Tom Ross: 1920s Steamboat mayor knew horse-drawn plow just wouldn’t cut it
September 4, 2010
Steamboat Springs — None of the residents of Steamboat Springs ever dreamed of driving their automobiles in the winter until after George Allen was elected mayor.
Allen, who came to Steamboat from Nebraska, was the youngest mayor in town history when he was elected in 1926 at age 29.
There was a perfectly good reason why folks didn't take their cars out of the garage during winters here in the 1920s: Horses powered all of the Public Works Department's equipment. And the only snowplow was a one-horse rig that was just big enough to clear the sidewalks but not sufficient to clear the streets of snow.
So before Mayor Allen arrived on the scene, if you wanted to go anywhere in winter, skis or a sleigh were pretty good options.
Allen's son Bob flew in from Santa Barbara, Calif., last week to visit the extended Allen clan that continues to live in the valley. He took the opportunity Friday to share anecdotes and his family tree with an eager audience at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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"Doc Willett urged Dad to run for mayor, and he was still thinking it over when he read an article in the newspaper saying that he was running," Bob Allen said.
George Allen was an auto dealer and a general store manager, and one of his priorities upon his election was replacing the horse in Steamboat's snow removal stable. He helped the city acquire a small tractor to clear the sidewalks and later buy a single plow to clear the streets — one that had sufficient horsepower but burned gas instead of hay.
Allen ruffled some feathers when he decided it was high time to replace the city's wooden water mains and directed city staff to begin collecting past-due water rent.
"Back in those days, no one took the water rent seriously, so that hardly anyone ever paid it on time and some never sent in their money," George told the Steamboat Pilot in 1973. "I decided that this was going to change."
George sent Town Marshal Charlie Auter out to collect the bills or turn off the water.
"Several pretty prominent citizens couldn't believe their eyes when they came face to face with Charlie and his mission," George told the newspaper. "But those same people became some of my very closest friends after that."
George Allen was born George Glassburn on June 30, 1897, to Manuel and Cary Glassburn in Valparaiso, Neb. He was the youngest of seven children, and his mother died shortly after he was born. His father, unsure of how he would cope with taking care of the children, asked a neighbor family, the Allens, if they would care for the baby for a year. The Allens were open to the idea but feared they would become too attached to the child to give him up after 12 months. The families agreed to an adoption by the Allens, with lots of visits from the Glassburns.
As a young man, he moved to Steamboat Springs in 1916 and went to work briefly in his uncle Ed Furlong's hardware store. He entered the Navy in 1917 and made numerous trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, escorting troop ships in a wood-bottomed cruiser called the Galveston.
Upon his return to Steamboat, he and Furlong took over an Overland automobile agency in Craig, and three years later, George opened a Furlong's store in Hayden.
The young man should have stayed in Craig. After going on a double blind date, he fell for the other girl, Faye Tuttle, from Broken Bow, Neb. Tuttle had come to Craig in about 1910.
"He put a lot of miles on the Overland going back and forth between Hayden and Craig," Bob Allen said Friday.
Depending on whom you ask, the two were married either on March 31 or on April Fools' Day, 1920.
"They were married late at night by a justice of the peace," Bob Allen said. "Dad always said it was April 1, and Mom always denied it."
When Furlong died that year, the Hayden store was closed, and George Allen assumed management of the Steamboat store, a role he would play for 20 years.
Ultimately in 1949, George and his older son, the late Bill Allen, went into the clothing business together with a store that bore their name. Today, Bill's son Tod and wife, Robin, continue to own and operate Allen's Clothing on Lincoln Avenue. Tod's adult siblings, who also live in Steamboat, are Gina Walker and Lon Allen.
George Allen stepped down as mayor of Steamboat after just one four-year term, but in that time, he helped move Steamboat into a modern era.
"I don't believe in holding an office for years and years," George told the Steamboat Pilot in May 1973. "Each should have his turn, and if you stay in that job too long, you begin to sometimes react toward people in a way which is neither good for you nor for them."
We can be grateful that a young Mayor Allen had the wisdom to trade in Steamboat's horse-drawn snowplow almost 84 years ago.