Who We Are: A mountain man moves on | SummitDaily.com

Who We Are: A mountain man moves on

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

In 55 years of living in Summit County, Warren Alloway has come to know the mountains like close friends.

“He’s a mountain man,” a Frisco friend said when she stopped to greet Alloway at Red Buffalo Cafe in Silverthorne.

The man, who turns 78 on Tuesday, watched as the Old Dillon Inn and The Mint moved from the now-flooded town of Old Dillon – and came down valley with them – but never was one to frequent the establishments. He preferred to be around fewer people.

He tells tales of wandering the Gore Range, investigating mining prospector sites. A sparkle in his eye makes one think his determination to explore has translated to a hard-working and passionate life he’ll continue closer to his roots – he plans to soon depart Summit County.

Alloway grew up outside of Wheatland, Wyo., where neighbors were few and far between. Going to high school with 50 classmates was “hard on me,” he said. And 2,000 people in the late 1950s in Summit County “seemed like a lot of people then.”

Late last week, he was preparing to head to Torrington, which isn’t far from Wheatland, to see his wife and son, who live there full-time at 4,100 feet for health reasons. Alloway is waiting to sell his house along the Blue River before he heads north, too.

As he described the history of his time in this place, Alloway’s eyes brightened when he spoke of his many years of work at the Climax mine and his off-work forays into the wilderness. He pushed his cowboy hat across the table and leaned in, eager to remember and share his adventures.

He had a hand in moving Highway 6 out of the reservoir’s path, building the Dillon Dam, the Roberts Tunnel and, as Silverthorne’s first full-time mayor (serving several terms from 1968-1976), he built the foundations for the sewer and water system. Despite being a man not keen on taxes, he also encouraged establishment of the town’s first sales tax.

“To me, ‘tax’ is a bad word, but if you’re gonna have a town, you have to have some money to make it work,” he said.

Under his watch, Silverthorne went from surviving on $10,000 to $12,000 of annual property tax revenue to being able to pay cash for the sewer expansion in the late 1970s. Together with the arrival of City Market, which enhanced the sales taxes collected, the tax helped the town build accounts closer to those of Frisco and Breckenridge.

“It really made me feel good we were able to get the town in that position,” he said, adding that the first vote for the sales tax (among about 40 people) resulted in a tie. After he promoted the cause, it passed unanimously the second time around.

Alloway tended to be the last man on the job, even when he and his wife, Barbara, had to leave Old Dillon.

“All of a sudden, we looked around and noticed no one was around,” he said. It was 1961, he said, and he was working as an engineer for the Roberts Tunnel – which brings water from the reservoir to the Front Range. He was about three years into his marriage.

He remembers being last on the job for the tunnel, as well as on the Dillon Dam, a job he left just before Christmas of 1963. And he’s been one of the few who remained on the job at Climax after it mostly closed its doors in the 1980s.

January 13, 1964, marked the start of a good year, Alloway said. It was the day he became an engineer and surveyor for Climax.

“I started a job I held for many years. I bought a Ford 4×4, and my daughter was born,” he said, adding that he held the job for 27-and-a-half years.

He sits back, smoothes his western shirt and smiles as he remembers a call he received just a few months ago from a former employee. It came out of the blue, but Alloway enjoyed hearing about the young man’s successes in New York City.

“It made me feel good,” he said.

Being an outdoorsman, working for Climax was right up his alley. If he wasn’t working on on-site buildings, he was in the alpine country, away from the mine and tailing ponds.

Being more or less the last man on the job, he was positioned as chief engineer, but as he says, “You don’t need a chief if you have no Indians.” The stress and headaches of handling the job as a one-man show led him to retire in 1991.

But he was asked back two weeks later and continued to work for several more years, until 2005 (even after the mine shut down in 1995), on organizing the mine’s industrial library – which couldn’t seem to find a happy home – and doing surveying.

“Every job I had, I really enjoyed,” he said. “Surveying was good because I was out running through the mountains.”

Just recently, Alloway was out between Red Peak and Buffalo Mountain between sheer rock faces, wandering the gravelly sites left behind by early prospectors.

Right now, he said, the wildflowers are popping up as soon as the snow melts, and the falls are “roaring like a train running through.” Normally, they’re slowing about now.

He says it’s one of his favorite places in the area, a spot he spent significant time exploring, looking for the truth behind lore of a tunnel going through Red Peak.

“Its always really fun climbing around the mountains,” he said. “To me, it’s heaven.”

It took more than 10 years, but Alloway eventually proved to himself that the tale was true – there was a tunnel bored through the mountainside. It’s since caved in, but he found it after finding the remnants of five cabins with a trail leading higher into the sky. Evidence of the tunnel was just 20 feet from the peak. An anvil marked the spot.

He considered carrying the anvil down with him, but early June’s icy rocks made him think twice about heaving himself and the hunk of metal across a narrow cavern. He could envision both of them falling to the depths below, so he returned in dried weather to take his prize.

Another artifact, a spoon from 1910 with text on it from a mine in Gilman he turned in to a Minturn establishment.

Alloway explored the mountains without following any paths.

“I could keep exploring (the range) another 20 years, but I’m getting a little old for that,” he said.

He’s a hunter, who’s taken his share of elk and deer, and was searching for a goat on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers fell. He remembers walking two miles to get cell service to check in with Barbara, and she filled him in.

He couldn’t find many who could keep up with his adventures, Alloway said, but he did make two close friends, Lynn Smith and Art Davis, who claimed Alloway got them to explore far more of the area than they would have on their own.

Alloway can’t see Laramie Peak from his house in Torrington, but it’s not far away. He’s sure he’ll be up there hunting, and hopes his son will start feeling well enough to join.

In the meantime, he spends his days in Summit County tending his garden and wandering the mountains.

Before he leaves, he hopes to grab one last piece of Climax history, by complementing a photo he has of Bartlett Mountain in the 19th Century with a 21st Century of it after about 500 feet of mining excavation.

Corrects earlier version to adjust spelling of Roberts Tunnel.

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