Museum of Northwest Colorado: Off the grid in Craig
Kerosene lamps and other nostalgic antiques bring a sense of charm to many Moffat County homes and often have specific histories connected with earlier times of the family that used them. It hasn’t been that long ago that one Craig resident staunchly avoided modern conveniences and clung to her simple and frugal lifestyle.
Kathryn Eugenie True was born in 1907 in Iowa and moved to Craig with her parents at age 10.
Hard work was the stuff of which Kathryn’s childhood was made. She recalled that she only received three or four years of formal schooling. Most of her school-age years were spent working alongside adults to make ends meet.
Though somewhat crippled by an accident as a young child, she worked at times mining coal with her father and passed many hours as a young girl plowing and harvesting in the fields.
Shortly after the family moved to the area, they lived on the Maurice Flynn ranch on Elkhead where Walter True, Kathryn’s father, worked. In 1925 Walter leased land on the Tuttle ranch west of Craig where he ran cattle. With the devastating onset of the drought and the Great Depression, Walter left his wife, Lucille, and Kathryn to fend for themselves.
Hard work was not a new concept for the 20-year-old Kathryn, and she headed into town to find employment to sustain herself and her mother. She worked the night shift at the Midwest Café for more than 20 years and then later was employed at the Cosgriff Hotel. Raised on outdoor work, the change to indoor employment was a stretch for the farm girl, but she kept at it. She finally was forced to leave restaurant work when she became highly allergic to the plastics and detergents used there.
In 1952, Kathryn built a little home for herself and her mother on 10 acres on Thompson Hill. The small house was more of a basement than an above-ground structure. An outhouse perched on the windy hill and was all the bathroom that Kathryn and her mother ever knew while living there.
Kathryn looked into getting power into her new home, but when told it would cost $1,000 for the pole and electrical installation, she drew the line. The expense seemed outrageous to her, and so the daughter and her mother made coal suffice for heat and kerosene for lamplight.
With a windmill providing water from a well and plenty of land for a garden, Kathryn and her mother were about as “off the grid” as you could get. Kathryn’s mother died two years after the house was built, leaving Kathryn to continue on in her solitary life.
Kathryn never had a car and for many years would be seen driving her team of horses and wagon around town. Later, when automobile traffic made that mode of travel untenable, the tiny woman would walk the several miles down the hill into town for groceries or for church.
She was still walking when she was in her late 80s, and those who knew her would often stop and give her a ride to her destination. Undaunted by the passing years, she never hesitated to walk when necessary as she felt it kept her joints from getting too stiff.
When Kathryn hit her 90s, she finally moved into town to Bob and Diane Grubb’s Rainbow Care Home where she enjoyed the modern conveniences that she had eschewed for most of her life. Despite her gruff exterior, accentuated by the strong smell of the garlic she loved to use in her cooking, she was well-loved by the community.
Later photos of Kathryn show her enjoying the new friends she made along with an occasional card game. She died in 2002 at age 94, leaving a stalwart legacy of dogged determination and hard work in the face of a life of hardships.
Mary Pat Dunn is the restistrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado.