Outlaw Reflections: A Placerville Lifetime

Outlaw Reflections: A Placerville Lifetime

Among the many adjectives friends and acquaintances of former Telluride resident Oleh Lysiak would use to describe him, one would not be “sappy sentimentalist.” But they would be wrong. Under that tough, gruff exterior lies a giant marshmallow. Oleh’s soft spot is aroused when he thinks about the bad old days and the good old folks who populated the Telluride region back before cyber anything, when communication meant looking someone in the eye, extending a helping hand when needed. Former Placerville resident Doris Ruffe is one of the good old folks, a Placerville original before the days of  the Leopard Liquor store, Sally Puff Courtney and hubbie Jim Harley’s Sawpit Mercantile, and Wagner Skis. Way before. For a bit of regional warm and fuzzy, read on….





Doris Ruffe remembers the old days at The Placerville corner.

Doris Ruffe remembers Placerville when it was the largest cattle shipping point in Colorado, when the center of town was at the crossroads where her father’s automobile dealership stood, when what we know today as Placerville was known as Newtown.

Placerville was a hopping town back then with a railroad spur, a Conoco and Texaco stations and a three-story hotel, which Doris’ great-grandparents owned. That hotel put up 125 miners, ranch hands and workers.

The hotel burned and Doris’ grandparents built another. Her father, Glen, ran the garage in town, sold Nash and Studebaker originally, and later Chrysler, Plymouth and GMC. The building at the crossroads over Leopard Creek is what’s left of Glen Ruffe’s car dealership.

Where the dealership stands was known as Old Town. Newtown is present-day Placerville and Lower Placerville remains the same.

Doris worked for the Post Office for 28 years in Placerville and maintains that the new post office, which was the original livery stable, was necessary since the old one had been housed for decades in what is now Leopard Liquors.

“There’s been such a changing group of people over the years,’ says Doris, “but you have to get to know every one of them because in their own way they’re all so very nice, they’re just different. They’re people who come from the city. Whenever I see anybody I say ‘Hi’ and the new people would look at me kind of funny and wonder why I was doing that.

“Then the hippies came,” Doris recounts, “and some people were so against the hippies but you know dad treated everybody the same way. He’d help anyone, do anything for them. You don’t do that to be repaid but it sure pays you back.

“The hippies were different but there was nothing wrong with them. They’re good people. Like I said, you just have to get to know people. And that’s how things work. People come in and they thank you so much for being nice and helping them and you appreciate it. You help somebody and people turn around and help you the same way.”

Doris remembers a winter day when she locked herself out of house and car. She didn’t know what to so she called Fender Mender and they came from Norwood and unlocked her car so she could get her keys. She asked Gary what it was going to cost and he told her it was on the house because Kelly’d kill him if Gary charged Doris.

Doris has been helping people in San Miguel County most of her life. She worked with her dad in the garage and helped him with the dealership after she graduated from high school. She worked at the Placerville Post Office and helped out at Mary’s Store. Doris has been helping local residents with a variety of paperwork problems at the San Miguel County Clerks Office in Telluride for the last 14 years. Doris never turns you down, never tells you “NO”. Doris always finds a solution and sends you on your way with a smile.

She attended grade school through high school in Montrose. Doris lived with her mother in Montrose during the school year and spent her summers with her dad in Placerville. The family was in Placerville weekends and summers and in Montrose the rest of the time so Doris feels she missed a lot of local history in those years.

When she graduated from high school Doris moved to Placerville and helped Glen with the garage doing mechanical work. She remembers helping Glen replace a burned-out motor in a brand-new car. She did whatever it took to help him.

After her father died Doris tried to keep the dealership running but it was too expensive to maintain.

“You had to have all the service tools,” she says, “infrared and all these computer things like they have now plus they’d charge you $500 a month advertising, the same as the big city dealerships. There was no way I could do that so I let it go. I did sell some used cars for a while.”

There was an eclectic collection of lovely, rusted old cars behind the dealership in the field below the road. There was a Hupmobile, a Lincoln Zephyr, several old Buicks, a Packard. Darryl Elder hauled most of them off and some were sold to collectors.

