EAGLE COUNTY — Chris Hall and Garfield “Gar” Brown had been friends and flying buddies for years. The men, and their families, grew up together in the Vail Valley. This week, the Hall and Brown families are mourning. So is the valley’s family of pilots.
On a bright, blue Sunday morning, Hall and Brown headed into the air together, flying in Hall’s 1950s-vintage “Yak,” a plane once used to train Chinese pilots. They didn’t come back.
Monday, Hall and Brown were remembered as men who, literally, helped build the valley, each in his own way.
Hall showed up in the valley, riding a Triumph motorcycle, the summer between Vail’s first and second seasons. He quickly fell in with Bob Lazier, a veteran of that first season. The two became friends, and in the mid-1960s, the pair built the first wing of Lazier’s second “Wedel Inn,” which brought 24 rooms of employee housing to the new village.
“Neither of us had built a full building before,” Lazier said, adding that the project started on Sept. 8 and finished Dec. 19.
“We did (almost) everything,” Lazier said. “Chris could work like nobody I knew.”
The 1960s and ’70s saw Brown and his family come and go, before the group settled here for good. Those years included Brown’s time in the U.S. Navy’s flight school. Although he never became a pilot, Brown always loved flying. His daughter, Lindsay Weiss, said flying, riding motorcycles and boating were her dad’s top passions. Brown spent a lot of time riding, Jeeping and exploring the mountains of his adopted state.
Through the Vail Valley years, the families spent a lot of their off-hours together.
“We were always at their house,” Weiss said.
The families also spent a lot of time on the water. Hall’s son Alexander noted the family still has a boat parked at Lake Powell.
While Hall and Brown spent a lot of their time-off together, the men had different career paths.
Weiss said her dad worked in construction and held numerous jobs with Vail Associates and, later, Vail Resorts. Most recently, he was working as a driver for Colorado Mountain Express.
“He’d complain about the traffic, but there was something about hearing people’s stories that he loved,” Weiss said.
Hall, meanwhile, became one of the most specialized mechanics in the world. Always good with his hands and tools, he spent the past 25 years of his working life rebuilding and maintaining the TT 1 “Pinto” jet trainer. Only 14 were built in the mid-1950s, and Hall had a hand in putting half of those planes back into the air.
The first Pinto Hall rebuilt was a project for Lazier and some partners. The project started as many restorations do, with several boxes and crates that someone believes might be made again into a flyable plane.
“Only Chris could have put it together,” Lazier said. “Chris was a genius that way.”
Hall also rebuilt and maintained the Chinese trainer he was flying Sunday, and his mechanical skills were legendary at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
“He was always willing to share his expertise,” longtime friend Walt Olsen said. “He really had a passion for flying.”
Hall’s passion for flight passed down to Alexander, who also has a pilot’s license. On Father’s Day, the two got up into the air, just for a quick trip up and down the valley.
“It was great,” Alexander said. “We circled over the Tough Mudder (race at Beaver Creek) a few times.”
While Hall spent much of his time on the north side of the airport — where many of the valley’s private pilots hangar their aircrafts — Vail Valley Jet Center General Manager Paul Gordon said he was well-known among the group that uses the more jet-friendly facilities on the south side of the runway. Gordon said both Hall and Brown were involved with the Eagle County Aviation Association and were well-known in that group.
“It’s just devastating when somebody you’ve known passes like this,” Gordon said. “They were part of a tight-knit flying community, and it’s hard to lose them.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and firstname.lastname@example.org.