High Country Character: Steve Carver is Gypsum’s mayor and No. 1 fan | VailDaily.com

High Country Character: Steve Carver is Gypsum’s mayor and No. 1 fan

Steve and Christie Carver show off some of the decor in their 1950s-inspired basement. The Carvers have a vintage diner and Texaco service station set up in a room of wonders that nearly defies description.
Pam Boyd | pboyd@eaglevalleyenterprise.com |

High Country character

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GYPSUM — Steve Carver does things in a big way — with a big smile, big heart and big laugh.

Locals know him as the guy who has served as Gypsum’s mayor for nearly 20 years. Motorists recognize him as the owner of Big Steve’s Towing, the outfit that hauls people out of trouble when they find it along Interstate 70. Partygoers have feasted on his handiwork as the guy behind the grill when the Steve’s BBQ trailer rolls up to an event. And pretty much everyone who has met him or heard of him knows he is Gypsum’s unofficial No. 1 fan.

Texas born

Carver discovered the community as an adult. He was born and raised in Floydada, Texas — a community of about 5,000 people located 90 miles south of Amarillo and 50 miles north of Lubbock. He left the community in 1968 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. That was during the Vietnam era, and Carver said he toured all around the country during his four years of military service. He left the corps in 1974.

“But you are never an ex-Marine. You are always a Marine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

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He returned to Floydada and took a job with the Texas Highway Department. After state budget cuts, he switched employers and went to work as a heavy-equipment operator for the county. But his military background eventually convinced him to check out police work.

He served as an officer for the Littlefield, Texas, police department for seven years, working his way up to sergeant. Then he accepted a job as police chief in Olton, Texas. It’s also where he met his wife, Christie. It was an auspicious encounter.

“She is my life. She is why I am happy every day,” Carver said.

It would seem that the Carvers were deeply rooted in Texas, but Colorado was calling. Carver’s brother Mike was living in Gypsum, and Steve would visit often and enjoyed hunting in the area. So when the Carvers decided it was time to leave his police career, the family decided to make a move. They arrived in Gypsum in 1986.

Jack of many trades

When he arrived in the valley, Carver took a job with Vail Associates. He later went to work for Satterwhite Log Homes, an outfit based out of Dotsero. He worked as a heavy-equipment operator, building U.S. Forest Service roads.

“And all of this time, we were doing our barbecue business,” Carver said.

The Carvers were also busy raising five kids — three boys and two girls.

Carver started in the towing business because of a promise he made with his buddy Manny Medina.

“I was helping Manny do off-road towing, and we made a pact that we would never try to do a job alone,” Carver said. “Then I ended up with his towing truck.”

Carver figured if he was going to get into the towing business, he ought to get serious about it. That meant being part of the Colorado State Patrol rotation list, which in turn meant beefing up his equipment fleet. He purchased a flatbed truck, got on the list and has been towing people along Interstate 70 ever since. His fleet now includes six tow trucks, and Big Steve’s Towing has been in business for 21 years.

“It’s a tough business,” Carver said. “We have to get there and clean it up and get the road clear and the traffic moving as quickly as possible.”

While towing is a tough proposition, Carver often does the work in a remarkably kind-hearted way. For example, consider the events of the week of Sept. 11.

Big-hearted towing

Big Steve’s Towing was called out for the much publicized livestock semi turnover east of Glenwood Springs, which resulted in a bunch of pigs wandering along the highway. The traffic was backed up in Glenwood Canyon, so his trucks couldn’t get there. But he did get a call from a couple from Rifle who were stuck in Dotsero with a broken down vehicle and no way to get home.

“When we got to Eagle, there were no motel rooms available anywhere,” Carver said. “So we took them into our home. We weren’t going to leave them stranded.”

The story gets better. While Carver was helping out the Rifle couple, a second service call came in from an elderly couple whose motor home had broken down on the way to Sylvan Lake. The Big Steve’s crew hauled the vehicle, and the couple said they would spend the night in a motel.

“What do you think happened?” Christie said.

The Carvers ended up hosting both couples that night. They made sure they had dinner, and they took the whole gang out for lunch the next day.

“We wanted them to have the best experience possible, under the circumstances,” Carver said. “Everyone left happy, and they also said they would be coming back to Gypsum.”

That’s the type of thing Gypsum’s mayor loves to hear.

His honor

When the Carvers moved to Gypsum, Steve knew he wanted to get involved in the community. Not long after arriving, he volunteered to serve on Gypsum’s variance committee. Then he ran for Gypsum’s Town Council in the next municipal election.

While he was serving on the Gypsum Town Council, some members of the community asked him to run for mayor. That first election — between Carver and incumbent Gypsum Mayor Mike Suriano — ended in a tie. The men flipped a coin to determine the winner, and Carver won the toss.

Four years later, Carver faced former Gypsum Mayor Dan Lister. But during a meet-the-candidates session, Lister announced that he had decided not to run. Lister told the crowd he would be voting for Carver and would be urging his friends and family to do the same.

That was the last time Carver faced an opponent in a mayor’s race.

The next Gypsum municipal election will be in April 2018, and Carver said he plans to seek re-election.

“I still enjoy being mayor,” he said. “When people vote me out, I will know they are tired of me.”

Carver’s mayoral style can best be described as “neighborly.”

“I don’t let my meetings get out of hand,” said the former Marine and former cop. “But I let people know we all live here together. We are not enemies.”

During Carver’s nearly two decades of service, Gypsum has seen many accomplishments. He cited the annexation of the Eagle County Regional Airport, construction of the Gypsum Recreation Center and town hall, opening of Gypsum’s Costco, purchase of the Gypsum Creek Golf Course and completion of the LEDE Reservoir as some examples.

“But it takes a team,” he said. “Gypsum has strong town management, a great staff and a good council.”

Basement of wonders

Between work, barbecue and mayoral duties, Steve and Christie Carver enjoy travel and vintage auto collection. But their biggest project can be found in their basement. The couple has painstakingly created a 1950s dinner and gas station in the 1,400-square-foot space.

From the 1960 Rock-ola jukebox that plays an array of 45s, to the working 1950s-era television, stepping into the basement is like stepping back in time. A pair of red vinyl upholstered booths line the wall, and the floor sports classic black and white linoleum. It’s always Christmas in the Carver’s basement, with a tree festooned with more than 300 1950s ornaments.

In the opposite corner of the basement, a whimsical Texaco station has been set up. “Earl’s Garage” has a working garage door and a pair of life-size mannequins who staff the business. “Earl” is stationed at the vintage gas pump, while “Carl” grimaces as he works on an engine. The service station is lined with vintage parts and equipment. Through the doorway at the side of the service bay, the station office includes a working vintage telephone, classic cash register and a display of candies, mints and gum that would have been offered for sale during the 1950s.

Down the hall, there’s a replica restroom with a working urinal. The bathroom is spotless, and that’s the only giveaway to its modern condition. Actual service station bathrooms are never that clean.

The Carver’s are plainly delighted to share their basement wonders with visitors.

“We have had 76 people in this house at one time,” Carver said. The couple hosts car club friends, town of Gypsum employees and family. During the annual Gypsum Daze celebration, the Carver’s house is a bustling place.

“We love to entertain,” Christie Carver said. “We both definitely enjoy people.”

The Carvers have busy lives, but that’s the way they like it.

“Our lives are just go, go, go,” Christie said as she flashes a smile. “I can’t see us ever really retiring.”

But if they do, then one thing is for sure. The Carvers aren’t going anywhere.

“Moving to Gypsum is the best thing we ever did,” Christie concluded.

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