“A guy by the name of Stan Francis got the Hupmobile and the Lincoln Zephyr. I sold a ’41 Packard club coupe to a man in Colorado Springs. He’d had a completely restored 4-door and somebody broadsided him. He came and got my car and rebuilt it from parts from both,” says Doris. “He’ll come up every so often and he’ll stop at the courthouse and I’ll come out and look at his car.”

Doris still owns a cherry 1961 300G Chrysler and a 1953 Chevrolet that are like money in the bank. She claims she’s going to sell them one of these days because she can’t give the cars the care they deserve but so far that day hasn’t arrived.

“The 300G has a 413 V8 with long rams and two four-barrels,” she explains. “Several years ago there was a man from back East and he had two sons aged 10 and 12 and he wanted to look under the hood so he could show his boys because they just don’t make cars like that anymore.”

“Years ago we had a master technician’s course from Chrysler and every month you had a booklet with an update on the new things and Dad and all the mechanics were supposed to take the course. Well I’d do the course and answer all the questions. Much of the time I wouldn’t have been able to fix it but when they had problems I’d tell daddy and the mechanics how to fix it,” she confesses.

“It’s so different with all the new people anymore. Take Mary’s Store for example, used to be the only time you’d have a line was when a load of kids off a bus would come in. Now there’s a line all the time with all the workers who travel on the road. The only time there was much traffic on the road as there is now was on the evening of the Fourth of July. It is like that all the time now. Now there are people driving all the way from Grand Junction to work in Telluride. Years ago they would have said you were crazy. I can remember the time when I thought I was crazy to drive to work in Telluride every day. You just didn’t do things like that,” Doris explains.

“During the hippies days there were so many people hitching rides. When dad went up to county commissioners meetings in Telluride he’d always have a pickup full by the time he got to town. It’s getting to be where there’s so many people around here you have to be careful what you do. Of course the shuttle helps because then you don’t feel bad about passing them up. I’d pick up anybody I knew and for a while I was known as the Placerville taxi,” she says.

Doris feels that the county could save money on the shuttle system by running more vehicles on bad weather days and not running a shuttle mid-day since it’s often empty.

“Of course we always drove wherever we went so it’s hard for me to put up my car and ride the shuttle,” Doris states.

“I get a kick out of all the people living on the mesas. That’s how it was years ago. Dad would go up on Hastings Mesa to the dances. There were whole communities up there. It’s kind of like a big turnaround after so many years,” she says.” “I’d like to take a trip around the county and meet all these people. That’s what I miss about not working the post office Saturdays – I’d get to see all the people.”

“This is home. There’s ducks down on the river and there were deer in my yard last night,” Doris says. “I can’t understand people who retire and first thing they sell out and go somewhere else. Pretty soon they’re right back.”

“You go down through the years and it seems like our friendships and our sense of community aren’t there anymore but when it comes down to reality, the nitty gritty, why then people are always there to help,” say Doris. “This is a great place to live and people are the same no matter what. Maybe they’re a little busier so they don’t have as much time for you but no matter how important they are they’re still the same people. People here know you, no matter who you are. When it comes down to it they’re there for you.”


Editor’s note about Oleh:

I am reminded of the man every day. A talented sculptor, one of his mobiles sits on the coffee table in our living room. But I had not seen or heard from Oleh Lysiak for over 20 years. Ah, the wonders of social media. We rediscovered each other a few months ago, which was when I also discovered the artist is also a writer – at least nowadays – though making marks on paper is only one among a very long list of talents, some slightly sketchy.

O. Z. Lysiak winking

 O.Z. Lysiak has from time to time worked as a reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, public affairs officer, restaurateur, festival booth owner-operator, ski technician, carpenter, sailor, smuggler, tree planter, fishing guide, truck driver, river guide, cook, wood-cutter, trash collector, marine gravity operator, reclaimed wood broker and sculptor. He has written for The Ukrainian Weekly, The Oregonian, and closer to home, The Aspen Daily News, The Aspen Times, The Crested Butte Pilot, The San Miguel Basin Forum – and The Telluride Daily Planet. Oleh’s poetry has been widely published and his is author of several books, including “Neighborhood of Strangers” and “Art, Crime & Lithium,” also available locally at Between the Covers Bookstore.

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak

Given his street cred and the fact he wrote extensively locally in the bad old days, I asked Oleh if he would mine his files for past columns that might be of interest to our readers. I am thankful the man said “yes.”

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