Log Hill couple preserves history of neighbors, longtime locals

By Caitlin Switzer

SOURCE: The Telluride Daily Planet December 13, 2006 - Reprinted by permission of the Telluride Daily Planet, Gary Dickson, Editor.

 

It was the idea of retirement that brought Jack and Barbara Rairden home to Colorado 16 years ago, not the lure of a second career.

But life has a way of changing the best-laid plans—just ask Jack.

“I had no intention of joining the Log Hill Fire Department,” laughed Rairden, who settled on Log Hill with his wife and former North High School classmate Barbara in 1991. “I had a friend who had joined, and I thought, no way! But I went along to a training session at the old firehouse on County Road 22, and when I walked in, there were ten or so people. I thought, so this is what their fire department looks like.

“It wasn’t too long before I joined.”

Over the years, Rairden’s role has expanded.

“After two years, I got my arm twisted and I got on the board,” he recalled. “Not long after that, I became secretary/treasurer.”

Shortly thereafter, family friend Barbara Morss joined the fire department as office manager, and she and the Rairden's began to take a look at some of the department’s archives.

“The Log Hill Fire Department was started in 1976, and the files were scattered,” Rairden said. “The three of us went down to the old firehouse to sort through things. We got rid of junk like old magazines, and organized what we felt was important and ought to be preserved.”

That effort sparked an interest in the history of Log Hill itself.

“Log Hill Mesa is a lot more than a fire department,” Rairden noted. “We had a lot of questions that we couldn’t find anyone to answer, so we drew up a list of the things we were interested in, and decided to go and find the answers ourselves.”

After Jack left the fire department board six and a half years later, the Rairden's realized that they wanted to continue the project that had begun as a way to clean house.

“We are not historians, but we began to learn from the people who had been around here,” he said.

Today, the Rairden's are working closely with other local history organizations, such as the Ranching History of Ouray County committee formed by Ginny Harrington several years ago, on a project that has become very close to their hearts—the compilation of a comprehensive history of Log Hill Mesa and the people who first settled the area. Four of the oral histories they have compiled are available for perusal in the Ridgway Library, and the couple has put together a proposal to put their work on the Internet as well.

Those who have shared their memories with the Rairden's now include the Thomas, Thayer, and Voss families, as well as Mary Adile Beach. Other stories are currently being prepared, including that of Wayne and Nellie Flowers, who have ranched the 5,500-acre Thomas Ranch since 1947, and lifelong Colona residents Edgar and Marion Hotchkiss.

The Rairden's have developed a system for conducting oral interviews, including a questionnaire and key questions designed to help them elicit vital information from their subjects.

“We record the interviews on tape, and then we make a transcript,” Rairden said. “We give it back to the subject for corrections, and once they are happy with it, we make a story—and we get as many pictures as we can.”

Although subjects are initially aware of the tape recorder, the interview process itself helps them loosen up, Barbara Rairden said.

“When we first started, we didn’t know quite how,” Barbara said. “But it has gotten easier. We can’t get the whole story, but we get what is important to them.

“At first they are a little skittish,” she said. “But they get into it. And the lives they have lived! Life was tougher than, but there was more freedom to move—more space to live your life.”

Jack took classes at the Delta-Montrose Area Vocational Technical School to acquire the computer skills needed to create computerized records in Microsoft Publisher, and soon the project began to take on a life of its own. Some subjects are undertaking the writing of their own life stories, and volunteers are welcome to join the effort by conducting and compiling oral histories of neighbors and friends.

“We started with the old families, because we wanted to get their stories down before it was too late,” Jack said, “although we have slipped down into Colona and Billy Creek as well.”

The Rairden's hope that their history in the area will kindle a corresponding spark in others interested in what came before.

“We figured the best way to find out about Log Hill history is to talk to the people who made it,” Jack said, “or people who knew the people who made it. People our age are the third generation from the early settlers—we just kind of assigned ourselves this job.”

 

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