Building Vail always an adventure
In her history of Vail, June Simonton, in her book, “Vail, Story of a Colorado Mountain Valley,” summarized the suspense and anxiety that pervaded those months of building:
“Summer ended, time ran short, and daily glitches and near-disasters kept the tension high. A workman buried the valve for the water line to the gas station, and a major dig took place to find it. One of the house trailers caught fire and burned like a torch, fortunately on a weekend when it was unoccupied. In October, a grass fire burned rapidly up the west slope of the mountain, just north of Minturn. Volunteers spent most of the day beating out the flames.”
Rod Slifer was running the office the day of the brush fire. Realizing that the mountain was threatened, he got on the party line to call the fire warden. Two local ladies were talking and wouldn’t get off.
Finally Rod had to say, “Ladies, if you don’t want your houses burned down, you’d better get off the phone.”
When the warden proved not at home, Slifer rounded up a group of employees, put axes and shovels in a pickup and went roaring down to Minturn. This patched-together crew put out the fire before it topped out into the forest and threatened the mountain.
June Simonton related another incident:
“Earl Eaton and his crew finished stringing cable for the Back Bowls chair, clamped the cable, and used a tractor to put tension on it. The crew then relaxed, stretched out on the grass, and opened their lunch boxes. Suddenly, the clamps gave way and one mile of steel cable came alive. It snaked past the crew, whipped down the slope, wrapped itself around one of the huge support towers, yanked it out of its concrete foundation, and tossed it like a stick two hundred yards down the hill.”
I was working on the same lift near the summit. When I heard about the accident, I went down to see what had happened. My legs went weak when I realized Eaton and his entire crew could have been sliced to ribbons by that flying cable if they hadn’t decided to eat lunch late, which put them out of harm’s way.
After work, I got to talking with one of my foremen about the extent of the grass-fire damage. He said it was “like all grass fires – a wall of flames, a furnace.” Then he mentioned Walt Disney, the father of Mickey Mouse himself, had come to visit in the middle of it all.
“But he left in a hurry,” the foreman said.
I laughed. Disney’s desire to have his own ski area was well known. He hadn’t indicated any interest in trying to grab Vail, but I was glad that the fire had sent him away before he saw how great a ski mountain it was going to be.
Above is the 43rd 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.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.