Tony Vagnuer: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Being a third- or fourth-generation native around here comes with a lot of accusations, such as how we must all be rich due to the phenomenal escalation of land prices over the years, or how our parents must have set us up in one way or another. Rude remarks to which I usually reply with something like, “Explain what’s in your own pockets before you start worrying about mine.”

The job market is getting more and more curious, now that the construction craze has died down and some “wealthy” people are facing foreclosure. It’s starting to feel like the “old” Aspen that some people talk about with voice-cracking admiration, although I doubt the hard times are what any of them miss.

People who were, until recently, still riding the wave of unfettered growth are more and more showing worried faces, wondering what they can do to keep it all together. Many say if they still had kids to raise, they’d have to leave. But where would they go?

There are lessons we can learn from people who made their own success here in the valley, people who grew up hard, or arrived broke, but successfully persevered. Many of you can tell your own stories, I’m sure. It just takes unwavering dedication, a solid work ethic and a little luck. And, you have to love the place.

Take two brothers, still vital in our midst, born in the Aspen area but forced to move when their father died early on. Separated from paternal family when their mother remarried, they grew up a little bit in Redstone, a lot in the Coal Basin cow camp, and the rest of the time in Carbondale.

After high school, there was no money for college, no trips to foreign lands. They found scarce jobs, one of them cleaning automobile parts in a wash tub on the sidewalk in front of the Glenwood Springs dealership where he’d landed a job. He stuck with it, becoming a mechanic, then a salesman. Eventually he tired of the changing job descriptions and bought the place. He sold me a 1958 Ford coupe in 1964, farm machinery over the years, and a new Jeep in 2009.

The other brother put in time as a logger for Flogas Lumber on top of Larkspur Mountain above Lenado, until he got fed up with snowbound 30-day stretches without seeing his new bride. He went to work for a bank in Glenwood Springs, starting as a teller and then adding on the custodial duties when the janitor quit. With grit, he stayed after it, working his way through the installment and commercial loan departments, eventually becoming bank president, a position he held for many years. I’m talking about Berthod Motors, First National (US) Bank and the Gerbaz brothers, Freddie and Ernie.

A few years ago, a kid without work went to one of the finest ranches in the valley, seeking employment. He was an experienced cowboy and that’s what he did, but they were full up on ranch hands. They told him he could come by one day a week to mow the lawns and do a little trimming. Not what you’d call cowboy-type work and you or I might have told them to go to hell, but he accepted the job. Like I say, it wasn’t that long ago, and he’s now the general manager of one of the largest remaining cattle ranches in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Not everyone can stay here indefinitely, and maybe that’s how it should be. We sometimes accept jobs we don’t want, like my grandmother and her sister (school teachers both) making beds at the Hillside Lodge (it was where the Silver Circle ice rink now lies). As it’s always been, if we want to stay, we’ll wangle a way.