I was in the Denver metropolitan area twice in two weeks, late February and early March. The trips had three purposes: visit one of the Denver universities, attend a University of Nebraska at Omaha alumni gathering and hockey game, and visit with relatives that Janet and I have living in and around Denver. On my first visit, there was still a lot of buzz regarding the Broncos Super bowl victory. Mile High Stadium (Sports Authority Field) was visible from a rooftop deck at University of Colorado-Denver, and the view served as the starting point of conversations about the win, Payton Manning’s retirement, and the future of the team. The future of Sports Authority is in question as well. Since I left Denver, Sports Authority’s reorganization plan has been rejected and it looks more likely that they will cease to exist.
Denver is a good sized city, 680,000 or so persons, in a larger metropolitan area, 2.8 million. Its name comes from James Denver, Kansas territorial governor. James Denver visited Denver just twice, 1875 and 1882, and the only reason why the city bears his name is because General William Larimore, a land speculator, was trying to curry favor with Denver. Denver City, now just Denver, became the territorial capital in 1867, and in 1876 Colorado was admitted to the Union. As most readers know, the transcontinental railroad was built not through Denver but through Cheyenne, about 100 miles away. However, by 1870 the Denver Pacific link to the transcontinental railroad had been completed. Today, Denver International Airport, with its unique architecture designed to resemble mountain peaks, is the fourth largest U.S. Airport with respect to passenger traffic. One more thing here. Denver is the only city in the world selected as an olympic venue (winter games 1976) and not actually host the games. Voters struck down the ballot initiatives that would have allocated public money to cover the construction costs, Innsbruck became the host site. In retrospect, the voters were smart given the abysmal effect that hosting the Olympic Games has on local and regional economies when the promised short and long term economic impact is never realized.
My time in Colorado always brings me back to thinking about my grandparents who lived most of the years of their adult lives in Louisville, Colorado. As noted in a previous blog, my grandfather, also Louis, came to the U.S. from France in 1920. He was 15 years old, and immediately went to work in a coal mine in southern Indiana. After mining stops in West Virginia, Wyoming and Illinois, he went to work at a mine in Superior Colorado. My favorite picture of my grandfather was taken in 1938 at a shift change next to the Superior mine. There he is, chest pressed out and all full of himself, with about 50 other men. Some have coal-soot, blackened faces because their shift had just ended. The others, including my grandfather, were getting ready to be lowered below to the pit of darkness and danger. Their faces are clean. He was lucky not to get killed or injured over the many years he worked down below, although he did develop Black Lung Disease. In spite of the awful working conditions, he lived a relatively long life (82 years).
Most of the coal mines in Colorado were spent by the 1960s, and my grandfather was too young to retire. So, he went to work at Rocky Flats, a place he fondly referred to as the Bomb Factory. There he was a mechanic, fixing all sorts of devices. He was very, very smart and needed little guidance when it came to repairs. Rocky Flats, now closed, was a DOE nuclear weapons facility. The “factory” produced plutonium triggers, or pits as they were called, for nuclear warheads. It was a dangerous place to work. There were two plutonium fires at Rocky Flats, 1957 and 1969, which spread radiation well beyond the plant’s boundaries. PU-239 has a half-life of more than 24,000 years. Workers came down with unspecified illnesses, and as readers might imagine areas around the site are still contaminated—24,000 years is a long time.