Summit County pioneers: Gertrude Young
Special to the Summit Daily News
SUMMIT COUNTY — She was a girl on a horse. For Gertrude (Culbreath) Young, the ride has been exhilarating, the journey fetching, haunting and draining. Along the way, she discovered many new frontiers in both landscape as well as within herself.
“The thread through my life has been getting on a horse and heading for the backcountry,” Gert said. “I have always loved to just go riding high into the hills where I can look around and think.” As her refuge and her solace, Gert long enjoyed riding up and down the many hidden trails of the Lower Blue. One of her favorite haunts was to get above timberline on Blue Ridge — where her father, Cully Culbreath, used to run sheep — and she could take in a complete panoramic view of the Gore Range, the Williams Fork, Dillon Reservoir, the Tenmile Range and even on to Wyoming. That sense of adventure and intense desire to wander long stirred in the depths of Gert’s soul.
Born the first of three children to Elizabeth Engle and Henry Grady (Cully) Culbreath, Gertrude was named after her grandmother, Gertrude Briggle Engle, who was married to Swiss immigrant George Engle. George and his brother Peter owned and operated the Engle Brothers Bank in Breckenridge, where the Exchange Building is located. George died in 1926 making Gertrude Engle the honorary president until they voluntarily liquidated the bank during the Great Depression in 1936. She continued to reside in the family living quarters upstairs in the bank building where Anna Strand, Edna Dercum’s mother, later came to help care for her after her health failed. Gert appreciated having known her “Grammy” and treasured the antiques she remembers gracing the old parlor, dining room and other quarters of the Engle house, which Gert later included in her own home.
When Cully and Elizabeth were first married, they bought a ranch “down the Blue,” midway between Dillon and Kremmling. Gert and her brothers, Grady and George, were born in Kremmling. Growing up very involved in the many ranch chores, they also made time for fun. Though their grandmother, a strict Methodist, never really approved of dancing and such, Elizabeth was extremely social. Dances and gatherings held at the old Lakeside or Slate Creek Halls involved the whole family — baby baskets and all. Elizabeth was a charter member of the Blue Valley Home Demonstration Club, where she and neighbor ladies organized family potlucks, picnics, holiday parties and other events that provided many happy and helpful experiences for all ages. Less than a mile from the Culbreath ranch house sat a huge rock in a grove of “quakies” (aspen trees) where Gert remembers her mother planning picnics and birthday parties while hoping the cows wouldn’t decide to camp there the night before as the area wasn’t fenced in.
Construction on the Green Mountain Dam project began during the late 1930s, creating the need for food and housing for the construction workers. The demand for milk kept Cully busy buying more milk cows and eventually a barn, where he started Cully’s Big Rock Ranch Dairy. Grady and George helped milk cows twice a day. Unless she could escape on the back of one of her horses, Gert washed bottles or helped with chores in the house. Belonging to 4-H Club cooking groups in Grand and Summit counties helped Gert learn to enjoy cooking and baking.
“Mother used to get a little upset,” Gert remembered. “I would put the cake in the oven then go for a horseback ride and forget the cake.”
Gert’s parents built five cabins to house construction workers’ families, later renting them out to fisherman and hunters. Though there were other children living on the ranch part of the time, Gert remembers it being a bit lonesome. “Horses were my buddies,” Gert proclaimed, fondly remembering Duke, her first, then on to Rowdy, Peggy, Topsy and Smokey. When Gert was a baby, her dad had a hard time getting her on a horse. But it wasn’t long before he had a hard time getting her off one.
At times, the Culbreaths owned 25-30 horses that they used on teams in the hayfield to feed the cattle during the winter. Gert became very adept at harnessing her own rake team to take hay out to feed the range cattle to help her father.
“I would do just about anything to get out of housework,” she said. “I always preferred being out on my horse.” Sometimes she rode the work horses, which she compared to “sitting on a dining room table.” Gert preferred to ride bareback, considering saddles a nuisance. Eventual back surgery served as a reminder of being thrown off numerous times over the years.
Off to school
School has also changed a great deal for ranch children since the Culbreaths were enrolled. The old Lakeside school, where Gert started first grade, was made up of a cloak room and a single classroom that housed eight grades. Located on the floor of the valley now covered by the Green Mountain Reservoir, it had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Gert remembers everyone trying to crowd around the lone heating stove during the winter with the windows completely covered with frost on cold days. Realizing there were educational “gaps” in the system, Elizabeth used her teaching degree in high school English and history to tutor her children at home a great deal throughout their school years, much to their dismay as they would have preferred being outside.
Elizabeth also insisted the children be “exposed” to piano lessons, Gert recalled, so once a week after chores, the family piled into the old 1938 Chevrolet to take lessons from Kenneth Caldwell in Frisco.
“After years of trying to get us to practice and struggling through piano recitals, she was convinced that no musical talents lay uncovered. She had ‘done her duty,’” Gert said while laughing. She credits her mother for never working on her and her brothers’ manners, appearance, religious teachings and other things she considered important to help them not be “country bumpkins.”
When Gert was ready to enter high school, her parents borrowed money to buy the Valaer dairy ranch to be closer to the only available school bus transportation in Summit County. The bus would pick up students in Dillon and drive them to Breckenridge High School, the same school from which her mother had graduated in 1921. However, Breckenridge changed from the bustling, prosperous town Elizabeth grew up in to a near ghost town when mining all but vanished from the community. Gert remembers Breckenridge as very depressing during those years, with little to do and jobs hard to find. There were only seven other classmates in her graduating class of 1950.
