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Steamboat Magazine

Treasures of the Tread

02/11/2020 12:21PM ● By Alesha Damerville

Image courtesy of the Tread of Pioneers Museum

By Dan Greeson

– Stepping back in time takes on a whole new meaning when you go behind the scenes at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. Steamboat Magazine took a tour of the collections with museum staff, discovering a wealth of Steamboat Springs history and several of the staff’s favorite artifacts.



One of many young Steamboat skiers inspired by Carl Howelsen was ski jumper John Steele, Steamboat’s first Olympian. Steele and Howelsen crossed paths in 1918, when Steele was a young boy, and Steele became obsessed with the sport of ski jumping. 

         Steele won his first Silver Cup at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1924 and soon after broke the boys' under-14 world record with a 123-foot jump in Dillon. As his athletic career progressed, he helped draw other young skiers to the sport. In 1932, Steele placed 15th in ski jumping at the Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, starting a long line of Olympic success for Steamboat skiers. He went on to be the grand marshal of the Steamboat Winter Carnival in 1978 and was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1983.

         The wool coat Steele wore at the 1932 Olympics is in the Tread of Pioneers collections facility, along with a photograph of Steele wearing the coat with the 1932 Olympic jumping team, Steele's oral history interviews, his athletic career scrapbooks and his 1932 Olympic jumping skis. Steele used to wear the coat to Steamboat’s Winter Carnival and local ski jumping competitions. 


“Frightful falcon flights on skimming skees by Capt. Carl Howelsen, who at a single bound covers a distance of over seventy five feet and spans a yawning, death-inviting chasm. An act of a thousand thrills, seen for the first time this side of Norway’s snow-capped peaks,” this 1907 Barnum & Bailey poster reads.

         Carl Howelsen is a household name in Northwest Colorado. He came to Steamboat Springs in 1913, bringing with him recreational skiing, ski jumping and Steamboat’s first Winter Carnival. However, it’s not as well-known what 
he was up to before coming to the mountains 
of Colorado.

         Howelsen caught the attention of the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the summer of 1906, stunning crowds as he skied off a 90-foot tower into a Chicago amusement park pool. Joining the circus in November 1906, he was billed as “The Flying Norseman” and “Captain Carl Howelsen, the sensation from midnight sun land.” Howelsen was paid $200 per week to “ski sail” off of a Vaseline-greased, 100-foot slide – a flight that went further than most planes at the time. Howelsen quit the circus due to a jumping accident, and  was later invited to Steamboat Springs by outdoor enthusiast Marjorie Perry who discovered him and his talents in Hot Sulphur Springs.

         An original Carl Howelsen Barnum & Bailey poster, acquired by the Tread of Pioneers Museum in a rare auction, can often be found on display in the museum’s Ski Town USA exhibit. 



The items in the Tread of Pioneers collections help us see what people of the past saw, but some also allow us to hear what they heard: one such item is the Regina music box from Gus Durbin’s Brooklyn saloon.

         Founded in 1875, Steamboat Springs was a dry town. Liquor establishments were limited to outside of the city limits, which made Brooklyn – the small neighborhood just across the Yampa River – a social hub, red light district and drinking spot for many local men.

         During that time, Gus Durbin’s Brooklyn saloon, Carrie Nation, had one unique feature: a sophisticated music box. The box had 10 discs that could play songs like “Coming Through the Rye,” “She May Have Seen Better Days” and “Treasure Waltz.”

         In the Steamboat Pilot article, “The Magnificent talking machine, 1900-1975,” published Sept. 18, 1975, Ellen Grosebeck is quoted as saying, “One of the saloon owners, Gus Durbin, used to call us on a Sunday afternoon and leave his receiver down so we could hear the music. Phonographs were just beginning to be popular and it was a treat for us to be entertained during a dull afternoon.”

                  In 1914, the people of Steamboat were fed up with the debauchery across the river, and with prohibition on its way, Brooklyn’s saloons and brothels were shut down. While it’s not clear who owned the music box from 1914 to the 1950s, it was local artist Priscilla McClure Johnson who donated it to the museum in 1959. To reduce wear and tear on the rare machine, it is now only used on special occasions.



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