There isn’t anyone who has lived in Vail for more than a year that hasn’t heard of Packy “Douglas” Walker. He, along with several other irreverent souls, brought color and life to this nascent community. It’s the stuff of legends. Sure, many have heard bits and pieces of the goings on that took place “in the beginning.” Things that could never take place now.
It was fun. It was outlandish. It never gets old.
Everyone who hears about the old days wishes they had been around. And no one can tell it better than Packy – in his own words – and in no particular order.
Packy and Dave Garton honor actor William Holden who died, suddenly, after tripping on a rug and hitting his head while inebriated.
I was driving out to California; I’m not sure I was going anywhere. I was in my car and I was going someplace. My brother was going to school in Denver, so I stopped there and I began selling coffins to people who hadn’t died yet. I realized that wasn’t my forte and I came up here at my brother’s suggestion. Actually, I drove right by Vail because it was so small, I didn’t even see it. I just drove right past to what I guess today is considered Avon. I got to Vail on September 12, 1967.
I started at the Lodge at Vail, working for Bob Lazier, as an accountant. Then I worked at the Tivoli from ’68 to ‘70. I lived up in the attic, with no toilet. I saved a lot of money, and it was very impressive when you brought somebody home for the evening. The ceiling was very short so I had to have really small girlfriends.
The Way it Was
When I first came here, about 200 people lived in town. Everybody pretty much lived up in the village. We had plenty of employee housing for the number of employees that we had at the time. It was a terrific time. There was no radio, no television and no newspaper except for The Vail Trail that came out every Thursday. So you pretty much had to make your own entertainment. We had a group called the Vail Players that would put on a performance, written by John Dobson, twice a year. We lived for those six-month periods just to see the Vail Players because that’s all we had for entertainment, except for what we created ourselves.
It must have been about ’68 and we had to take a couple of days off to go down to Denver to get our groceries. And it was a good six-hour trip to get there. So we’d drive down and get groceries that would last us about two weeks. At that time, Lionshead was the town dump, and the land where the Safeway sits now was for sale for $5,000. And back in ’67 we thought that was absurd. It was so far out of town. It didn’t make any sense. And it was too much money. In the old days we used to do skydiving down in Eagle before the airport was nothing but a dirt runway. And we would skydive into the village to the 4-way stop.
The ADVENTURES BEGIN
The year 1968 was kind of down time, so we decided to have a funeral because I wanted to see who would come to my funeral. Everybody wants to know that, you know. We built a pine wood box. At that time, if you weren’t around town for four or five days, you would be conspicuous by your absence. So ‘where’s Packy, where’s Packy?’ ‘Well, we haven’t seen him.’ Then the story gets out that I died of consumption. So we had a funeral through town. We met over at the Crossroads Shopping Center, and one of the two cop cars came by to see what the commotion was with 200 people gathering in town. They said ‘Well, Packy died,’ and the cop said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ He opened up the coffin and there I was with my suit on looking quite dead, so the cop said, ’Geez, we’ll lead the procession.’ So there was a procession through town with everyone singing “We Shall Overcome.” We all ended up at the Pig n’ Whistle, that’s where we had the final whatever you do when someone dies as people walked by. I didn’t think that all the mourners qualified. And, I did have some professional mourners.
I finally had to go to the bathroom and that blew my cover pretty much!
The Bar Scene
We all had a lot in common in the bars as well as outside the bars. Once, at Dave Garton’s bar, Testwuide brought in a horse that had a propensity for “pooping” on the floor. And Garton said, ‘Damn it, Testwuide, you can’t have the horse in here, you know he’s going to shit on the floor.’ And Testwuide said, ‘I promise you, he won’t.’ But soon the horse starts to raise his tail and Testwuide reaches over and grabs this little green hat, you know the kind the tourists wear with all the little pins on it. He puts the hat under the south end of the horse and Testwuide says, ‘See, I told you he wouldn’t poop on the floor.’
A “Copper” Caper
I opened the Lifthouse in March of ’73. And I’ve been here ever since. It’s been exciting to say the least. We’ve even had some shootouts here.
One day in 1974 I saw some plumbers out in the driveway and started shooting blanks at them for fun. They thought I was shooting real bullets at them, so they started firing back and blowing windows out of the building. The cops stormed the building with three cop cars and about twelve cops. It was probably the first major thing the SWAT team ever did. Somehow I got away with that one.
