Interview with Tom Jochems 2019

Owner of the Rapids Lodge and Restaurant 1969 to 1976

In October, a previous owner of the Rapids Lodge, Tom Jochems, spent some time with us and enjoyed lunch out by the river. Tom owned the Rapids from 1969 to 1976 with partners Steve Shryock and silent partner Rob Carmichael (also owned the Pine Cone Inn – now Pancho and Lefty’s). 

Max Ludwig, current owner at left. Tom Jochums at right.

Tom and his partners served two menu items in the Rapids Restaurant: Crab Legs (+/- $7.00) and T-bones (+/- $6.00). Folks came from all around and they did a roaring business! The biggest draw to the Rapids besides the scenic location along the river, was the restaurant and entertainment. Live music and dancing on the wood floor was a highlight. The Rapids hosted a lot of weddings as we do today. Tom was a “jack of all trades”, doing all the jobs necessary to operate a restaurant and lodge whether it was cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, waiting tables … you name it. During those years finding staff for the Rapids was not a problem because all staff were housed at the Rapids and housing with a job is a great attractant, just like it is today. The employees mostly loved the entertainment!

Tom remembers that Bob Lind played here. He had one great hit called “The Elusive Butterfly of Love” which he performed at the Rapids. Rita Coolidge visited the Rapids and maybe sang a few songs as a guest. Rita was married to Kris Kristofferson, who was friends with the local Garber family and came to visit them. Kris is rumored to have played at the Rapids on occasion. Richie Havens, who played at Woodstock, also entertained guests. One favorite celebrity was bartender John Larroquette of Night Court fame, who regaled guests with great tales and made them laugh (also worked at the Pine Cone Inn). Guests just sat at the bar and ordered drink after drink listening to John. He was great for business!

In Tom’s day, the very trees that stand outside the Rapids now, were already gracing the Tonahutu River bank. The interior was a little different though. The stairs from the Lodge Guest Rooms descended on both sides of the door. There was a piano. Tom remembers that the “back dining room” or “Tonahutu Room” as we call it today, was a screened in porch. The bar was actually along the North edge of the main dining room platform perpendicular to the river and then extended toward where the current bar is now in an L shape.  Tom built the bar back which consists of ornate wood carvings by local Mike Matthews and stained glass supposedly made with real Cobalt (CO, atomic number 27) that came from a mansion in Chicago. Cobalt-based blue pigments have been used in jewelry, glass and paints for centuries. We are not sure where the mountain scene of stained glass came from but was likely acquired by owners Lou and Kathy Nigro in the 80’s when they turned the screened in porch into an additional dining room. The doors to the wine cellar (or liquor closet) at the wait station came from the Malo Mansion on Grand Lake which burned down in 1963. Read more here at the Grand Lake Area Historical Society website. Today, all that can be seen of the Malo residence is the old chimney and fireplace on the north shore of Grand Lake. The beer cooler behind the bar is original, predating Tom’s ownership. The fireplaces are still the same although they were wood burning back then!

Most of you haven’t seen inside the kitchen and it is in many ways the same. The beautiful wood “reach-in” cooler is original but now in a different location in kitchen. The walk-in cooler is the same one that Tom used as well. Some of the kitchen shelves had sliding wood doors back in Tom’s day. The doors are no longer there, but the door guides are!

It was particularly interesting to tour the Lodge Guest Rooms on the second and third floors. Tom lived in what is now Lodge Guest Room 7 “Garden Room” but his bathroom was the bathroom that is now Lodge Guest Room 1’s bathroom (Tonahutu Room). All the rooms were about the size of the small Lodge Guest Rooms 2 and 3. This means that Lodge Guest Rooms 1, 4 and 5 were a total of 6 small rooms back in the day (contributing to a total of maybe 10 rooms on the second floor). Lodge Guest Room 4’s bathroom was a shared women’s bathroom and Lodge Guest Room 5’s bathroom was a shared men’s bathroom. The entry to Lodge Guest Room 6 (the whole 3rd floor) was only from what is the exterior fire escape at the North end of the building. The current entrance from inside the lodge second floor hallway was not there in Tom’s time. Each dormer on the third floor was a small guest room (a total of 6). The breakfast nook area was not there in Tom’s day. No windows on the third floor faced the river! Even today, it is only the breakfast nook area window that does face the river. There were no TV’s and no telephones.

The Rapids parking lot at that time was partly taken up by a large above ground pool. The three cabins lined the south side and four cabins lined the north side (where the Rapids Suites Building is now located). The pool was aging at that time and had a few cracks demanding constant topping up. One night, an employee managed to turn the water heat up to a point where he and his girlfriend could enjoy a night swim with steam coming off the water. Tom and his partners decided then that the pool would have to go. 

Tom and his partners made a major improvement in the form of bringing “winter water” from the town to the Rapids. This involved digging up Rapids Lane for an 8 foot deep trench. During this process they discovered the old water channel that in the early days of Grand Lake, ferried water from the Tonahutu River, under the now south corner of the River View Condos and through the parking lot at an angle towards the cabin closest to the main entrance to the Rapids. The aqueduct was about 3 feet wide, V shaped and lined with thick two inch pieces of wood. The last remaining visible portion of the trench is now located by the Smith Eslick Cottage and the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. See a photo of Grand Ave showing the water ditch in the 1930’s here.

The Rapids Lodge was strictly a summer business before Tom and his partners brought in winter water. Their summer season ran from June 1st to the end of September. Then the water was shut off and the Rapids lay quiet all winter.

The Rapids Condos and River View Condos had not yet been built when Tom was at the Rapids so the Rapids Property was extensive along the river. There was a lawn where the current restaurant patio is, that was mowed and swept, but the rest was wild. Elk and deer were often seen on the property. Moose were not seen at the Rapids in those days because there weren’t any! Twelve Moose were reintroduced to North Park in 1978 and so were not seen at the Rapids for a long time until their numbers increased and they made their way over the Never Summer Mountain Range and into Middle Park.

Grand Lake was a different town back then. It was still very much a little bit of the Wild West. It was a very friendly and fun place. Horses were commonly ridden into town by the local cowboys and every bar had a hitching post. The Lariat Saloon still has theirs! Tom remembers a horse or two inside a bar on occasion! “Western Days” back then offered street gun fights and more. Everybody dressed up in Western clothes and got into the spirit of the event, now the Buffalo Barbecue Weekend. Other fun events in town included the “Sunrise Slalom” which began with Spring skiing races on top of Trail Ridge Road and ending with water skiing on Grand Lake right after the ice broke up (no wet suits). They would also have water skiing shows, where the girls would stand on each other’s shoulders in acrobatic style. Male skiers also performed. The local traffic cops would mostly just give you a ride home if they thought you needed one after visiting a few bars and there was a 3.2 bar called “The Fog Horn”, most recently known as “Grumpy’s Saloon” and currently “White Buffalo Pizza”. Grand Lake was also a visited by “The Brothers Fast”, a biker group that enjoyed the dining and entertainment at the Rapids. They were always respectful and fun.

Tom hails from Wichita, Kansas and pretty much grew up visiting Grand Lake for 6 weeks in the summer. When he was 26, he decided to live in Grand Lake, buy the Rapids with his partners, and work and ski in Winter Park in the winter.