A Little Soused on the Prairie

Six decades after Prohibition failed, a Colorado town known for living it up considers going dry

Even as the region's major towns relit the drinking lamp, however, vestiges of Prohibition-era behavior lingered in the state's northern reaches. As recently as the late 1980s, state liquor agents busted a moonshiner operating in Fort Lupton. The Arkansas native was cooking up sourmash in a still and selling the hooch out of his apartment in a retirement village, recalls state liquor enforcement director David Reitz: "For him it was as much cultural as it was making a buck."

Booze was certainly part of Grover's cultural fabric by the 1980s--at least over rodeo weekend. "It got well-known around northern Weld County that kids could drink up there," says Monty Lemley. As many as 3,000 people would stream into town, Lemley adds, and the closest many of them came to a horse was tapping a pony keg.

Things had gotten so rowdy by the 1990s, says veteran sheriff's officer John Cooke, that a few Groverites were glad when the sheriff finally put his foot down. "Some people were upset about it, but others were glad we came up there and worked it," says Cooke. "It was supposed to be a family thing, and people were bringing truckloads of beer and booze and getting all tanked up."

Whatever civic outrage may have resulted from Grover's summertime brews, though, nobody went so far as to suggest that the town go dry. The community, after all, had a history of tolerating borderline activity by adults and minors alike. Mayor Duggan not only remembers the P&E Tavern but says, "Hell, I grew up there." Paul Vey says he wants to keep booze out of town in part to protect Grover's teenagers, but he adds, "Hell, if they get someone to go to Hereford and get it for them, that's their business."

In fact, though the 1995 ruckus at the rodeo briefly got Grover into the news, nothing even resembling a temperance movement surfaced until the dustup over the liquor license at Trudy's. As is so often the case with small-town disputes, it can all be traced back to a feud.

In this case, the tiff pits the Hayes family against the entire rest of the town--more or less.

"What it actually boils down to is, we have a group of people wanting to get the bar who aren't really well-liked in this community," says Duggan. He doesn't have any problem with the Hayeses himself, the mayor hastens to add. But plenty of other people do, especially older folks who've lived in Grover all their lives and view the Hayeses, who first came to town in the 1970s, as troublemakers.

"They just think they don't have to follow the town rules at all," complains Vey. "If they want a ditch dug, they dig it and don't ask or nothin' else."

"I'm an outsider, and that's pretty much the trend," confirms A.J. Hayes, who has called her opponents "good old boys" and accused them of discriminating against her and her husband on water bills and other civic matters. "Seventy-five percent of the town don't frequent this place," she says, adding that she gets most of her trade from cattle-truck drivers hauling stock between Sterling and Cheyenne.

That doesn't mean the Hayeses have shied away from involvement in local affairs. The couple used to come to meetings of the town board "and just raise holy hell about anything and everything," recalls Duggan. For a time, things got so tense that boardmembers asked sheriff's deputies to sit in on meetings, says county commissioner George Baxter. "They were just at each other's throats for some time."

Ralph Hayes even got himself elected mayor, though he quit in a huff before completing his two-year term. Hayes resigned about three months ago, allegedly tired of hearing people complain that he might influence his wife's and son's attempts to get liquor licenses. "Something come up that made him mad, and he just pulled the keys to the city hall out of his pocket, threw them on the desk and said, 'I quit!'" recalls Paul Vey, a former mayor himself.

According to Duggan, when it became obvious that the situation at Trudy's qualified as a bona fide controversy, the town board decided to mail out surveys in its water bills asking townspeople what they thought. The responses allegedly showed Groverites split down the middle on the booze question. But Duggan says suspicions arose when Mayor Hayes and his daughter-in-law Mona, the town clerk, wouldn't let anyone else see the survey results. "A lot of people had a hard time with that," he says.

A.J. Hayes won't comment on why her husband--who remains sequestered in the backyard as his wife continues an interview--threw in the towel. "When he was mayor, I never went to a meeting, and now that he's not, I don't miss it," she says. But Duggan says things have calmed down at board meetings since he took over. "I set them straight the first meeting I held, just by being firm with them and telling them that, by God, if they want to speak, they'll raise their hands," he says of the town's malcontents. "If I want to hear from 'em, I'll call on 'em, and if I don't call on 'em, they can sit down and shut up. The other previous mayors, even Ralph, used to just let people come up there and run all over 'em."

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