10,000' in 2010

The frightening moments encountered as a teenager on my hitchhiking trips to Scranton didn’t improve my ability to sense danger or to fear people. I hitchhiked into my late teenage years, and never changed my trust and benefit-of-the-doubt to those who crossed my path.

In June 2000, Eileen and I moved to Colorado where she continued her profession as a real estate appraiser and began her own company. At the time, I was working for an insurance dotcom company that offered limited vacation days and an even more limited paycheck. Eileen didn't have to work hard to convince me to take the courses, complete the 2500 hours of fieldwork and report writing, and test for certification. This enabled us to take extensive vacations together plus the income helped me to begin a nest egg toward retirement. The Residential Appraiser career brought me full circle from the house chalk-drawing fun Over-the-Lane days in Jermyn.

 

A Residential Appraiser reports to the lender on the condition of the property being appraised and uses recent sales to support a value conclusion. The work was challenging and many hours were spent in the car driving on more muddy-and-dirt than gravel-and-paved roads. Lunch packed (with snacks) and a thermos of coffee, we covered five counties in rural Colorado, and viewed a wide spectrum of dwelling places. Traveling to dozens of small mountain towns, I met the fascinating people who lived in the hills and valleys. A good cup of coffee was, however, evasive; mountain folk seem to like their coffee burnt, strong, and day old: cowboy coffee.

 

A winter’s assignment in 2010 took me to a town in Lake County known for its 10,151-foot-elevation and two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July. The former silver mining town of Leadville

produces hearty plants and under 3,000 very rugged people (a significant decrease from the silver mining days of 1880 when its population totaled 14,820). Realtors refer to the culm hills throughout the county as 'part of the town's charm.'

Some historic names connected with the town include Margaret "Molly" Brown, who became known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", lived in the town before moving to Denver and the Guggenheim family fortune started out in Leadville in mining and smelting.

Most lenders request an appraisal of the property that their capital is being borrowed toward. Reports of an appraiser in actual physical danger are rare. Sure, bad things do happen, but overall, homeowners are typically happy to see the appraiser because they want a good value for their property. Most will offer something to drink, or eat while you are in their house. But, every now and then, an appraiser will get creeped out by a property or a homeowner.

A robust, bearded man wearing bib overalls and a flannel shirt opened the door. The Leadville homeowner showed me around, pointing out areas he hoped to renovate once he obtained his bank loan. I asked about the foundation, “Is it mud sill?” which was typical for the town.

He answered, “Yes, plus there’s a small cellar.”

“May I see it?” Lenders require appraisers to view and photograph basements and crawl spaces.

 

Mr. Homeowner kicked away a dirty carpet from the center of the kitchen and lifted a trap door. "There's a ladder, but no lights,” his toothless smile divided his mustache from his beard. “I need to show you something down there, anyway.”

Yeah, the bones from the last appraiser. Jokes aside, a little voice in my head cautioned me. Distinguishing between good and bad vibes didn't come naturally. In this situation, any sensible person may have said, ‘Never mind, it’s a crawl space, a photo from here will be good enough.’ Not me.

 

I climbed down the ladder into the darkness and muskiness.

My foot touched the dirt floor, and, for a split second, I froze. But, instead of slamming the trap door closed, Mr. Homeowner followed me with a flashlight, his broad shoulders squeezed through the opening. Once on the ground and hunched over, he led me to a deeper section of the cellar, all the while encouraging me to follow. “Okay, now look here” He directed the light into a hole in the dirt wall.

I peered toward the void, half expecting him to shove me into the dark space. Would serve me right.

 

Would the Leadville police notify the Denver Crime Scene team to Lake County to search for me? I thought about his renovations. Hmm, the bank would probably deny his loan.

Curiosity got the better of me. Leaning forward, Mr. Homeowner’s flashlight revealed several dusty, web covered cartons of varying shaped bottles. "The old-timer who lived here…” the burly man smiled again, “…well, he made peach wine. It’s really good.” He lifted a bottle and guided me to the ladder. Once he was in the kitchen he extended his hand to help me balance. I exhaled, relieved, and continued on with the job of making notes about the property's condition and the homeowner's remodeling plans. Mr. Homeowner pointed to two ruts in the wood floor in front of the coal stove, and laughed, "The old fellow sat here in his rocker all winter, drinking his wine."

 

I took the peach wine home and proudly relayed the events of the day to Eileen who rolled her eyes and shook her head. Overall, she was relieved that I lived to tell the tale.

 

The wine was too sour to drink, so we poured it on the weeds in the driveway.

a true story--

you can't make this stuff up