Having played semipro baseball during his younger days, Cully loved sports and passed that enthusiasm onto his children. Gert remembers her parents hauling loads of kids to basketball games wherever Breckenridge High School played when she was a cheerleader and later when her brothers were on the team. With no school bus providing transportation, the team and pep club traveled by car to games played in Walden, Hot Sulphur Springs, Red Cliff, Fairplay, Climax, Minturn and the now defunct mining town of Gilman.
Change is coming
During this time, Cully sold the milk cows and took over the Meadow Gold Dairy agency, supplying most of Summit County during construction of the Roberts Tunnel, Dillon Dam, Interstate 70 and Eisenhower tunnel as well as the ski areas. Selling the Valaer ranch around 1967, the Culbreaths moved to Breckenridge where Cully continued his dairy delivery route. Gert remembers escaping with her brothers every chance they got to the old ranch near Green Mountain Dam to work, ride or whatever as they found Breckenridge extremely boring.
During the late 1940s, Edna and Max Dercum introduced many Summit County children to skiing. Gert recalls that an old Army truck was used to haul skiers from U.S. Highway 6 up into Arapahoe Basin to use a rope tow before the chairlifts, T-bars and Poma lifts were built. As adults, Gert and Edna maintained their friendship and enjoyed reminiscing. Over the years, Gert had enjoyed occasionally working at the Dercums’ Ski Tip Lodge waiting tables, washing dishes or whatever Edna needed done.
“After work in the evenings, everyone would sit around the wonderful old fireplace Max built, laughing, singing and talking,” Gert recalled.
Having had business training in Denver, including working for Public Service downtown at their old G&E building, Gert went to work at the Climax Molybdenum Co. in 1955 replacing Jackie Gorsuch Evanger, another good skiing friend, as technical librarian. While living at Climax, she shared an apartment with Suzy Randall, a teacher from Michigan who later became George Culbreath’s wife. Climax Molybdenum Co. provided a lighted ski hill for night skiing with a ski hut at the base where someone would play accordion or other musical instruments, providing what Gert described as hours of “homespun fun.”
Working the land
In 1957, Bob Young and Gert, who with Bob’s parents purchased the Maryland Creek Ranch near Dillon, were married. The biggest part of the ranch operation was pasturing yearling cattle and raising hay to sell. Among Gert’s ranch projects were training horses, helping with cattle and in the hayfield, cooking for the crew, keeping the deep freezers stocked with homemade bread and meals to fix in a hurry, keeping books and whatever else fell her way. To help make ends meet, Gert got her outfitter and guide licenses and started Gore Range Trail Rides using mostly horses she’d broken to pack groups into the Gore Range, dropping them off to camp and be picked up later or backpack out at their leisure.
She and Bob also raised Shetland ponies that turned out to be great “babysitters” for their kids — Kandice, Kerrill and Robert Jr. — and many of their friends. At times, there would be as many as six children riding the ponies, always bareback, and Gert would take her children and friends on pack trips each summer.
Fall hunting season was reserved as Bob and Gert’s vacation, alone or with friends and relatives.
“Though we loved the adventure of hunting, we used the meat to stock our freezers,” Gert said, adding that over the years she probably created 365 ways to fix elk and venison. “This is my country,” Gert declared. “It is in this territory that I have done a lot of riding and hunting. I could pull an elk out of country you could barely ride a horse — and probably shouldn’t have in some cases.”
After Bob’s death in 1975, Gert continued to run pasture cattle on the Maryland Creek Ranch, which they had sold but were leasing back. Finding good help to take care of 600 or so head of cattle as well as the irrigating and haying became impossible, so she ended the lease in about 1982. Gert had leased part of the Lazy YO Acres, which she still owned, to a gravel company, careful to make sure the pits maintained a natural appearance and resembled ponds for fishing.
Beginning in 1975, Gert rented out her ranch house short-term during ski season, and the yard for weddings and events in the summer until terminating the business in 1998. The setting became so popular for young couples that she reluctantly turned down more than 20 potential wedding couples.
“You have to make the land work for you,” Gert said. “Our family has always been very enterprising in making ends meet and attempting to deal with supply and demand, much of it on borrowed money that had to be paid back on time.”
Remarrying in 1983, Gert and husband, Don Stuwe, were able to spend part of the winter in Arizona. Gert’s son Rob and wife, Lynette, had a ranch-management consulting company that included Gert’s property among its clients. Of course, one of the top priorities was that Gert’s horses be shod and ready to ride. Don teased her saying that riding with Gert meant mostly being lost.
She smiled and shrugged, “I’ve often been accused of never following a trail, but I still prefer to jungle crash.”
If ever friends dropped by to pay Gert a visit, only to find the door open but the house empty, they would be wise to look toward the hills. Somewhere deep in the thickly wooden mountainsides overlooking the Valley of the Blue, would be a girl on a horse testing her boundaries.
This story previously published in the book “Summit Pioneers,” which was printed in 1999. The book was written by Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz with photos by Bob Winsett in partnership with Wilson-Lass Creative Communications. It was published to raise money for The Summit Foundation. Read more about the history of Summit County at SummitDaily.com/news/history.
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