Voices from past can inspire the future through completed Three Wire Winter project

Christine McKelvie
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Steamboat Springs author Jean Wren spoke to "Three Wire Winter" student Duncan Craighead during the drought-stricken winter of 1976-77.
Photo courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s time to metaphorically drop the microphone because the ambitious Three Wire Winter digitization project, a collaboration of Bud Werner Memorial Library and Tread of Pioneers Museum, is now complete.

The final four issues of the local history magazine, which was published by Steamboat Springs High School teachers and students from 1976 to 1988, have been uploaded to and to the Digital Public Library of America website.

The newest content includes articles, photos, transcriptions and vocal interviews featuring Olympian Moose Barrows, Steamboat Springs Arts Council founder Eleanor Bliss, ranchers Elaine Gay and Lloyd Monger and the generous Dr. Frederick Willett, among other people who helped to shape Routt County.

Monger’s memories include the hard work required to ranch and farm and his Navy service during World War II, when his ship participated in the D-Day invasion and survived a Japanese kamikaze attack.

Then there’s a previously unpublished 1988 interview with the late George Tolles, who describes in both serious and humorous detail the early years of Yampa Valley College, when classes were held in churches, and he and other teachers moonlighted at the Steinkeller bar in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Begun almost five years ago, the digitization project originally encompassed 24 magazine issues, 251 interviews, 219 articles and a multitude of photos. When the magazine ceased publication in 1988, all the materials were donated to the museum. Some of the collection was transferred to compact discs, but no transcripts existed and access was limited to in-person appointments.

Digital Services Librarian Alysa Selby saw Three Wire Winter as a gem that needed a wider audience. Museum Director Candice Bannister agreed, and both entities made a significant investment of time, money and resources. Mutual fundraising efforts succeeded in obtaining grants and donations to begin the ambitious process of transcribing, reviewing and ultimately uploading the materials.

Longtime local weather watcher Wayne Light was featured in the first edition of Three Wire Winter. He described how early automobile owners put their cars away for the winter: “Up until 1930, they hadn’t cleaned any of the streets or highways around the country. Fall and winter would come, and everyone would raise their cars up on the blocks of wood so the tires would not touch the ground. It was hard on the tires to set on the same spot for six months or so. … Before they started plowing the street, they used one or two teams of horses to pull a V-shaped plank to plow the sidewalks for the people to walk on.”
Courtesy Photo

Bannister credits the library with doing the heavy lifting on the project as Selby worked on building the necessary technological structure and regional partnerships while Reference Librarian John Major led the library team that researched the accuracy of descriptions and names mentioned in the interviews. The museum had digitized all of the audio recordings, and both institutions obtained grants to transcribe them.

The library called on the original teaching team of Bill McKelvie and Tanna Brock to scrutinize transcriptions and identify voices on the interviews. Utilizing additional library and museum resources, the library’s reference staff and volunteers were able to verify names and details to enrich the archive.

“We added links to photos and accounts of families of note and historic events, building out the archive beyond the content found in Three Wire Winter,” Major said.

To date, the collection includes 1,371 people, 356 places, 292 organizations and 28 events. Major calculates that the oral history content spans more than 19 full days of listening time.

Bannister and Katie Adams, museum curator, are equally excited about the expanded scope.

“The world can come to us, and we can go to the world,” Adams said. “It really connects this community and our history to world events.”

For example, Adams was recently contacted by a woman who was doing her Ph.D. dissertation. She had found the 1976 Three Wire Winter article on Daisy Anderson, a Steamboat resident who was one of the last surviving widows of a Civil War soldier.

“She was excited to learn that we had additional materials about Daisy here in our museum,” Adams said. “People can come in through a national portal, find their way here and then unlock one-of-a-kind resources.”

It also works the other way around, as Bannister explained. A local resident researching skiing icon Gordy Wren may click on a related object and find their way to World War II, learning about the global conflict and Wren’s service in the famous 10th Mountain Division.

And people are finding the online collection. Selby said the archive generated 9,509 views in 2018 and 6,357 visits from January through August of this year.

The library and museum teams will continue to collaborate to increase public awareness of the historic trove. Selby, Major, Bannister and Adams hope that voices from the past can educate and inspire current and future generations through school assignments, discussions and families recording their own oral histories.

“Three Wire Winter highlights the importance of humankind’s oldest means of storytelling — the oral tradition,” Bannister said. “It captures the stories of people’s lives and experiences that have shaped them as individuals as well as their families, their communities and our collective history. Now, we are experiencing history. Before, we were just reading it.”

“I had always felt that Three Wire Winter contained so many treasures that were hidden away unless you had copies of the magazine,” Selby added. “Now, we are sharing our stories with the world.”

Christine McKelvie is a former Hayden Valley Press and Steamboat Pilot journalist and hospital public relations director. She met her husband, longtime Steamboat Springs High School teacher and “Three Wire Winter” co-founder Bill McKelvie, in 1976 when reporting on the launch of the local history magazine.

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