Life on the Summit: Wrangling a professor’s burro racing tale
August 25, 2017
Jack Lohmann has not gone quietly into leisurely retirement after his career capped as vice provost at Georgia Tech. The active 66-year-old engineer is now getting ready for the final pack burro race of this, his first season.
Since retiring in 2012, Jack's built a house he designed on the family property on Pitkin Street, married his college sweetheart, given away his daughter in marriage, bought a newer plane, started painting landscapes in oil, and taken up the tough sport sanctioned by the Western Pack Burro ASSociation. Whew.
The youngest of three Lohmann boys (brothers Jed and Jon), Jack was just a tyke when parents M.R. "Pete" and Dorothy "Dee" bought a half-block lodgepole-treed lot in 1953 and built a log cabin over the summers of 1955-56. It stands today little changed.
The property is separated by a little used alleyway from the Frank and Gertrude Philippe 1946 homestead, now owned by their son Rob.
"At the time, my father was on the engineering faculty at then Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He served as dean of engineering from 1955 until his retirement in 1976. My mother was a homemaker," Jack explains.
And OSU is where Jack earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Brothers Jon and Jed are also grads of OSU in civil engineering and industrial engineering, respectively.
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After OSU, Jack earned his master's and doctorate in industrial engineering at Stanford University in California.
Following in his father's footsteps, Jack's career mirrors the elder Lohmann's:
"I began my faculty career at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1979 and in 1991 moved to Georgia Institute of Technology (more commonly known as Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, retiring as vice provost in 2012."
As a kid in Frisco in the summers, Jack and the Lohmanns made up an adventuresome family, taking in all the area offered.
Here's a recollection:
"In the '50s and early '60s, there wasn't as much to do in the summers as there is now. There were no bike paths, no lake, no maintained hiking trails, etc. We mostly worked around the cabin, fished, hiked and went jeeping in the High Country, visiting any mines we came across. At that time, there were many more standing structures, and often they still had tables, chairs, cookware, bottles, mining tools, etc., left behind."
Today, he notes, the lure continues.
"We still enjoy visiting mine sites with standing structures and marvel at the lifestyle, and especially the effort that it took to live at many of these remote locations," says Jack.
His favorites are Leadville's Clear Grit Mine and the Champion Mill.
Describing himself as a "neighborhood jogger" who once ran a half-marathon in his 40s, Jack's tours of mining sites are now accompanied by his burro, "Doc," a rent-a-donkey from the Laughing Valley Ranch owned by Bill "Santa" Lee, who also runs the racing circuit.
"I was fortunate to run the same burro for all the races this season. He's not the fastest burro, but he's experienced, cooperative — most of the time — and gets the job done," says Jack of his tethered partner.
Burro racers are not allowed to ride their beasts of burden, but must stay connected by a 15-foot rope.
Other requirements in "Colorado's summer heritage sport" have the burros carrying 33-pound saddle packs containing a pick, shovel and mining pan.
Here's Jack's inaugural season resume: Georgetown, 8 miles; Creede, 10 miles; Idaho Springs, 5 miles; Fairplay (long course), 29 miles; Leadville (long course); 21 miles: and Buena Vista, 13 miles.
The last event is Victor's (up near Cripple Creek) Sept. 9, a race covering 7 miles.
Like most of his fellow competitors, Jack's been "bitten, stomped, and dragged more than once" by his four-legged partner.
Jack and Doc's best finish:
"Any race I complete is my best finish. Just about every race has some who do not finish. It is not so much about where you finish, but rather about you and your burro doing your best and having a great time while celebrating the role of pack burros in Colorado's frontier heritage."
Although he'd seen these races for years, like most spectators, he had little idea what happens between the start and finish.
"Course terrain can vary considerably, from gravel roads and earthen trails to bushwhacking and scree, including stream crossings, bridges, cliff ledges, and considerable elevation gains, and when you also add managing your burro and race tactics, even the same course can be different each year," he explains of the steep (some courses top out at 13,000 feet plus) learning curve.
Numbers of burro racers have climbed in recent years due to the efforts from runners like author Hal Walter, Lee, Joe Glavenick, Steve Matthews, Lee Courkamp, Tom Sobal, Roger Pedretti, Barb Dolan, Diana Makris, Sue Conroe, Dave Carter, Mary Walter and another professor, Ardel Boes from the Colorado School of Mines, along with promoters like Oscar Chapa and Brad Wann.
"They're a great group of people with quite a dispersion of ages, backgrounds and athletic abilities," Jack says. "They are also very generous with their time, knowledge and resources to help anyone."
The sport, which started in 1949, lost its most energized competitor, and several times champ, Curtis Imrie, earlier this year at age of 70 from a heart attack while at Denver's National Western Stock Show with some of his Little Menokin Ranch stock.
A fan of the sport, Spike! started covering it back in 1973, interviewing Curtis and Oscar, who had just teamed up.
A new fan of burro racing is Jack's wife, Darcy, a retired Estee Lauder vice president in Hong Kong after a previous retirement from S.C. Johnson Co.
She and Jack attended OSU and dated when she was a sophomore and he a senior. Their lives took different paths, reconnecting a few years back on Facebook.
Jack had married Kathy Kudlaczyk and they had a daughter Ashley. Long battling cancer, Kathy lived long enough to see Ashley graduate from Stanford, who married fellow Cardinal Chris Hanson last fall at the family home in Frisco. Both have earned master's degrees.
Darcy, a chemical engineer with a master's, and Jack married in 2013. Like Jack, her spouse had passed away.
Upon moving to Frisco, Darcy ran into architect and civic leader Tom Connolly, whom she had known at OSU.
Since 1981, Jack has been a licensed private pilot, now flying a Piper Malibu Mirage, which he also uses in volunteer missions for Angel Flight West.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed "Spike," a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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