Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Stratton, Colorado

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 20, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The wind buffeted the little Maverick pickup as we drove through Western Kansas on Interstate 70. My wife and I were on our way to Loveland, Colorado, to attend our 50-year high school reunion. The road seemed to stretch on forever as the wind continued to blow. As we crossed the state line between Kansas and Colorado, a dilapidated sign read, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” 

I surveyed the landscape around me and saw nothing but brown, tan, and beige. There was nothing colorful that I could see. The Eastern Colorado plains are among the most sparsely populated areas in the continental United States. The dry grasslands stretched before me as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, there would be a farmstead with a few trees around it to break up the monotonous tan of the dry grasslands. 

Before long, we came to the exit to Stratton, and I turned off the interstate and drove into town. I needed a break to stretch my legs, and the town of Stratton has always fascinated me. It is a small town with a population of less than 700 people. For many years, I have heard stories about Stratton, where my father-in-law grew up. 

As I look around the small town, it's hard to believe that Stratton, Colorado, once had a famous hotel, the Collins Hotel, where many famous people stayed. The great baseball player Babe Ruth was a guest at the hotel. Times have changed significantly over the last hundred years, and there is no longer a hotel. 

Stratton was incorporated on April 15th, 1917, and named after Winfield Scott Stratton, also known as "Mr. Gold". He struck it rich at Cripple Creek in the 1890s. He hit a major vein in his Independence mine and eventually sold the mine in 1899 for $11 million. Stratton remained loyal to his blue-collar roots, giving away most of his money. He willed his wealth to create the Myron Stratton Home for the poor without means of support or unable to earn a livelihood. The Myron Stratton Home opened in 1913. 

In those early days, my wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith in Stratton, Colorado. Her Daddy would tell her stories about the blacksmith shop and her grandpa. Because he died before she was born, my wife only knew her Grandpa through these stories. 

Everyone in the small town of Stratton knew Winfield, the blacksmith. They could hear his hammer ringing against the anvil whenever he was at work in his shop. While recounting stories of his childhood, my wife’s Daddy, known as Red when he was a kid because of his red hair, told her, “When the anvil quit ringing, you had better get home. It was time for supper.” 

All the local children were afraid of Red’s father, the blacksmith. He was always dirty and covered with soot from the fire in the forge at his shop. When kids came by the blacksmith shop, he would run them off. The blacksmith shop was dangerous for a kid, and he didn’t want them to get hurt. He could be harsh with them and had a reputation for being disagreeable. 

One day, Red’s buddies wanted to go to the general store and get some penny candy. “I don’t have a penny,” Red told them. “Why don’t you ask your dad for a penny,” they answered. “I don’t ask my dad for money,” Red replied. His buddies continued to pester him about the penny. Finally, Red asked his dad if he could work to earn a penny. When he went to the blacksmith shop, his buddies stayed on the other side of the street and wouldn’t go near Red’s Dad. 

When Red asked his dad if he could work and earn a penny, his dad asked, “What do you need a penny for?” Red replied, “I want to get some penny candy with my buddies.” “Here is a nickel,” said Dad, “go get candy for you and your friends.” When Red crossed the street and showed his buddies the nickel, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were afraid of this disagreeable man, but he had given Red a nickel to treat them to candy.

The story of the penny candy and the blacksmith reminds me of my relationship with God. When we look at God’s law, we sometimes see a harsh God who wants to restrict us. Because the blacksmith didn’t want kids to get hurt, he wouldn’t let them near his blacksmith shop. The kids perceived this as being harsh, and they feared him. Many of us look at God that way. But God, in His love for us, has given us His law as a place of peace and safety. “Those who love Your law have an abundance of peace, and nothing along their paths can cause them to stumble.” Psalms 119:165 (VOICE) 

Often, we look at God’s law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments and to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. “For this demonstrates our love for God: We keep his commandments, and his commandments are not difficult.” 1 John 5:3 (ISV)

Another lesson from the blacksmith shop is the importance of fire. When a blacksmith is working with metal, the only way that he can shape it is if he has heated it in the fire. In Isaiah 44:12 (NET), the Bible says, “A blacksmith works with his tool and forges metal over the coals. He forms it with hammers; he makes it with his strong arm.” And in Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Have you ever felt like God was testing you in the furnace of affliction? I know I have.

Gentle Reader, I can’t say I enjoy the heat, but I’m thankful God is refining and shaping my life. Steel in the hand of a skilled blacksmith is malleable and not resilient. If the steel were resilient, it would always bounce back to its original shape and be useless to anybody. I want to be useful, and the only way for a steel bar to be transformed into something useful is to be put in the fire and shaped on the anvil. Remember that if you are being tried and shaped in the fires of life, “God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 (NCV)

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