blocks as they flew through the air headed right for me and the camera! And the most recent project, one I requested of Bill, was the creation of a seating area beneath some trees using stone slabs that came from Doyle's place. Only, by then, it was Bill's place, for Bill Hilgenberg bought Doyle's property from the Russell family after Doyle died in 2000. Thank you, Bill, for all you've done for us over the years. Bob and I appreciated it greatly.

And there she is, all ready for renovation. I thought it would be so simple. After all, it's only 8'x18'. Ha! It took many years and untold man hours to restore this small wooden wagon on wheels.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


In our yard sits an old cook shack on wheels, a hundred-year-old mobile cabin of sorts. We've had it for over twenty years now, and Bob, with help from his friends, has restored it and saved it from falling apart. His mother, who saw the thing as a dirty, dilapidated wagon, sarcastically dubbed it "The Glory Wagon". The name stuck.

Before I show the process of restoration I want to tell the history of this interesting little building. In the 1920s it was a cook shack that was hauled out into hay fields of eastern Colorado at harvest time each fall by a steam tractor, for it was too heavy to be pulled by horses. Local farm wives who did most of the cooking and meal preparation at home brought the warm food to this cook shack for distribution to the haying crew at mealtime. There was a small woodburning stove inside for keeping the food warm and making hot coffee.

This photo of a typical cook shack of that time is from a cook shack museum in Kansas. Our wagon has big iron wheels that were once part of a stationary steam engine, used with a threshing machine. It's hard to know how old the wheels and undercarriage are. We think the wagon was built about 1910. When the U.S entered WWII in 1941, and the harvest crew men went off to war, this cook shack was retired from use. A 78-yr-old old bachelor named Albert Bisworm moved into it and made it his home in Nunn, Colorado for the next ten years.


Ten year-old Bobby Russell poked his head into the doorway of the wagon in January 1953. He remembers that date because while in Nunn that day he and his family heard the sad news that Hank Williams had died. Bisworm had just moved out and gone to Greeley to a nursing home. Bob says the inside of the wagon was so dark with soot that there was no way to know how big it was inside. No light came in from the four windows. A 2-burner kerosene stove toward the back had sooted up the place terribly. Alec Keenan, an 80-year-old resident of Nunn, hauled the wagon to his property and there it sat another ten years. This photo shows how these retired wagons became small homes.

Doyle Russell, Bob's dad, acquired the Glorywagon in the early 1960s from Alec Keenan and towed it behind his farm truck the thirteen miles to his place north of Wellington. I don't know what Doyle's plans were for it at that time but he filled it up with purchases from the local auctions and the first time I peeked inside, about 1980, there were many old vacuum cleaners stored there. At some point sparks from a passing Burlington Northern train set the dry prairie grass on fire and it burned the "backporch" of the wagon.

Bob told his dad he would surely like to bring the Glorywagon down to our place and clean it up. Doyle agreed to that plan but said he wanted to empty it out first. Years passed. After Doyle died in 2000 a friend of Bob's loaded the wagon onto his flatbed trailer and brought it to our place, placing it just where we wanted it, west of our house, in the area where we park our cars. Inside we found two items that dated back to Bisworm's occupancy, a pair of longjohns stuffed in a crack, used to keep out the cold wind, and a wire run up to the roof that served as a radio antenna. 

Bob started restoration with the removal of the newspapers that covered the interior walls. Although soot had damaged the first layer, the inner layers were readable and interesting, complete with the "funny papers." He mailed them to his brother, Ken, who shared his love of cartoon strips. Then Bob removed all the roofing and discarded it saving only the crossbeams.


Using 1x6 pine boards he bent them over those crossbeams and nailed them in place creating a clean, strong ceiling and roof. 

After the pine boards were in place Bob and Bill West covered them with dark green rolled roofing.


Pam, taking photos from inside as Bob creates the new roof.







This shows the completed ceiling, taken at an angle. That's the door at the far end.

On the exterior he secured all the vertical siding with screws. Bill West made new windows using old mullions to look compatible with the siding. Bill also surprised us with a custom stained glass window for the front of the wagon, with an "R" for Russell in the design.


This window is actually in the front of the wagon, the front being where the tow bar connected to the steam tractor which hauled it out to the hay fields. The back of the wagon is where the door leads out to the porch on which the meals were served.






On the inside Bob covered the old walls with new 1x6 pine boards to give a fresh, clean surface that the Glorywagon hadn't seen in decades.






That "back porch" that was burned had to be removed and rebuilt. Back in the days when it was a cook shack this is where the food was set out on platters so that the haying crew could walk by and fill up their plates, then find a place to sit and eat their suppers. Rebuilding it was one of the most challenging tasks Bob faced during the restoration. He wanted it to be as close to the original construction as possible complete with the wide, flat surfaces on top. It turned out really well!

To finish up the exterior Bill West made a beautiful door complete with hardware and they hung it together. Later a screen door was installed inside so the solid door could be open to allow air flow. And a set of stairs with handrails completed the project of making the Glorywagon accessible and secure. I love the look of it. Great job!

As for the inside, as soon as the roof was on I started making the inside "liveable". The front of the wagon has a raised flat area with two storage compartments below. I put custom mattresses over that, a pretty quilt, and lots of pillows. We added a small table with a couple of chairs and then decorated with old collectibles we like looking at.

There is a pedal sewing machine, enamelware, cigar boxes, old dolls, and more.

Mostly the Glorywagon has become a cozy backdrop for photos of visiting family and friends. It has a good feel to it, this little cabin, if you like things rustic, and are nostalgic for years gone by, like I am.

Our friends Cathy and Pete Safiran gifted us with one of their custom license plate signs "StageStop58" to link the Glorywagon to my ebay presence. 

In today's world with the advent of Tiny Houses to solve the problem of affordable housing this tiny 144 square foot structure (8'x18') has been there, done that. Albert Bisworm had a small stove, chamber pot, and a radio - all the comforts of home. I know if Frances Russell could see the old Glorywagon today, how her son Bobby gave it new life, she would exclaim, "Oh, my Gawd!"