We had many shoot-outs in town, besides the one at the Lifthouse. People would go out carrying their pistols but of course they had blanks in them. The tourists didn’t know that, though, and we put on a helluva show for them.
Turning the Tables
Some guys wanted to paint my apartment pink while I was on vacation. But the painter told me. He says, ‘Hey, these guys want me to paint your apartment pink.’ So I said, ‘Well you go on and tell them that you’re going to do that.’
So he went and painted it the color that I wanted, which was kind of a white.
Then I took a Polaroid camera and put a pink filter on the flash and took pictures of it and everybody thought they had gotten away with a scam on me. And I said, ‘You guys got me, so I want to buy you all dinner.’ So the money they gave the painter, he gave to me and I took them out to dinner with their money and got them again! And my apartment got painted for nothing, so I got a good deal.
Then there was the time I stole Lady Di’s toilet seat out of the old Uptown Grill. She was in the bathroom and when she came out, I simply went in there and took the seat. I still have it in my house today. It’s kind of a nice thing to keep close.
One day we were all out at the golf course and we all had paintball guns. We used to go out in the woods and have paintball experiences. Dan Mulrooney was supposed to come with us, but he decided to play golf and we found him there. So the rest of us had our paintball guns and our camouflage, saw him and thought, ‘This is bullshit.’ So we went out there to ambush Mulrooney on the golf course. We threw out a couple of smoke bombs and went to attack him. Little did we know that Jerry Ford was one hole behind him and that the people that brought Jerry Ford had something other than just paintball guns! Soon the state and town cops all convened on us. And we got a spanking.
Not always politically correct, Packy and friends
seemed to look for just “a bit” of trouble.
Dave Garton was always my partner in crime. We had a black Cadillac limo that had Presidential seals on the side of it and we’d drive in the parade with flags. And, one time, I got a scolding from the state police for driving with Presidential seals on it. But, I didn’t know what president I looked like!
Anyway, we took it up on Vail Pass during hunting season and I had Dave strapped to the hood with his hunting gear on and his tongue hanging out and I had an elk outfit on and I went to the game check and asked the guys, ‘Can you check my human here.’ That worked out pretty well.
The Sheika Shenanigans
Chuck McLaughlin and I were out one New Year’s Eve with a bag filled with 40 mice that we let loose in the bathroom at Sheika’s. They just infiltrated her disco. They were all over the waitresses who were serving people and on people’s coats. So, because of my “reputation,” Sheika called me and asked if it was me or her best friend that had done it. And, I said, ‘Well, obviously, it’s your best friend that did it!’ I don’t know if it was very smart, but we did it.
And there’s More
One time, during the summertime I drove up in front of Sheika’s with Chuck’s VW Karmann Ghia that had a big dent in the front. We had found a dead skunk that we stuffed it into the dent. When we got to the 4-way stop in town, we pretended that the car wouldn’t start and just left it right there during the lunch hour. I don’t why Sheika’s even talking to me today.
We all worked construction with Bob Lazier and if you didn’t have something you’d just go somewhere and commandeer it. But he used to take all of VA’s (Vail Associates) equipment at night that was parked over by the old Crossroads before it was built. He’d go to work at eight, nine o’clock at night, take all their equipment, use it all night long and bring it back. In the morning, they’d all get in their trucks and be out of gas. Lazier didn’t have to buy any construction equipment. He just used all of VA’s.
One night Pepper Etters was pissed off at the cops for some reason – and at the time we only had one cop car. So at about 10 o’clock at night he started to cement the car with cinderblocks and they came back to work the next morning and the whole thing was cemented in.
The town got this new thing called a Ginkel Van, which was a prototype bus they were trying out. And the girl I was dating at the time was the bus driver. So Jim Cotter and I got a bottle of Scotch and some glasses and some soda and ice and a black plastic water pistol, we got on the bus and said, ‘If you fear for your life, you best exit the bus ‘cause we’re takin’ it.’ So went drinking down in Minturn, came back and nothing ever became of it.
An Air Force pilot named Craig Button was flying his A-10 Thunderbolt in Phoenix when he broke formation, flew up here and crashed into Gold Dust Basin, about a half a mile from my cabin. They were looking for this guy forever, so I put on my flight suit, got out my A-10 parachute, went out to East Vail and walked around there with a burned out looking map that read, ‘You are here,’ kind of thing, and not one person stopped! Nobody gave it a second thought. It was commonplace, I guess.
