Beulah & Family

We moved to Beulah in 1953 when I was about a year and a half years old. My earliest memories are of Beulah and I know my sisters also have great memories of our lives in the beautiful valley. When Dad bought Gayway Park first we lived in the little house just west of Gayway for a few years and then we moved to what was known as “The Davis House” which was directly behind Gayway.

Beulah is in the mountains 20 miles west of Pueblo and has always been linked to Buddy, Tillie and our entire family.

Matilda (Trabucco) Johnson known to everyone simply as “Tillie”. Mom was the rock that held Dad’s incredible life together. This is the wedding announcement from 1939. They were married exactly 47 years to the minute of Dad’s death on December 5, 1986. Buddy Johnson would not have become 'Buddy Johnson' without Tillie Johnson.

13-4 Gayway Park, now known as 'The Songbird', is centrally located in Beulah valley. Dad proudly painted the sign on the front window in the summer of 1953 for the Grand Opening dance. The Beulah years at Gayway, and in general, were simply a wonderful time in all of our lives. It was an idyllic time. Pat remembers how much fun the very first opening night of Gayway was! It was the beginning of a fun, wild ride for us and the valley. 

My sister Kitty riding Pat and me on Chubby around the Gayway property. He was family, so gentle and calm, when Dad wasn’t taking Chubby off to a parade or an event someplace Kitty was usually riding him.

The whole gang in the restaurant at Gayway. Gayway was a family affair when Dad was away Mom ran it all. Sometimes Dad’s parents who had a cabin in Beulah for years would give a helping hand along with Dad’s brother Doyle and Grandma’s brother Uncle Bud. Gayway had a restaurant, a small gift shop, a pool room with two tables, and a very large dance hall. In total the property was about 5 acres which held lots of cars sometimes and lots of horses at other times. A very busy time even when Dad was away. The family: Mom, Pat, Kitty, me and Dad. Good, exciting and busy times!

Often after we closed up Gayway at night Dad would say to us all “Let’s go see some deer", so we would drive up the highway past the Pueblo Mountain Park on what we called “the New road" and we’d always see deer. Sometimes in the night, it would be snowing it was magical and yes even then we usually saw deer.

Dad did lots of things with the Pueblo Army Depot and one day when he was there for an appearance they told him of a female antelope that had been killed leaving a baby. Dad brought her home and she became our pet named ‘Tinkerbell'. We always had lots of dogs (Buttons, Spot) and lots of cats and for awhile we even had a pet skunk (though he was mean and would hiss), but Tinkerbell was so special, she would just wander around with us. I was so little at the time, when I stood next to her, I’d put my arm out and it just barely went over her back. She’d just stand there. Here Pat feeds Tinkerbell in front of Gayway.

Tinkerbell thought she was a dog, she would stick close to our dog Buttons. Pat remembers that when Buttons would lay down under one of the beds, Tinkerbell would lay near him with her long legs sticking out. She was such a sweet animal, very domesticated, she was family too.

This is the first house in Beulah where we lived for 4 years. It’s on the Gayway property, just west of the large building at 8908 Harmon Drive. I remember when I was tiny with Dad listening to the cool summer rain on the tin roof of the room on the right.

The last house in Beulah where we lived for 5 years was also known as "The Davis House" as shown in this wonderful early 1900’s photograph. It’s located directly behind Gayway at 8872 Central Avenue, but it was totally rebuilt in the 1990’s and just vaguely looks like this old photograph.

The Davis House originally was a stagecoach stop and boarding house. Many fond memories in that great old house. Photograph courtesy of the Beulah Historical Society Museum. By the way, we don’t know who all these people are.

A 1955 photograph of Dad and one of his many Cadillacs. The Beulah Post Office and Beulah Historical Society Museum now occupy a building which is now located in the empty area to the right of the Gayway building. In this photograph, on the window is a painted sign about the Sunday Gayway Jamboree.

The Beulah Historical Society Museum has a nice display about Dad and Gayway which includes a number of the original framed images which my parents cherished and even includes his banjo from the Jamboree.

Here my sister Kitty, as a teenager, sings with Dad and The Colorado Rangers. During a Jamboree performance there were a variety of performers, it was a welcoming event open to all. Kitty sings as Roy Leatherman plays in the background.

Gayway was the center of all types of activities in the valley. Here are posters for four years of the Beulah Melodramas held at Gayway 1954-1957. Posters courtesy of Bessy Hanratty.

Beulah was our home and Mom and Dad were very involved with all the communities’ activities. Mom and Mrs. Leonard Allee were our Cub Scout den moms, I remember all of us climbing Mt. Elbo and eating lunch among the rocks toward the top.

Buddy and Stan Hiatt constructed a large five sided Christmas Star which was erected on the top edge of Beulah Hill left of the Pueblo highway. It was on E. M. Christmas' property where it could be seen from much of the valley. I remember they would light it at Thanksgiving and keep it on through New Year’s Eve. It had white lights through each of the 8’ 2 x 4’s that outlined the star. They maintained it for probably 5 years or so. At Christmas Dad had all the scouts come to his woodworking shop in the garage to make gifts for our moms for Christmas.

The Beulah Valley Saddle Club with their horses and in this case their wagon, often gathered at Gayway. I believe this is Jimmy Armstrong, a Beulah rancher who was heavily involved with the saddle club.

In spite of an intense schedule on TV, radio and the band we traveled once a year. This was taken on the way to California in 1957 at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. This photograph was taken after the previous night’s big dance in Rouse, Colorado.

