On the Road to Vail and Beyond | VailDaily.com

On the Road to Vail and Beyond

Dick Hauserman

Courtesy Eagle County Regional Airport The Eagle County Regional Airport was originally an emergency landing strip in the 1930s. Pictured here is how it looked in the 1960s. Vail Airways, later called Rocky Mountain Airways, started operating there in 1964.

Editor’s note: Dick Hauserman is well known as one of the founders of Vail. But he also has made the trip from Denver to Vail in excess of 1,000 times, which was the inspiration for his book “On the Road to Vail and Beyond” published earlier this year. Following is an excerpt from the book aimed at making frequent I-70 travelers say “Oh, I didn’t know that!”EagleEagle came into existence in the late 1880s. It was first called Castle, named after Castle Peak nearby. The first years were touch-and-go. The townsite was sold to a rancher who changed the name to his own. The name failed, however, and “Eagle” was voted in by the residents. In 1900, the population was only 124 persons.With the introduction of cattle to the valley, ranching grew rapidly, giving more stability than the mining communities that flashed into prominence and died. As mentioned, the cattle market crashed in the late 1920s. Eagle’s central location in the county made it the practical choice for the county seat. Through the years, Eagle remained a quiet town with very little growth. After 1960, with the development of Vail and the routing of I-70 through the town, things changed dramatically as development took over.

Eagle became alive. Its commissioners had major responsibilities. The assignments of its sheriffs’ department were expanded to cover activities 40 miles away. It became the affordable housing market for Vail. It became big time. Now it is overwhelmed with growth.The Vail/Eagle Airport is one of the busiest destination resort facilities in the country because of Aspen and Vail.Nearby Castle Peak, to the northwest at 11,293 feet high, is a focal center of attention. The mountain was formed in the same time frame as the Yellowstone National Park area-four million years ago.Recently Eagle was in the national spotlight because of the Kobe Bryant rape case. Who knows what is next?

How the Vail/Eagle Airport Was StartedIt is also hard to believe that the Vail/Eagle Airport started as a grass- and-dirt strip back in the late 1930s. In 1938, when commercial air transportation was in its infancy, a plane could fly only about 100 miles without refueling or needing service. This was before the DC3’s. At that time, the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), now the FAA, built emergency landing airports every 100 miles across the country.The dirt-and-grass strip was between Eagle and Gypsum. During World War II, it was used as an emergency landing field for the U.S. Air Force.In 1963 a young man named Gordon Autry started a rarely used charter air service named A.D.S. Inc. He had a small Aero Commander 500 plane and operated on a shoestring. He would take the proceeds of a charter flight to the bank to make a payment on the airplane loan.In 1964, Autry renamed his company Vail Airways, because he felt that with the new resort called Vail just 35 miles away, he could ride its coattail to success.After a slow start, the growth of this airline became an unusual story. With a Cessna 185 and the Aero Commander 500, a little acorn was about to explode into a large oak.

Autry’s service was mostly to Denver’s Stapleton Airport (predecessor to Denver International Airport). I happened to be one of his regular customers. On one occasion, I was late getting to the airport. You had to travel up a dirt road from U.S. Highway 6, then double back about a half mile to the little tin hut in which a Mr. Howard held the fort on the ground. I was really rushing, and as I sped down the dirt road, stirring up a trail of dust, the plane had just taken off. Hurrying into the hut, I heard the pilot, Fred Jackson, asking Mr. Howard on the radio, “Is that Hauserman?” Mr. Howard said, “Yes.” Jackson replied, “Okay, I’ll come back.” Those were simple but friendly days.In 1968, Vail Airways was making a profit. Because new towns were being served, Autry changed the name of his company to Rocky Mountain Airways and added to his destinations the towns of Grand Junction, Aspen, and later Steamboat Springs. In 1969, a Dehavilland Twin Otter was added to the fleet. The Steamboat Springs service started in 1972 with a proclamation from the governor of Colorado.Rocky Mountain Airways grew rapidly and soon reached 80,000 customers in the Steamboat Springs market alone.In 1984, Rocky Mountain Airways carried a half million passengers, which was the present-day equivalent of grossing $80 million per year. In 1986, Gordon Autry sold Rocky Mountain Airways to Continental. For him, it was the end of a fabulous career. He is not retired, but works his huge ranch near Montrose. His two sons are America West pilots.

The development of his success paralleled that of Vail.Since 1968, the Vail/Eagle Airport has kept growing, and today it ranks with some of the finest resort destination airports in the country. It is a life blood to Vail and Greater Vail. Of the millions of visitors, 40 percent of Greater Vail’s skiers use the Vail/Eagle Airport.Vail, Colorado