When it comes to characters in this valley, Harry Gray is undisputedly among the few reserved for the top of the list. Gray is the owner of Harry’s Bump and Grind, located on Main Street in Minturn. He’s the man that’ll serve you up an opinion on nearly any topic, along with a cappuccino, an Egg McHarry (egg, cheese, pork product du jour, spinach, tomato and secret sauce on a English muffin), or a cup of his ever-popular green chili.
Gray had a few things to say about being a High Country Character when he was asked for an interview. It seems that as a child he believed that when someone said you were a character that was because you had a lot of character. A good friend of Gray’s set him straight on that issue, not long ago.
“He said, ‘Harry, no, no, substitute asshole for character and if the sentence still works, that’s what they mean.’ So you can understand why I had some misgivings when you called me up here,” Gray said.
Despite those misgivings, Gray took a few minutes out of a busy day at the Bump and Grind to give us his perspective on life.
Caramie Schnell: I need your background Harry, where you grew up, how you got to Vail, and why you stayed?
Harry Gray: How far back?
CS: The beginning. Where were you born?
HG: I was born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. I was down in the area where everybody knows somebody that knows Bruce (Springsteen). He used to play the county fair. I went to Bucknell University on a football scholarship. I have a double major in history and English and a minor in classics. It’s good to whip out when your kids are trying to push you around with classical allusions. After school I traveled around a bit, I had some applications in at law schools.
Before I came here I went to Albany, Georgia and Venice, Louisiana. I had buddies that were working there. I was intending on doing the same here, coming out for a few months. My buddy got me a job at the lumber yard in Minturn and then a job with Nelson Zebe construction which is now R.A. Nelson. I started out as a layman and ended up as a carpentry foreman. I got married in ’83 and went into business for myself in ’84.
CS: Who did you marry?
HG: Colleen Geraghty. She and I grew up in the same area, back East, she went to Dickinson while I went to Bucknell. We got to be better friends later, after college. We got married and then she moved out here, we had one of those long distance affairs going on for a year or so. We lived in Red Cliff, I was up there for 14 years. I built three houses up in Red Cliff and then we built a house in West Vail, where we lived for eight years. We developed this building in 2001 and moved in to this in 2003 and started the Bump and Grind. This was to be one of those interim deals that I’m two years into.
CS: And you have children?
HG: I have children like you read about. I have three teenagers, 13, 14 and 16. Mitchell is the oldest, David is the second and Kate is the youngest. Kate-the-great we call her.
CS: What do you see as Minturn’s future?
HG: I think it’s got a bright future. It’s pretty interesting to be right in the middle of the stuff that’s going on. When I got here in ’79, there was still people living in Gilman. Tom Treat, who was my kids teacher at Red Sandstone, was the last person that lived there. There were years when nobody knew who owned Gilman. They knew there was a lot of bad stuff coming out of it. The river was orange. To me, if this guy (Bobby Ginn) can take an EPA Superfund site, it’s more than that even, there’s a wound in the earth there that’s a residue of 120-some years of the extraction industry. If he can make a resort out of that and a hot-shit world class, five-star … God bless him. It’s like holy cow, well this guy just bought all this land for $6,000 an acre in Vail’s back yard. Well it’s available because there’s so many issues, and they are hugely expensive issues. To make the town of Gilman inhabitable again, that’s $30 million dollars.
Treehuggers can stamp their feet and shout and hoot but where’s the next $30 million going to come from? It ain’t out there. It’s not like there’s going to be a nature conservancy bake sale that’s going to pay for it. If a developer comes in there and can clean it up and make a better product and supply some better economic stability to this part of the valley, far out. The two red-headed stepchildren of the valley are Minturn and Red Cliff. To me it’s kind of comical, our county commissioners, at least Menconi and Runyon, are like, “How could you be so eager to jump in bed with this lord of developer?” And it’s like, why wouldn’t you? The rest of the county was happy to let Red Cliff live without potable water for two years, while simultaneously spending how many million on a gravel pit in Edwards? What’s wrong with that picture?
It’s a little disturbing because the local people here are fairly democratic about it, they’re like this is private property, Mr. Ginn bought it, Mr. Ginn can do what he wants with it. It’s not like they’re talking about busting down virgin forest. It’s not like Holy Cross Wilderness, for instance. There’s a point at which the biggest opposition is outside agitators – the quote unquote Vail establishment.
Here’s an argument for you. The Vail Daily has been as big of a driving force in the development of this valley as any other single entity, given that the weight of the paper is 60 to 70 percent advertising, and more than half of that advertising is real estate advertising. Ergo, Mr. Rogers give the Daily some credit, they’ve done as much to promote real estate development as any other entity in the county. Pull your head out of your ass, Mr. Rogers.
CS: What does your wife do?
HG: Well she specifically told me not to embarrass her – ‘Harry, never miss an opportunity to shut up,’ things of that nature. That would be her basic philosophy. My wife is the executive director of the Literacy Project.
CS: What do you like about this valley?
HG: I think what impressed me when I came west, what made me want to stay was you have a lot of things that come together here. You have a lot of urban things that are available and you’re in the country, in the outdoors. Kind of the Old West, the scene that was still prominent when I got here, that’s dwindling now, is westerners are pretty democratic, they kind of take you for face value. It’s not about what your dad does, or where you went to school or what your country club is, it’s who are you, what do you do and do you do what you say you’re going to do? And you can’t ask for anything more than that. VT
Caramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.
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