Today’s podcast is the third in our Pikes Peak series. The past few weeks we talked about the first woman to climb Pikes Peak and a man who moved a peanut using nothing but his nose to the top of 14,000 foot summit. Today we’re going to talk about a man who pushed a wheelbarrow to the top of the peak.
Photo courtesy radiocoloradocollege.orgAt age 49, Larry Hightower was described by the Associated Press as “a wanderer from Ellensburg, Washington” and a “cowboy poet” by the Brownsville Herald. Today we’re going to talk about Hightower and his wheelbarrow adventure.
Hightower was a WWI Veteran who left his home in Washington on July 4, 1946 with nothing but a wheelbarrow and a few supplies. His goal wasn’t necessarily to push his wheelbarrow to the top of Pikes Peak but to spend 12 years pushing his wheelbarrow all over the world. He described described himself as a “messenger of good will” and so he’d stop along his way and deliver lectures on Americanism.
You can listen to the podcast here or read our show notes below.
We don’t know much about Hightower’s early or personal life but we do know that he was quite the media sensation so most of the content for this podcast comes from old news reports. We’ll pick up our story in 1949.
In 1949 a reporter with the Brownsfield Herald wrote “To those of us who hate to push a lawnmower around the yard once a week, this man’s self-imposed stunt seems the acme of foolishness, if foolishness has any acme. Yet we wonder if a lot of us aren’t just as foolish without realizing it. Many of us are pushing wheelbarrows, figuratively speaking. We are trudging a lot of unnecessary worries up hill up a hill…”then the story gets way too sappy to continue on here, it goes on to talk about the burdens we carry in life, comparing them to the load that Hightower has in his wheelbarrow before concluding, “Oh well, if Larry wants to push a wheelbarrow around the world for a dozen years back to where he started that’s his business. On a rough road with plenty of cream he could churn some butter while he’s a-wheeling. Maybe he isn’t more foolish than some others.”
The media referred to Hightower’s wheelbarrow as an “Irish Baby Buggy.” It weighed about 120 pounds and had 2 headlights that were powered by a generator. It also had a radio, and was painted red, white and blue.
Not quite a year after leaving Washington, Hightower made it to Colorado and decided to push his wheelbarrow to the top of Pikes Peak. So he left Colorado Springs on March 11, 1950. The day he left snow started falling, but he told a reporter “I’ve seen worse weather than this” but that didn’t stop him from referring to the peak as “that dad-gummed hill” as he pushed toward the peak.
There are conflicting reports on how long it took Hightower to reach the summit, some say 4 days, others say that it took him 5 days. One report claims that it took him 5 days to reach the summit and when he did his beard was covered with frost from freezing temperatures but that he was “feeling fine.” His plan was to set off four flares when he reached the summit, although I don’t know if he actually did.
On his trip to the summit it’s reported that in his wheelbarrow he pushed crackers, sardines, GI emergency rations, coffee, one blanket, 4 pairs of gloves and a red flare just in case he got into trouble. He wore 4 shirts, 2 pairs of trousers. He was also pretty clever and he carried a flask that was partially filled with sand and sometimes he would make a small stove by pouring alcohol over the sand. I’m not sure if he kept the same packing list for the rest of his journey or if that was just what was in his wheelbarrow when he was climbing the peak. I also don’t know what happened after he climbed the peak, and how long it took him to get down the mountain.
Nevertheless, Hightower continued his trek for another 3 years. He kept a very meticulous log book but some of the facts have since faded into history . There are reports that on his trip he wore out 19 or 20 pairs of shoes, 1,217 or 1,324 pairs of socks, 21 pairs of dungarees, 11 jackets and 4 pairs of rubber wheelbarrow handle-grips. Hightower was gone for 4 years and during this time he covered 28,000 miles walking through every state and parts of Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. He shook hands with 16 governors and did many radio and television interviews. When Hightower returned to Washington he was given the key to Ellensburg and many gifts, one of including a new wheelbarrow, which he declined.
What’s fascinating about Hightower’s story isn’t so much that he pushed a wheelbarrow to the top of Pikes Peak but it’s trying to figure out why he did it. We know that Julia Archibald Holmes, who was the first recorded woman to climb the peak just wanted to stand on the top of the mountain, and Bill Williams, who pushed a peanut with his nose to the top of the peak was trying to win a bet but we don’t know Hightower’s motivation for pushing a wheelbarrow to the top of the peak or around the US, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala.
Was it just a good media platform to promote his speeches or was he just looking to do something a little bit different?