1962 – "A real labor-management melee’ | VailDaily.com

1962 – "A real labor-management melee’

Peter W. Seibert
Construction begins on the village that would become Vail.

It wasn’t long before labor unions attempted to organize the workers.|Courtesy Vail Resorts| |

Throughout the year of 1962, two basic construction jobs were going on at the same time: the village along the one-mile strip at the base of the mountain; and the clearing of lift lines, construction roads and ski trails up to the summit and into the Back Bowls.

One night we were arguing in the Vail Associates office when a local entrepreneur – a fellow who owned a couple of backhoes – walked casually into the middle of our meeting and asked to use the phone. The line was busy, of course. When the entrepreneur began to leave, a union boss happened to glance out the window and see a backhoe working in the night.

“That yours?” he demanded.

The local guy nodded slowly, “Yep.”

“Is that driver in the union?”

“Nope. He’s my cousin. He’s just doing it for the summer, and he’d be doing it for nothing if I asked him to. He don’t need a union. He’s got me to tell him what to do.”

And he walked out.

Denver labor had met Western Slope free enterprise.

Eventually, after a brief scrape with a labor union from Denver, we faced the possibility of a real labor-management melee. But before that happened, the Rocky Mountain Employers Council stepped in and drew some lines.

Union men who worked for some of our contractors were given separate gates to enter the construction sites. Non-union workers and management had their own gates.

We agreed to halt all moonlighting work by the iron workers, but by the time the agreement was reached they had completed the reinforcement work on the tower foundations, and so the nighttime work was finished anyway. We hadn’t won our first labor dispute, but we hadn’t lost it either.

Other animosity came from a few angry locals who found themselves caught in the muck and snarling traffic of our operations. One rancher insisted Vail trucks had dumped rocks and dirt into one of his irrigation ditches. He put up a sign across the truck route, saying, “Stay Out! Anyone Coming in Here Will Be Shot to Hell!”

I went to try and reason with him. I slogged through ankle-deep mud to his ranch, then nearly fell off the porch when he flung open the door and I found myself looking down the barrel of what seemed to be a cannon pointed right at my nose. He said I should beat it – pronto – and if I didn’t fix his ditch he’d shoot me next time.

We fixed his ditch.

After a wet and very trying spring of 1962, summer finally came, the mountains dried out, and the oceans of mud were replaced by billowing clouds of dust roiled up by trucks and dozers. It rose above the treetops in places, casting a brownish pall over the summer-green valley.

The housing shortage that had plagued us earlier had been solved by bringing in rows and rows of trailers, which some 200 of our workers occupied. For them, the work was the thing, and whether nature served up mud, dust or black flies, they charged along, keeping us ahead of schedule and producing some kind of new miracle of construction every day.

As June Simonton wrote in her book, “Vail, Story of a Colorado Mountain Valley”:

“As the summer of 1962 rolled along, a steady stream of suppliers chugged over the narrow Vail Pass road, and the ripsaw screech and hammer blow of construction in the great sheep pasture rose to fever pitch. (Pete) Seibert, the visionary, served as corporate chief, construction manager and consummate cheerleader. Every hour of every day another decision had to be made. Seibert made them quickly.”

Indeed, I did – very quickly. Nothing could be considered for very long, and if something had to go someplace that we hadn’t planned it for, we just put it there. There was no time for studies or second thoughts about anything.

Editor’s note: This is following is the 41st installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 8, entitled “Building the Dream.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.

Support Local Journalism