Here is an early 1950’s photograph of Buddy and the Rangers probably playing a Colorado State Fair street dance. The band has always been a part of the family's lives. That’s Kitty kneeling down at left and Pat is dancing at center.

The Fair involved not only Dad, but all of us. Here’s my sister Kitty as a Beulah Valley Saddle Club Queen’s attendant in 1959 waiting for the State Fair parade to begin. We haven’t identified the girl at the left (if you recognize her email me), but in the middle is Susan Hurd and Kitty is on the right.

While Dad was off entertaining around the fair, Mom was picking up ribbons. She had a drawer full. Dad would play music or host events, Mom would enter foods (and win) and sister Kitty would ride in the rodeo grand entrees. L o n g, but great days, lots of memories!

For as long as any of us can remember the band members were large in our lives, like we had lots of uncles. In this image, the girls dress up appropriately in cowgirl outfits, Pat is on the left and Kitty is on the right.  The band members, the practice sessions, the music were simply pervasive in our family to the joy of everyone. Before we moved to Beulah, when we lived in Pueblo,Kitty remembers that all the neighborhood kids would come sit on the porch in the evening to listen to the band's practice.

Here is Mom, Kitty and Pat in 1951 with Dad’s new car, a Buick, (the last one which wasn’t a Cadillac) and one of the very first of many band trailers.  Not sure where it was taken, possibly in Beulah.

And me with a later band trailer probably about 6 years later.

In 1957 Beulah was caught in a terrible blizzard. The snow was so deep and weighed so much that it caused the roof of Gayway’s octagonal dance hall to collapse. Everybody was isolated in Beulah for two weeks before they could open the roads again. I was 7 at the time and the snow was over my head. Jess Downey had an appendicitis and had to be air lifted out of the valley by Camp Cason helicopter to the hospital. The rectangular dancehall that exists today was rebuilt by Buddy beginning in the summer of 1958. Photograph courtesy of the Beulah Historical Society Museum.

It was a terrible winter, here’s Chubby near his stable which was toward the back of the Gayway property at the time. Poor Chubby looks like he rather be anywhere else!

It took a long time to dig out from this record setting blizzard. At left with snow stacked deep on its roof is one of the three cabins which existed along the far west edge of the Gayway Park property which have now been gone for decades. You can see how deep the show was even on the roofs. Luke Pierson a long time Beulah resident lived in one for years.

Some long time Beulah residents who were always around Gayway were: Luke, Adelle Russell, Mr. Arend and Mr. Porter. Adelle was a crafts person who made many custom items for the family. She did woodburning decoration on picture and mirror frames, footstools and other items many of which the family still have today. Adelle also made wooden lamps and arrow head encrusted items, some of which were sold in Gayway’s gift shop.

You can see why it took Beulah 2 weeks to dig out and why we were cut off for so long. In the foreground is our brand new 1957 Chevrolet station wagon and in the background is our house on Central. Notice how it even stacked up on the TV antenna!

Its amazing that even in the midst of utter devastation, kids still have fun. Gayway was such a part of us all. In my case it actually was in me, playing that spring, jumping off the edge of what had been the dance floor to the ground I ended up with a good sized sliver in my right hand, part of which is still there. Here Pat and I mug for Mom’s ever present camera, Dad with shovel is in the background beginning the seemingly overwhelming task. There never was any question, Gayway would be rebuilt.

January 1958, digging out and Gayway without some walls and a roof. Buddy in cap at far right starts clearing the debris with the help of the people of Beulah. You can see some of the remaining walls of what had been an octagonal dance hall, these too would be taken down when Dad rebuilt Gayway that summer in its current rectangular shape.

Easter Sunday 1962 Dad and Chubby ready for something, maybe an Easter egg hunt? They are in the backyard of our second Beulah house at 8872 Central Avenue. Gayway dance hall, which had been recently reconstucted, is in the background.

The last time Buddy and The Colorado Rangers played Gayway in the mid 1980’s. From left to right: Jim Harrington (steel guitar), Roy Wilker (guitar), Buddy on drums, Jim Lacy (bass guitar) and Laura Lacy (piano). This was the configuration of the last few years of the Rangers. The drum front design was the last of many since 1945 and can be seen in the Pueblo Heritage Museum. Among these seasoned musicians are probably more than 200 years of playing music, it was second nature to them all, like breathing.

Christmas time in Pueblo in late 1980’s. We moved back to Pueblo in September of 1962 to 1224 Lake Avenue. This is where the band practiced on Thursday nights for decades and where Mom became famous for her chocolate cakes with all the band members and their wives. Thursday nights were practice and cake nights.

This Christmas shot shows our Christmas decorations which we made in Dad’s workshop in Beulah. It was a family affair. Dad would stoke up the old pot belly stove. Wed decide what to make, then Pat would draw them, Dad would cut them and we’d all chip in and paint them. Each year after Thanksgiving we made a new Christmas decoration. When Mom pasted away in 2004, the family had lived in this house for 42 years.

Buddy's surprise retirement party from the City of Pueblo (but not from the Rangers) was held at one of the Pueblo Eagles’ clubs where Buddy and the band had played for decades. In a rare occurrence, Dad was speechless, when he saw the packed crowd of coworkers from the City of Pueblo, musicians who’d played with him over the decades, TV and radio buddies, and countless friends.

The happy couple at Buddy’s surprise retirement party March 24, 1984.           © John Johnson 2019       All rights reserved.