Remnants of two tar paper shacks
After writing some stories about my old hometown of Mt. Harris, I got to thinking that it had been years since I had been there. Oh sure, I drive through there quite often.
After all, I still live close by in Craig, which is only some 25 miles away, but it had been years since I last stopped and walk-ed around.
Thinking back, the last time I had walked around up there, my brother Leonard was still in the Navy. He was home on furlough and wanted to look around the location of our old hometown. Leonard retired from the navy in the early 1970s, so it’s been awhile.
Recently, I walked up Wolf Creek and surveyed the old P.K. Camp area. Seeing the creek, I reminisced. How long had it been since I had fished it? I think it was back in the 1960s. My wife and I and our two children had been on a camping trip high in the Colorado mountains. We hadn’t caught many fish and the weather was nasty, so we left early. It was about lunchtime when we reached Mt. Harris, so I parked the camper, and the children and I grabbed a pole, and we went to the creek while my wife stayed in the camper to fix lunch. Where the creek entered the Yampa River, we stopped to fish. Within five minutes, I landed a beautiful rainbow trout.
By walking along in the present and thinking in the past, I was able to reconstruct in my mind an image of how the old camp looked when I lived there. It took no time at all to go back into my memories of a time when I was a youngster. The road and bridge that crossed the creek just below the old icehouse appeared so vividly that I almost was tempted to walk across it. I almost could smell the sawdust that would be covering the ice, and I remembered how cool the old icehouse was on a hot summer day. It made me thirsty thinking about how I would sometimes snitch a small piece of ice and suck on it.
Almost as vividly, the old tar paper shack where I lived was standing there in all its glory, with the front door ajar, (it never did fit right). This took me back to the time that a door-to-door salesman came. He was selling glassware that was unbreakable. Mom answered the door and talked to the man, who had one of the glasses in his hand. Of course, as I was the baby of the family, I had to stand behind her and peek around to see what was going on. After the salesman gave his sales pitch, he lifted the glass up to arm length and dropped it onto the icy ground. The glassware bounced but didn’t break. Mom didn’t buy any of the glassware, but the incident sure embarrassed her. She was really put out because a stranger had come to the door and the doorstep was all icy, so one of the older children got the job of chopping ice in a hurry.
Then I remembered the wooden walkway that used to be there between the house and outhouse. The large garden was on each side of the walkway, planted in neat rows. The walkway went two ways from the doorway and followed along the side of the shack to the back fence. There was the gate that opened up on to the footpath that went along the creek bank.
The footbridge was there, and across the roadway was the water hydrant. (There was no running water in the shacks. We carried our water from the single hydrant.) I could almost hear a scraping of solid rubber tires on the cinder roadway, as the ancient Ford Model T truck tried in vain to stop. I almost could hear my mother’s screams as I darted off the bridge, directly into the front of the truck. For a moment, I felt a twinge of pain and almost could hear the thump as the bumper of the truck struck my shoulder, knocking me to the ground. I remember how the undercarriage of the truck looked as it rolled on over me and how lucky I was that none of the wheels struck me. Probably the reason I ran in front of that truck was that it was the county relief truck. Remember that era in time? It was something like our present day government commodity program, where the government doles out surplus foodstuff to the needy. The county relief program, as I remember it, was not a regular affair, but occasionally the relief truck would come to Mt. Harris and drop off food to the needy. Sometimes, in addition to the basic foods, the truck would have a “goody” for the children. I was probably in a hurry to get my “goody.”
Walking along the creek bank, I came upon the remains of a tar paper shack that brought back fond memories. This was the shack in which Fat Mike lived for many years. Fat Mike was one of the many bachelors who lived in Mt. Harris. All of them had nicknames. There was Peg-Leg Mike, Crippled Mike and Walking Jake, just to mention a few. Nicknames were common back then, but they arose out of necessity. It took lots of manpower to mine coal in those days, so even in a small town there would be a lot of men. Naturally, a lot of them would have the same first name and many had the same surname, so to avoid confusion, they were given descriptive nicknames.
Fat Mike used to take me to his shack when I was still wearing diapers. He would feed me all kinds of goodies, but when my diaper needed changing he would rush me right back home and hand me over the fence to Mom, all the time covering his nose with one hand and saying “Phew-phew!” Mom told me many times how funny he looked when he did this, and today, as I looked at that old shack, I could almost see the expression on Mom’s face as she tried to mimic Fat Mike’s look. Just as she did so many years ago when she was telling me the story. As I turned to walk away from that old shack, I’m sure I got a faint sniff of something that smelled a lot like dirty diapers.
Fat Mike remained a very dear friend of mine for the remainder of his life and his name and my memories of him will show up in a lot of my stor-ies.
On up the creek are the remains of another shack. This one was where Dinah lived. Dinah was a black man, and al-most everyone in Mt. Harris knew Dinah and his Honey Wagon. Dinah was one of the more colorful characters in Mt. Harris, and his name and my memories of him will also show up in a lot of my stories.
These two old remnants of shacks and memories are all that remain of the old P.K. coal camp. That they are out of sight of the main road and more or less inaccessible is probably the reason they have survived.
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