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Phil Machotka – The Story Guy

Phil Machotka tells local history stories that make the listener’s hair stand on end. Like a story of a long-ago rescue party stopped by a snowstorm in northern El Paso county and a cowboy, Mike Fagan, who was sent out to round up the stragglers and was found the next morning, frozen along with his horse. On moonlit nights, Machotka tells, one can see Mike’s ghost-horse grazing, tethered to the grave.Machotka’s stories make the listener want to grab a map and a shovel and dig for buried treasure. There was a story of an English buccaneer, Jonathan Swift, who traveled through Colorado in the early 1700s. The pirate’s journals tell of his sighting the great peak (Pikes Peak), the balanced rock (at Garden of the Gods), and then the trip eastward. Near the Big Sandy, the pirate and his companions were attacked by Indians. They managed to bury 50 mule loads of silver, which they planned to come back for. They never made it back and the treasure remains buried.A history buff, who discovered that he has a knack for storytelling, Machotka dresses in period costume and tells stories to whoever will listen. Classrooms, county fairs, living history exhibits and family reunion campfires have all been venues for the “story guy.”Machotka was born in New Orleans and grew up in Wisconsin. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army and went to Texas. When he was age 21, he took a trip to Colorado and liked the state so much he decided that he wanted to live here.For one year, he worked as a policeman in Woodland Park and then moved to Colorado Springs, where he worked for the city’s police department. Machotka lived with his uncle and across the street lived Kathy, whom he eventually married.The couple moved to Wisconsin, where Machotka worked for the Department of Defense police. His wife wanted to come back to Colorado, so they moved back in 1968, and Machotka attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.He eventually worked at what was then Falcon Air Force Base, now Schriever Air Force Base, where he retired in 1997 from his position as a shift supervisor at the power plant. Machotka worked for the government for 27 years and spent 10 years each in the Colorado Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, and the Retired Reserve, earning the rank of master sergeant.After retiring from Schriever, Machotka worked for several school districts. He began with Peyton as a substitute bus driver, then Kiowa as an evening custodian, then Peyton Elementary School as a custodian. Machotka, who currently works for District 49 as a substitute bus driver, said, “They have me all over the place, and I’m having a great time doing it.” The Machotkas live north of Peyton, and his wife is the librarian at Falcon Middle School.Machotka has enjoyed reading since he was a child and has been studying Colorado history for many years. His interest in Colorado history was intensified when he began reading about lost treasures. Machotka learned there is $80 million dollars worth of lost treasures in the state of Colorado. Train robberies gone bad, prospectors hiding their find, bank hold-ups are some of the many ways that riches were buried or lost in the state.When Machotka was working as a custodian at Peyton Elementary School, word got around that he knew a lot about Colorado history, and teachers invited him to tell stories in the classroom. A fifth grader who couldn’t remember his name told his teacher, “We’ve got to get him back, you know, the “story guy,” and the label stuck.Machotka said, “There’s so much the kids have lost today. We’ve expanded our families and the families are fluid … We’re losing our connections.” He enjoys storytelling because it gives his listeners a connection to the past. “You’re giving the people a feeling of what was here. That’s what I try to get through in my stories.”More on Phil MachotkaAny children? Three daughters: Jennifer, who is the school nurse in Calhan and runs the Second Alarm Ranch; Susan, who lives in Liberal, Kan., and is married to a police officer; and Diana, who is graduating from UCCS this spring with a degree in communications and theater.Education? I have 5 1/2 years of college education, mostly in elementary education, but no degree. After retiring, I went to school for a year and a half for nursing. I got all my pre-requisites done. The professor said there are 206 bones in the human body, and I’d have to know all of them in six weeks. I realized I’d be 64 years old when I was ready to be hired as a nurse. So, I went to Memorial Hospital’s EMT program. I’d like to get into the CERTS (Citizens Emergency Rescue Team) program with the sheriff’s department.Hobbies? I read a lot. My wife and I like to go camping.Favorite characters? The character I do a living history presentation of is the mountain man known as Old Bill Williams. Born just after the revolutionary war, Williams became a Baptist minister. His family moved to western Illinois where they were missionaries to the Osage Indians. Instead of converting the Indians, the Osage converted him to their way of thinking. He spent 40 or 45 years traveling the west. He was a trapper, based at Bent’s Fort, and helped lay out the Santa Fe Trail. Williams wintered in Taos, where he’d go to the local watering hole and fill up with “Taos lightning.” Then he’d go to the general store and buy bolts of cloth. He’d take them to the town square and throw them out into the middle of the square and watch the Mexican ladies fight over them.

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