Museum of Northwest Colorado: Small-town business dedication
January 8, 2016
Born in Calhan, Colorado, about 30 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, in 1917, William B. Nelson entered the Colorado School of Mines after completing high school. In 1939, he came to Craig and was involved in hauling petroleum. With the rumblings of World War II on the horizon, young Bill entered the U.S. Air Corps and served as a pilot during that horrendous conflict. At the end of the war, the veteran returned to Northwest Colorado, and in 1946, he married Helen Allen, who was a registered nurse in Steamboat Springs.
The young couple settled in Craig, which, in that expanding post-war economy, was attracting a large number of war veterans. Bill Nelson worked hauling equipment for his father's and uncle's trucking company, Nelson Brothers Transports, which was located in the building at the northeast corner of Russell Street and Victory Way. In 1953, Bill opened a tire business at 468 Breeze Street, where he also offered tire re-treading. He later added a U-Haul rental franchise to his numerous ventures.
Helen, meanwhile, became involved in the antiques business in the 1960s and 1970s. During the summer months, she ran a little antique shop out of the garage at the Nelsons' home at 1931 West Victory Way. Dan Davidson, Director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, recalled visiting her shop when he was 17 years old to purchase brass candlesticks to accompany a Seth Thomas clock he had been given. Davidson has since donated that clock, which belonged to Bingo McRoberts, and the candlesticks, to the museum collection. Helen Nelson ran her little shop for almost 12 years. When not selling antiques, she managed all the bookkeeping for her husband's various business enterprises.
Bill and Helen kept busy with their many entrepreneurial activities. Bill also served on the Craig volunteer fire department and maintained an active status in the Army Air Corps Reserves. He stayed active in aviation and gave flight instructions, and in his spare time he was an avid golfer and dedicated fly fisherman.
In 1956, when nationally known cartoonist Chet Klock came to Craig to create his series on local businessmen, he became interested in Bill, who had his finger in many business pies. Klock ran a small article on Bill in the Craig Empire-Courier in January 1957. Klock noted how Craig benefitted from businessmen such as Bill, who invested themselves heavily in the little rural community.
Helen ran her little antique store for about 12 years before she died in 1978 following a lengthy illness. Bill died in Craig in 1994 and was buried next to his wife's grave in Evergreen. Though the Nelsons had no children, they left a lasting legacy in the Craig business community. The Museum of Northwest Colorado attempts to document the history of our many local businesses and their owners. These businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy, and their owners are heavily invested in our community on many levels.
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The museum, located in downtown Craig, is open Monday through Saturday with free admission. A new exhibit opened this week, which features cowboy-themed quilts created by nationally recognized quilt artist Jean Roesler. Call 970-824-6360 for more information, and plan on spending an hour or so warmed by these diverse and whimsical fabric creations.