Well-known lift op dies at 86
July 13, 2005
Delbert “Del” Gerbaz, a member of one of Aspen’s original families, died on Sunday at his home in Glenwood Springs. He was 86 years old. Del’s 30-year career in aeronautical engineering spanned much of the Cold War – he was regarded as an aviation pioneer – but most people locally will remember him as the lift op at the F.I.S. lift (Lift 6) on Aspen Mountain.Described as a “renaissance man” by his daughter Maria Cecile Callier, Del held a wide range of interests, including railroad history, skiing, mountain climbing, writing letters to the editor, traveling and helping the poor.
“He was very humble, he wasn’t into the spotlight, but he was absolutely a brilliant, accomplished man,” Callier said. “He was very strong, had strong opinions, but was so sensitive, compassionate and principled. He could do everything.”Del was born in Denver in 1919. His grandparents were Italian settlers who homesteaded the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1890s. The Gerbaz family home was near Watson Divide – that area is known to longtime locals as Gerbazdale.Though he spent his high school years in Indiana and his career took him from San Diego to Los Angeles and Fort Worth, Texas, Del always had a longing to come back to the Roaring Fork Valley. He helped design the first intercontinental bomber, the B-36, and was instrumental in developing the structure of the Atlas ICBM, said Beryl Erickson, one of his former colleagues.
Coming from a self-sustaining, pioneering family probably “toughened his attitude,” said Erickson, a 50-plus year friend who tested the planes whose engines Del designed. Erickson admired Del’s perseverance – he said Del installed basements in two houses, carrying out loads of rock and dirt bucket by bucket. And he said Del had a sense of adventure and pluck, giving as an example an incident when Del managed to hitch a 2,000-mile ride to Glenwood Springs to see his family.Upon retiring from aerospace engineering, Del realized his lifelong wish, moving his family back to Gerbazdale. From 1971 to 1984, he was a lift operator on Aspen Mountain, and soon became synonymous with the F.I.S. chair. He probably took the job because of “the fellowship,” said Erickson – in time he knew nearly everyone who passed through his maze.Del’s identification with the F.I.S. chair was such that the new Lift 6, installed in the winter of 2004, was dedicated to him, and he was given the inaugural ride.
“Guests still ask about him, and he hasn’t worked here for over 20 years,” said Jim Smith, lift manager on Aspen Mountain. Smith, like others, recalls Del’s sense of fun – he used to build a snow cave so people had to ski through it to get to load area.Son Larry remembers his father’s obsession with old railroad cars. Del was an expert on the Colorado Midland Railroad, which once served the Roaring Fork Valley, and used to troll old railroad beds for relics. In 1949, he bought a turn-of-the-century Colorado Midland business car and “resurrected it from total destruction,” Larry said.Del’s circle of friends was wide, friends and family say, but he also had a keen interest in people he didn’t know, through his social causes. He volunteered as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, was active in his church, traveled to Mexico to help the poor, and was involved in social justice issues. A man of strong opinions, he often wrote letters to the editor to local papers, though he could not be convinced to write a book, said his daughter, Maria, a journalist.”He was too busy living life to write a book,” she said.