As this year’s Fourth of July parade rolls past the flagpole on the Routt County Courthouse lawn, World War I veteran Walt Webber might well be looking down saluting this town.
A resident of this valley for 35 years, Webber never missed a parade, and donating the flagpole was among his proudest moments.
But locals have more than his flagpole to be thankful for. Born in Fruita in 1891, Webber came to Steamboat in 1927 with wife Gertrude and opened an electrical services and supply store. While hard times and a devastating shop fire made for a difficult first year, Webber quickly made his mark on the town.
He devised a surround-sound system on his work truck, which quickly became synonymous with local events. Blaring music and announcements, the truck transformed Winter Carnivals, Fourth of July parades and rodeos. In the winter, Webber turned his vehicle into the Roving Christmas Tree. Festooned in trees and red lights, he travelled the valley delivering homemade candy to every child.
He also brought TV to the valley. Armed with a homemade device, he spent months scouring the county on horseback for a signal, while his family remained home watching the screen to document any picture they saw — with exact timing. He succeeded on Woodchuck Hill, leasing an acre of land and erecting a booster station. The venture cost him $20,000, of which he recouped $6,000 from the city. One snowy evening in 1949, the community gathered where Colorado Mountain College now stands for a boxing match, the first TV viewing in the valley.
As Steamboat’s radio repairman, Webber the Lamplighter would spend hours talking to people across the world on his CB radio for free. Postcards with call names from Japan to Alaska decorated his workspace.
Granddaughter Cindy Wright laughs as she recalls sitting in the Chief Theatre in the ’60s watching a movie when the sound was interrupted with, “This is the Lamplighter, can you hear me?” He was forced to reduce his system’s power after it interfered with the police radios.
Many remember him from his Roving Christmas Tree tradition, which continues in Hayden today. But from TV and radio to raising of the flag, he brought far more to town, whether it was eclectic or electric.