I’ve always had a fascination for the mountains and building my home here. Not only was my father a masonry and general contractor, but my grandfather was building homes in the California foothills which fascinated me at an early age. My father was also an innovator developing new equipment and new techniques to save time and money in the construction business. He put me to work the summer after 3rd grade. I spent most of my summers working with him and was running heavy equipment at the age of 10. He even had his own concrete batching plant and concrete trucks. I learned how to operate those as well. He made his own forklifts, trenchers, and even built a one of a kind auto scaffold. It would elevate for working on tall commercial buildings, bring the block up the conveyor for the masons and roll down the wall to the next position, decades before anything similar was available to the industry. We would move the scaffold from the wall and I’d walk the wall with a 4 inch hose from a concrete pumper to grout the walls.
Every task had an efficient way of doing it and he taught those tricks to me. Which way to shovel, how to punch bolts into block with a hammer without using a drill. How to walk the high walls to grout them and finish the top surface at the same time. He emphasized that my job was more than finishing an assignment. My job was to look for the next thing to move the project forward and then do that. If I wasn’t busy, I wasn’t doing my job.
Through out my youth I dreamed of building my own home in the mountains and learned first hand on the job how to do it. After getting my bachelors degree in business at the University of Colorado, I got a California teaching credential to teach the Union Carpenters Apprenticeship program. I had a union card for both masons and carpenters in southern California when just having a single card was an accomplishment in itself. I was running commercial masonry projects at the age of 22.
Even after getting my degree and moving to Aspen, I stayed with the building trades because there weren’t any other opportunities in the mountains. Working piece work, I expected to earn twice the normal wage, but in Summit county that would only last half of the year. At 27 I physically built my first mountain home at 10,000 feet and later went on to build large multistory condo projects.
Even with these occupational talents, the seasonality and economic vulnerability of the high country made it difficult to earn a steady living during the 70’s and 80’s. Today the mountain’s population has grown and transportation improved that a greater economic consistency has reduced the difficulties of the previous high country building cycles.
My dad gave me a job at 8-years-old and it paid $0.25 an hour. The bad news he was a contractor and we were digging footings, carrying concrete block and bags of cement that weighed 94 pounds.