Deferred maintenance | AspenTimes.com

Deferred maintenance

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly

Recessions cause government, businesses and homeowners to forego maintenance of infrastructure. Aspen endured economic down cycles in 1893 and 1907. Each time, mines and stores recovered. They reinvested in themselves by updating and completing deferred maintenance. In 1918, the largest mines laid off their workforce and ceased large-scale production. Local businesses closed their doors. Those that remained open weathered declining revenue by deferring maintenance, forever.

One day in the late 1920s, my father saw first-hand how proprietors survived when he stopped by the Al Lamb Drug Store to make a few purchases. Lamb’s business was on Hyman Avenue, midway between Mill and Galena on the north side of the street. Several pharmacies remained in business, but Lamb’s was the one most frequented.

At that time Lamb was an old man, but he did not show his age. He sported a black mustache that some said he dyed. He spent little time at his store, relying on employees such as Bob Killey, a pharmacist who also worked at the courthouse in the county treasurer’s department.

On previous occasions Father had been privileged to tour the back of the store, where medicines were stored and mixed. He had seen ancient bottles on the shelves that promised relief for any ailment. Many locals referred to Al as “Doc” Lamb because they had more confidence in his prescriptions than of those of Aspen’s aging physician.

Lamb was known for his instant wit. When prohibition ended, Lamb posted a sign in his street window: “Take home a bottle of our gin for your wife’s kidneys.”

The day Father dropped in at Lamb’s he was the only customer and Bill Harrington, his friend of about the same age, was clerking. Bill asked Father if he had a few minutes to help him. Agreeing, they proceeded to the second floor. The room featured washtubs, buckets, cans of all shapes and sizes, anything with an open top, all nearly full of water. The containers were catching the roof leaks from a recent heavy rain. Father helped lug the containers to the window, where they emptied the contents. Harrington had memorized where the leaks were, and returned each container to its permanent location.

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Father remarked, “Wouldn’t it be simpler to have the roof fixed?”

Harrington answered, “Yes, but that would cost Mr. Lamb money and he pays me for being here anyway.”

Several years later during the throes of the Depression, an unemployed carpenter visited my grandfather at the Midnight Mine office, begging for work. He was an older man who worked slowly, but he was willing to work for low wages. Grandfather hired him to build an addition to his house and was impressed with the quality of his work. Knowing that many downtown buildings were in need of roof repair, he called on each owner to tout the talents of his carpenter. Each refused the opportunity, preferring leaks to spending cash they did not have.