John Comer to be honored for McCoy waterwheel restoration
MCCOY — There is no question about McCoy resident John Comer’s commitment to preserving local history. Comer, 84, has restored the landmark waterwheel on his ranch three times since 1976, with the most recent restoration last year. If spring run-off in the Colorado River cooperates, the waterwheel, undoubtedly one of the county’s most prominent historic landmarks, should be around for a while longer.
The Eagle Valley Library District and ECHS will honor Comer with the Nimon-Walker Award on Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m. at the Avon Public Library. The award, established in 2001, recognizes individuals and families who have helped preserve the history of Eagle County.
Comer, a retired lawyer, became the custodian of the waterwheel in 1969 when he purchased the 250-acre Waterwheel Ranch. Ranchers desperate to deliver irrigation water to their fields along the Colorado River built the original wheel in 1923. Although the Colorado River flows adjacent to the land, there was not enough drop in the water to gravity-feed water into irrigation ditches. The 48-foot diameter waterwheel was the solution to the problem.
However, time and high water wreak havoc on wooden waterwheels. Comer first restored the waterwheel in 1976, using grant money from the state and tapping into the historic knowledge and present day construction skills of his rancher neighbors. The wheel restoration process was repeated in 1993, after a huge log traveled down river and tore up the structure. Trouble came again in the form of a tree trunk during run-off in the spring of 2014, requiring Comer and his helpers to rebuild the wheel a third time.
“I just couldn’t live with it,” he says of the damaged wheel.
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“I think anybody who drives Highway 131 and catches a glimpse of that magnificent waterwheel just south of McCoy probably experiences a moment of appreciation for this bit of local history,” said Eagle County Historical Society President Kathy Heicher.
The Nimon-Walker award presentation will also feature local actor Cooter Overcash in his one-man show, “An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt.” Overcash will share insights into the famous president, as well as revealing Roosevelt’s connection to Eagle County history.
The Nimon-Walker event is free and open to the public. For more information go to evld.org or eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.