Collbran pool halls were centers of communication
By Scott Walck
Pool halls were always a part of a small town business community, and Collbran was no exception. From the 1890s until about 1980 there were always one or more pool halls in operation.
Pool halls were only licensed to sell 3.2 beer and there were never any saloons in Collbran that sold hard liquor by the drink until the 1970s. Before Prohibition, whiskey was ordered in by the jug from either De Beque or Denver. After Prohibition, a liquor store opened in town and sold liquor by the bottle.
Pool halls played a vital role in the social scene of Collbran despite the fact that many mothers thought the pool halls were a bad influence on the youth, or any member of society.
Pool halls were the gathering places for men of all ages and walks of life. They would play cards, shoot pool or just visit. The old pool halls were a man’s domain. Rarely did a lady go into one unless it was to get her husband, which was a real embarrassment to the man, and she usually did not have to make another call to get him out.
On occasion older gentlemen would come in for shelter during the day and some of the owners would even leave them locked inside when closing time came. When the owner returned the next day, more likely than not the floors would be swept, a fire built, and other chores taken care of in appreciation for a warm place to sleep. Today some of these men would be considered homeless.
One pool hall was the W.M. Sheppard, located about where the Cattlemen’s Bar is now. I remember it had a beautiful hardwood bar and above the back bar hung a set of polished steer horns that looked like they came out of an old-time movie set. This pool hall was destroyed by a fire in the mid-1940s.
With few, if any, residents having a phone, radio or newspaper, the old pool halls were a communication center, so a lot of news and messages were left and exchanged in the pool hall.
They were employment agencies for someone looking for work. If a rancher needed to hire a ranch hand, the pool hall was the place to go.
Someone looking to buy feed, hay, grain or pasture could visit the pool hall and probably turn up the item that was needed. Livestock was bought and sold. Loans were made and repaid inside these walls, most of them unsecured, with not even the amount written down as a record of the transaction, just a handshake to seal the deal.
Card games and pool tables is where the activity took place. The most popular card games were penny ante poker and pinochle. Sometimes men would play high-stakes poker, and these games could run all-night in a darkened back room. There were several professional poker players around the valley, and they were very business- like in their card playing, never consuming any alcohol while playing cards.
The pool tables were always busy during the noon hour when high school was in session. The older boys always made a wild dash to see who would get a table and play until the five-minute bell rang.
Some of the merchandise sold in pool halls were beer and tobacco. Coors beer was the only brand sold until after World War II. Candy bars, sacked candy, bagged nuts and boxed candy was also sold. Box candy was popular as a good birthday or anniversary present, or a good gift to buy yourself out of trouble.
Most pool halls were not always the cleanest business in town with all the tobacco smoke and overflowing spittoons. But that didn’t make people shy away from buying a shelled, pickled, hardboiled egg or a pickled sausage from gallon jars on the back bar, which the bar keep reached in with his bare hand to fish out.
Some of the other pool halls were Ludlum Pool Hall on High Street, about where city hall is now. The Western Pastime, which was located on the south end of Main Street, just north of the IOOF Hall on the corner of Main and High streets, is now a church.
A necessity or an evil, the old pool halls filled a need and purpose for that time and place.
Scott Walck was born and raised in Collbran, where he and his wife were ranchers for many years. They sold the ranch in 1997 and retired.