Tom Ross: The birthday cake that ate Steamboat Springs

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Five-and-a-half hours.That's how much time was required to spread the frosting on F.M. Light & Sons' birthday cake. Mark it down for posterity. Cut out the newspaper clipping and carry it across Oak Street to the Tread of Pioneers Museum. The cake was served up to ravenous revelers at the first Downtown Hoedown on Saturday afternoon. It was 100 feet long in recognition of the landmark downtown retailer's centennial. I'm told the hoedown will be repeated next July. But don't look for a 101-foot cake. I've got a feeling that on July 23, 2006, the Lockhart clan still will be working on polishing off this year's cake.

Saturday's birthday cake was so long that the eight energetic young adults who showed up at 9:30 a.m. to tackle the chore of spreading the icing were still at it at 3 p.m. The kids went through seven, 5-gallon buckets of frosting before every square inch of the cake was slathered in golden yellow confection.

That cake was darn near as long as the Moffat Tunnel, which helped to open up Northwest Colorado's natural resources to the outside world. The cake was so long that it had to be placed on a string of folding tables set end to end. When the last table was set up, they drove a golden spike into the Eighth Street Parking lot to commemorate the completion of the first transcontinental cake.

A measuring tape was stretched the entire length of the cake to prove it was everything it was advertised to be. I snarfed a big block of cake in the 50-foot range.

When the monster dessert was served, people began cutting generous pieces at multiple locations. And that was a good thing, because the cake's enormity had cut the party into two distinct camps -- those who were NOC (north of cake) and those who were SOC (south of cake).

Until a dedicated group of cake hounds got down to business and obliterated a section of cake the length of a folding table right at the 50-foot mark, ours was a community divided.

Before that strategic section of cake had been gobbled and the table supporting it had been removed, friends and neighbors could hale one another only from across the Great Wall of Cake.

"Hey Jeannie! What's the weather like over there on your side of the cake?" "Yeah, it's hot over here, too! Say, if we ever get on the same side of the cake, let's play a game of checkers!"

One of the best parts of the hoedown was the number of old-timers who turned out to reminisce about the old days before F.M. Light & Sons had even turned 50.

At age 69, Wendy Hicks isn't exactly an old-timer. But he can recall the good old days, when everyone you encountered during a stroll down Lincoln Avenue knew you by your name.

Hicks moved to Steamboat in 1942, at the age of six. He still recalls how the snow used to build up on Lincoln Avenue until the merchants literally had to dig a tunnel to their front doors. The city had snowplows but no effective way to haul the snow away.

"Lincoln Avenue used to get narrower and narrower," during the course of the winter, Hicks said.

When he got some growth on him, Hicks did some yard chores for the late Clarence Light, proprietor of F.M. Light & Sons. Struggling behind an old push mower, Hicks cut the grass in the large yard that surrounded the Light home on Logan Street.

Hicks was rewarded well for his efforts -- Clarence Light paid him a dollar to take care of the yard -- it was a lot of money for a youngster in those days.

As often as not, Hicks would take a portion of his earnings to the five-and-dime store where Straightline Outdoor Sports is now. He bought new aggie marbles for his collection.

Hicks went to school in the red brick building we now refer to as the George P. Sauer Human Services Center. Seventh Street was paved, even in the 1940s, but neighboring Eighth Street remained unpaved. and it was an ideal place for Hicks and his friends to scratch a circle in the dirt and play an old-fashioned game of marbles.

You see, there wasn't much traffic to worry about.

"If a car came by, they'd just slow down and go around us," Wendy recalled. Anther longtime Steamboat resident, Gordon Campbell, observed Saturday, "There's a lot of history that's starting to disappear."

Well, I guess that's a perpetual state of affairs, But Campbell is right. Times are changing. It's a good reason to make plans to attend next summer's Downtown Hoedown.

And save extra room for dessert.

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