When Winifred Colby of Montrose fell ill while attending the last day of the Highgraders Holiday a few Sundays ago in Ouray, she was later most distraught about not being able to find out who won the events. She was helped to her car, she said, by Ouray resident, mining veteran and firefighter Steve Martinez and made her way home.
This week, she called me to get a copy of the paper with the results, insisting to pay for it.
Winifred — I'll use her first name because I can't imagine she's ever met a stranger — is 80 years old and told me that she can't remember what she had for breakfast, but she remembers long-ago details as crisply as a fall day.
Her father, Bud Wood, was a firefighter in Pueblo. He was also a war-time trainer, and one of his tasks was to teach Western Slope firefighters how to handle Japanese incendiary bombs.
"They flew them here on balloons, you know," Winifred told me.
No, I didn't know.
During World War II, Japanese scientists discovered a jet stream at 30,000 feet that could carry a balloon to the mainland United States in three or four days. Thus were launched what has been called the first successful intercontinental weapons.
According to History.com, for two years the Japanese military produced thousands — 9,000 in all, it is estimated — of balloons with lightweight skins made from mulberry wood. The paper sheets were stitched together by schoolgirls who were oblivious to their purpose. Suspended below the balloons by 40-foot long rope were incendiary devices and 30-pound high-explosive bombs.
The bombs were rigged to drop over North America and spark massive forest fires.
The Japanese hoped that massive forest fires would instill panic and create diversions, crippling the U.S. war effort.
As an uncontrolled attack, most balloons fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, but some 300 of them were spotted from Alaska to Michigan to Arizona. It's estimated that 1,000 reached North America.
They are still being found today.
According to npr.org, in 2014 a couple of forestry workers in Lumbry, British Columbia found one.
When first discovered during WWII, there were no obvious clues as to where the balloons originated. According to nationalgeographic.com, when Col. Sigmund Poole, head of the U.S. Geological Survey military unit at the time, was given sand from one of the balloon's ballast bags, he said, "Where'd the damn sand come from?"
Japan was the conclusion, most likely coming from a small chunk of beach east of Tokyo.
The only deaths reported were those of a pregnant woman and five children who happened upon one on a church picnic outing near Bly, Oregon in 1945. The group was inspecting the curious object when one of the children touched it. The explosion killed them instantly, according to the woman's husband, who witnessed the explosion from a distance.
Our government at the time, not wanting to give the Japanese the satisfaction of knowing any of these balloons had reached the mainland, told anyone who found one not to publicize it.
Which brings us back to Winifred's father, Bud Wood. Winifred said she and her dad hitched up a camping trailer and made the rounds to Western Slope firefighters, bringing them to Ouray one Fourth of July to teach Ouray firefighters about these bombs.
Wood, who hooked up with Ouray resident Jack Clark to participate in the annual Fourth of July water fights, was familiar with most Ouray customs, Winifred said, except one.
"At midnight on the Fourth," she said, "they set off an explosion in Ouray to celebrate the Fourth." Winifred said her dad wasn't expecting this and thought it was a Japanese incendiary device exploding in town.
"It made my dad jump clear out of the camper," she said. "He thought he had had it."
Winifred said her dad died in 1961 from injuries sustained fighting a fire at a Pueblo lumber yard. He ran out onto a platform with his hose and the platform gave way. Wood fell through and into the flames. He lived another two years, but the damage from smoke inhalation was too severe.
Ever since, Winifred has stayed connected to the local firefighters in the area.
In Silverton a few years ago, she said, she was attending an event and had asked everyone where she could get ice cream.
"They used to give away free ice cream," she said, "but they told me they stopped doing that." That was when two local firefighters came and lifted her chair with her in it, carried her down the street to the local ice cream parlor and bought her a few scoops.
Winifred said, at 80, she's not counting on many more years to come, but I'm betting against that prediction.
The paper with the Highgrader results is in the mail, Winifred, no charge.
A reader in Ridgway told Beecher this week that she likes when I write about my boys. She said she can really relate. I couldn't be happier, because I'm going to reach out and ask for understanding. I'm not sure what just happened to me.
I just spent the last two weekends moving Ross, our budding pilot son, and his better half, Kelly, and our Gerber-faced granddaughter, Olivia, out of Orem, Utah.
Ross has landed a job with Skywest Airlines and will be in training and limbo for the next eight months. Meanwhile, Kelly and Olivia have moved into her parents’ house to save money in the interim. They are now north of Austin, Texas, some 18 hours away instead of five hours away.
This is our loss.
However, in another move to save money, half of their belongings are now in our basement. Boxes, kitchen stuff, sheets, televisions, odds and ends strewn across our basement. The first weekend of moving, Kelly was in charge of arranging things in our basement, and everything was placed in an orderly fashion. The second weekend, Ross was in charge and now it looks like curbside in a Houston neighborhood the week after Harvey came through.
This is our gain.
So I ask our dear reader, weighing the gains and losses in this transition, what just happened?