You guys did what?
We also had the “Tuck-em-in-Tent,” an old Army tent. It was about ten by twelve, and the ski patrol would haul it up with a platform, and then Chuck and I would erect it in the trees on the run that is now Christmas. We’d put a mattress in there and a keg of beer and used it for, well, entertaining girlfriends.
And it took forever to heat up the tent, let me tell you! Talk about diving into cold water, this was worse than that! And that went for a number of years. If you look up at Christmas today, there’s this group of about five trees and you can still see the chandeliers hanging from the trees.
Then there was the time when we wanted to see if one of the guys and his girl could have intercourse in one of those toboggans from the top of PHQ down to Mid-Vail. So we wrapped up the guy and his girl in a blanket, put them on a sled and down we went on Ramshorn, but with 15 ski patrolmen watching, plus the people from the ski lift looking down, it was near impossible.
The Fourth of July
When it comes to the Fourth of July parade, I always do a parody – usually on somebody or some corporation. Once, I wore a “pink slip,” after Vail Resorts had fired about 31 people the previous spring. I didn’t get my free pass the next year, I guarantee you that! What I do really has to be about a current event. This past year I did something on that Anthony Weiner thing. Parade rules say that you can’t throw candy, you can’t throw water balloons, no spraying on people and then they added, no wieners. So I thought they added the ‘no wieners’ because the Anthony Weiner thing had happened a week before and they must have thought I was going to throw wieners. They didn’t get it. I’m always surprised when people don’t get it.
Things have changed considerably. I don’t do the pranks, obviously, not that I wouldn’t like to. I guess given a good one, I would do it. But I’ve kind of settled down at the age of 66. I built a cabin up in Fulford, an old mining town in the New York Mountain, back in ’84. I would recommend that they do certain things, like if you put a water line in, you might want to put some fire hydrants in case you have a fire. ‘Oh, Mr. Vail,’ they’d say. I mean while you’re doing something, you might as well do it right. It’s been an experience to take what I’ve learned here and apply it to Fulford. And they did need the fire hydrants once – as it saved the town from burning down.
So it’s been interesting to go from one new town in ’67 to another in ’84 and be part of that renaissance.
I think the only regret I have in life is that I didn’t have children. But, maybe it’s just as well, because maybe they’d be worse than I was. They’d be handfuls. But, you know, I did all those things and I had a lot to bring to the table if I had children but it is what it is. And I never got married ‘cause I don’t breed too well in captivity like most zoo animals, but I have been living with Mary Lawrence for 20 years. She wanted to move right into my house and I said ‘Well I don’t know.’ I was going to transition her from an igloo that I had built for her, to the lower part of the house and eventually to the upper part of the house where everybody else lived: my dog and me. But I broke my leg the first night Mary was to spend in the igloo and I had to move her in right away to help me out and she never left. It was a beautiful igloo, too.
I’ve always loved Vail and never wanted to leave. I would like it to be more of a community where people actually live here. We have the second homeowners, but we’ve really lost that sense of community. It’s a struggle to keep our school over here, and my friends have all moved down valley for obvious reasons: trying to save some money, trying to raise a family. I guess that goes along with the territory. Those things happen. But at least I got to be here in the early days and that was real exciting and important.
I don’t think I’d come here today. I think I’d find it too expensive. In the old days you made your own fun. Everybody knew everybody. Everybody helped everybody. Ski instructors would build homes in the summer and go back to skiing in the winter. It was just a different place. It was smaller and it was very alpine. I don’t know what’s happening today. I suppose Denver started out with one- and two-story buildings too. It’s a shame that we’ve lost that alpine ambiance. It seemed to work so well for so long. It just morphed in the wrong direction. To think that we lived over at The Lodge for $10 a week and free food at night if nobody caught you going into the kitchen.
In September, we’re holding a Vail Pioneer weekend for those people who lived here from 1962 – 1980. So if you didn’t live here, don’t even try to get in the door, ‘cause I’ll spot ‘ya. I don’t know if there’s anyone in town that knows more people than I do. If you didn’t live here I pretty much know you didn’t! I’ve been pretty blessed. I had a lot of good times and have many friends.