Way Back When: Lands End Hill Climb

PHOTOS SPECIAL TO THE SENTINEL—As a July Fourth tradition, the Lands End Hill Climb was a short one, lasting just two years. Louis Unser, left in the poster above, won the race the second year, 1941.

Our nation just celebrated its 238th birthday. On the Western Slope, we still celebrate with many traditions that have been around since the 1880s. Most get their flavor from the hardscrabble, Wild West days of pioneers, miners and cowboys. The Range Call Rodeo has been held in Meeker for 129 years, and Steamboat Springs’ Round-Up Days for 111, and in Telluride the Fireman’s Fourth of July Celebration was the town’s biggest party before all their festival business began. I remember the days.

Recently, my husband and I spent Independence Day in Yampa, Colorado. Their holiday included an old fashioned picnic in the park, a parade that went down the street not once, but twice, and a horse race down the middle of unpaved Moffat Avenue. Last year, it was the Pick n’ Hoe Days in Dove Creek, named for the miners and the farmers. They had a greased-pig race, a greased-pole climb and sack races. It’s been around for just a few years — 60 to be exact. Ouray and Silverton still have parades and fireworks but have replaced the hard rock drilling contests with water fights. Maybe someone put out an eye. 

Not all anticipated long standing traditions last. Take the Lands End Hill Climb, the inaugural race having taken place on July 4, 1940. Al Rogers won that race, making it to the top in 18 minutes, 38 seconds. He won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb that same year. Several locals finished in the top eight that year including Wayne Sankey, Vernon Meek and some Hammonds.

The second annual, and last, Fourth of July Lands End Hill Climb happened in 1941. A young Louis Unser took the title in 17 minutes, 11 seconds. Three fellows from France, all driving Talbot race cars, participated that year, as did Wayne Sankey in the Laycock Motors Special, Harry Snook in the Files Bros. Special, Bob Baughman in the Phillips “66” Special and Overton “Bunny” Phillips from Santa Barbara, California, in a Bugatti. A total of 16 cars and drivers entered the race.

According to the official 1941 program, safety was foremost. If you drink, don’t drive. Keep your children off of the road and don’t crowd the rim of Grand Mesa for fear of someone falling over the edge. Don’t roll rocks onto the course, and, please, don’t start a forest fire.

The committee was made up of many dignitaries. The Daily Sentinel’s own Walter Walker, then a state senator, was a judge, as was Congressman Edward Taylor. Colorado Gov. Ralph L. Carr was an honorary referee. I don’t know what that means. Preston Walker was on the Safety Committee with Sheriff Lumley and the local Boy Scouts. Al Look, William H. Nelson and Rex Howell were in charge of publicity, and Drs. Graves and Tupper were the official physicians. George R. Parsons of Parsons Jewelers was the chief timer, using Longines Timing Equipment. The list of local men on the committee consisted of many automobile dealers and garage owners.

Perhaps it was the United States entering World War II after Pearl Harbor and all resources going the war effort, or lack of young men to race, but the July Fourth Lands End Hill Climb came to a screeching halt. The Colorado Hill Climb Association brought the race back in the 1970s. It still takes place, but this year it will be in August. 

The Wrong Side of the Tracks Run/Race hopes to be one of those Independence Day traditions. This year’s race was our first and next year will be even bigger and better with more events and more festivities. We have a lot to celebrate in Grand Junction and the fact that the south side of town is taking back the river and all it has to offer is a start. We’re here to see that we finish.


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