Lady Carpenter

Lady Carpenter

Jaime digging footers in a condo garage
Jaime digging footers in a condo garage

    I’ve met numerous people who live in the many old miner cabins through out the county, similar to Harold’s or Carl Fulton’s. Often I refer to these people as “the cabin people.” Their lives are as colorful and unique as the miner’s during the gold rush. Their brief stay in the high country is constantly being phased out by development as well as the US Forest Service.

    Each year the Rangers or property owners demolish a greater number of cabins, which are often jokingly referred to as employee housing. Usually cabin people have more demanding lives than those with modern conveniences, due to the lack of public utilities and isolated locations away from plowed roads.

    I had seen women working on a number of construction projects in Summit County. Laboring is tough work in the city under good conditions, but in Summit County, can be grueling. Any time a women works this type of job, I’m impressed. While I framed steel studs at the St. John’s construction site in Keystone, there was a woman named Jaime Frieze working on the job. Jaime not only took on heavy-duty work, but she did it well and better than many men. At the time I saw her on the job, I didn’t realize the rustic lifestyle she had to deal with. After getting home at the end of a winter day’s work, I take a long hot shower and continue warming up next to the fireplace.

    For Jaime to get home, she has to drive half way up Boreas Pass. Then she has to walk a snowy path through the woods to get to her decayed old log cabin. When Jaime finally gets home, her room is cold and she has to build a fire for heat and hot water for a bath. If she hasn’t enough wood spit for the fire, then her bath is delayed until she has enough.
    “My brother moved out here and, for about four or five years, wrote to me, and told me about Breckenridge. His girlfriend finally sent me a little picture of Lake Dillon. Plus they had a son and I thought, it’s going to be my only nephew and it’s beautiful out here and I’ll come out and make a visit. I got a ride out with some people. 

Inside Jaime's cabin
 Jamie's stove heats water keg above and toilet seat behind

    “We drove and camped cross country. That meant camping on the snow. We had a fire under our tarp to keep warm, because everything was water soaked. Lots of smoke coming in under our tarp, on our trip. When we finally got here, I just pulled my backpack out of their truck, and I’ve never left.
    “Then we stayed at my brother’s house that was unfinished. It had two rooms that were heated and the rest of the place had plastic windows. It was pretty primitive. We stayed there a couple of months.
    “I worked at this bookstore and the owner was financially going under, so she didn’t pay me much. However, she let me live in the children’s section of the bookstore, since she couldn’t afford to pay me and I needed to live. And so, we both did each other a favor. I rolled out my sleeping bag there for probably a month. Then I moved into a trailer for a month. Then I stayed with a couple of people for another month. So it was about six months altogether before I got my cabin.
    “At that time, I was working in that bookstore and another as well, and in addition, I was a waitress at the Gold Pan. I had those for awhile until I got tired of it. I’m really not into the service types of work…being a waitress or a maid.

    So after thinking about it, I decided I wanted to do what guys do. They work all summer, spring, fall and ski all winter. So I decided `I am going to do what they do.’ You know I’ve been into skiing for a couple of years, and I kind of like construction.
    “So I got a job as an apprentice carpenter at St. John’s Condominium. It was fun. I probably spend an extra two and a half to three hours a day more doing chores than someone living in a regular house. I get up at five to go to work. You know, I have to heat the water first. Being compulsive as I am, I have to take showers and clean every day because of my trade. Gary is my neighbor and I trade with him. I cook him a meal and he lets me use his shower. In summer or spring we can shower at the Mosquito Flats, but in winter there’s no way. He has a solar shower and it doesn’t work in the winter or late fall or early spring. That’s when I go to the health club. I mean it’s worth the membership.
    “I have learned a lot, because I grew up in a really sheltered life, because my family was very comfortable. I never saw dust under the bed or cracked walls. Everything was push buttons. Everything was perfect, I mean everybody was the same type of person. Everybody had the same education. Everyone had the same ethnic background and it was so the… same! We never really new what the real life was like so when I came out here, I was dazzled. This was wonderful.

Jaime at her dinner table
Jaime at her dinner table

“I’m not saying that I feel this is the real life, but there’s no pressure here. You’re away from your family, so you feel more freedom to do what you want. Life up here is full of adventure every year.
“I kind of got used to it being this wonderful. But when I drive to Denver, I get really bad stomach aches and headaches, because I can’t handle the city. I mean this place is not real, but I can deal with it real easily. It’s real easy for me to live here.
“I’ve changed, I think my goals have changed. However, I’d still like to stay even though I’ve gotten out of the partying and all this other stuff. I’ve enjoyed the last five years since I’ve been out of that scene. My life has been more wonderful, but you know you come here and are just totally irresponsible. All you do is have fun, you know you don’t really care about succeeding or setting that many goals or anything.
“I don’t exactly know what I want to do next. Because there’s not many opportunities here, there’s only certain jobs you can get.  You know and that’s it. I noticed the weather getting colder, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be at the job I’m on now or how much longer work will be available.

 I don’t know…I may go back to school. My apprenticeship is over in like about a year and a half, so then I can do something different. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to stay here.”

#    #    #

Ten years later, Jaime is still living in Summit County, and bought her own home in Blue River, just south of Breckenridge, about a year after I photographed her cabin at Mosquito Flats.
While working on a construction site a few years ago, Jaime was seriously injured. She was helping get ready for a concrete pour. A cable used by a forklift to pull out a wooden post snapped and its recoil crushed Jaime’s skull. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, Jaime sought medical help on her own two feet. She suffered permanent damage, but is back working at a new job. The accident emotionally scarred her with a fear of going back to construction. Jamie passed away 2012.

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