Vagneur: History permeates today’s valley |

Vagneur: History permeates today’s valley

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

As we slid into the loading area at the bottom of 6 (FIS), my skiing companion, Lisa Hancock, asked, “Do you remember Del who worked here for years? What a nice man he was.” She remembers things like that — she grew up in Aspen and is the curator of the Aspen Historical Society.

And this is where it all starts coming together. She was referring to Del Gerbaz, member of one of the valley’s pioneering families. There’s more than one Gerbaz, believe me, and, not long after that, my good friend Jerry Gerbaz, Del’s cousin, invited me to breakfast at the Village Smithy in Carbondale. A little far off our regular pasturing grounds, but who’s to question such an invitation. 

Hard to imagine the history sitting at that table but with us were Charlie Montover and Tim Herwick, two retired long-time employees of Stutsman-Gerbaz Inc. We were all third- or fourth-generation Roaring Fork Valley boys slinging it around, lifelong at that. So far.

I’ll get to Montover and Herwick shortly, but first, back to the beginning. Was it about Lisa, about the Gerbaz family, or lift operators? History. 

Jimmy Gerbaz was one of my best friends during our school years, and one of our adventures on slow days was to ride up Lift 1 to the bottom of Lift 2, where Edmund Gerbaz, Jimmy’s father, ran the show. We’d sit in the lift shack like we were important, watch people come and go, and wave to all our friends. Sometimes, we’d ride to the top. If we were smart, we’d brought our skis with us. Otherwise, we’d ride Lift 1 back down the mountain, laughing all the way about this or that.  

Jimmy got into working the lifts soon after high school. When I came back after college, he and I’d ski together on his one day off each week. He introduced me to Summit, cut while I was away. Early on, he worked the bottom of 3 (Ajax Express) but, at some point, ended up at Buttermilk running a modern-style rope tow called the Mighty Mite on Panda Peak. For over 60 years, he was a valued employee of the company.

Jerry Gerbaz and Dick Stutsman started Stutsman-Gerbaz Earthmoving back in 1960, I reckon. In the beginning, it wasn’t a year-round job, so Jerry and Dick got on as lift operators on Aspen Mountain, working together at the bottom of Lift 3. They did that for six years, and, to their credit, people still talk about what great guys they were. Always had a smile, always cheerful, and knew how to sweep the chairs off after a storm. 

Speaking of familial longevity in the lift loading (or unloading) business, Dick Stutsman’s father, Elmer, ran the top of the Little Nell chair for umpteen years.

Those other two guys sitting at the table with us didn’t work the lifts, but their families played a big part in the history of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. The Montover and Letey families, Charlie’s ancestors, both ranched in Woody Creek before figuring out they could make a better go of it downvalley. Think Letey Lane off of Upper River Road. 

All the old-time Woody Creek ranchers still talked about the Montovers until at last there were no more old-timers. Several years ago, I wrote about a Divide Creek Montover chasing me down, somehow knowing I was a Vagneur just from the way I walked. Charlie Montover, engineer on many Stutsman-Gerbaz projects, has crafted more earth-moving projects from beginning to end than many folks could and, through experience alone, could have earned a Ph.D from any engineering college in the country.

Tim Herwick takes us back to the early days of the Wheeler-Stallard House. His great-grandmother was a half-sister to Ella Stallard and Tim’s great-aunt Mary Stallard was a favorite to visit with. Tim’s grandfather, Lorain Herwick, was born in Aspen in 1910. He was an all-around working man, a cattleman at heart, riding the range and building houses until at some propitious point he was elected sheriff of Pitkin County. He served in that position from 1950 to 1966.

Tim’s mother, Carolyn, daughter of the Slavens pioneering family (think Annie Slavens, long-time server at the Red Onion restaurant and her husband, Curtis, who worked the Aspen silver mines), clerked for the city of Aspen for many years, keeping the place organized. 

Tim might have the distinction of driving more miles on Highway 82 in a Stutsman-Gerbaz truck than any other employee. Used to wave at him all the time.

And we talk. And we get together for breakfast, reminisce, give our delightful server Haven a hard time, and, in a way, without acknowledging it, we’re saying goodbye to a chapter that has closed, hoping that someday Lisa at the society will find a corner to keep track of some of our shenanigans.  

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at