30 years as Cdale cop: From brawling miners to $1M homes
Not much is left of the Carbondale that greeted Fred Williams when he was first hired as a patrolman in 1976.
“I wish new people in town could have seen and experienced Carbondale in the ‘70s,” he said. “They wouldn’t believe it. It’s changed that much.”
Williams, 61, was recently honored by the Town of Carbondale for 30 years of service as a police officer, sergeant, chief and, ultimately, officer again, his current role. He also spent six years on Town Council.
“Carbondale has not only been well served by Fred, but is a better place because of his dedication and hard work spanning over three decades in several different roles,” said Mayor Stacey Bernot, who presented the award. “Fred has an amazing ability to be flexible yet firm and is truly an asset in the most critical situations. His compassionate leadership has truly shown what community policing is all about.
“Growing up here, Fred was helpful in tricky times, and his dedication to our community is remarkable,” she added.
Williams tenure dates back to a time when agriculture and mining were king.
“This town lived and breathed Mid-Continent Coal,” Williams recalled. Trucks trundled down Snowmass Avenue 24 hours a day, and twice a week the train swept through town. Coal dust lingered everywhere, Williams said, and when the shift ended at 10 p.m. the miners headed straight to the Black Nugget.
“They loved their beer and they loved their fights,” he recalled. “I remember walking into the Nugget and there’d be 10 guys rolling around on the floor. That was kinda the norm; it was accepted.”
Although under new owners and with a different vibe, the Nugget is one of the few businesses still around from that time, along with the Village Smithy, Roaring Fork Co-Op, Roaring Fork Family Physicians, Roaring Fork Bank (now Alpine Bank), Leprechaun Liquors (now Mary’s Main Street Spirits), and the Near New.
At the time, the Near New was also the site of an extremely loud siren used to summon firefighters in an era before 911 or pagers. If dispatch wasn’t able to trigger it remotely, the cops had to set it off manually, Williams recalled.
The police station was just a block away, sharing the current KDNK building with the fire department and public works. The high school was celebrating its first year in a new location, which now houses the middle school. The intersection of Highway 133 and Main Street was controlled by a stop sign, and Main Street itself was still dirt.
Adding the stoplight was a major controversy, and the town nearly went broke paving Main in concrete.
Williams recalls Trustee John Foulkrod bringing out his “famous red pen” to make budget cuts in mid-1980s.
“The coal mines were shutting down, Aspen was booming and we started to transition into a bedroom community,” he said.
Williams also bears the memory of the 1981 disaster that killed 15 miners, and was the sole officer on duty when a fire at a downtown bulk plant threatened the gas tanks there, but he also holds plenty of lighter memories: Jim Darien sitting on a bench on Main Street. Chuck Disney catching a live bobcat and showing it off at the bar. Some calling to complain because Verne Soucie’s patrol car had been up and down Main street too many times in a day.
“Crime wasn’t really different than what it is now, there was just less of it,” he observed. “Everyone had guns in their pickups in those days. Guns and knives weren’t really a big deal for law enforcement.”
Williams only oversaw two homicide cases during his 1982-1997 tenure as police chief. He saw a lot of business burglaries before security systems caught on, and had to hire a dog catcher to keep up with all the loose canines.
Well before an open container law came to town, he helped transition Mountain Fair from a non-stop, alcohol-fueled party to halfway family friendly affair.
When he ultimately burned out on administration and turned the reins over to current Chief Gene Schilling, construction was starting in earnest in River Valley Ranch. While working security in Aspen Glen, he served on the Board of Trustees and weathered the first controversy over the Crystal River Marketplace property on the west side of Highway 133.
Williams returned to the force in 2004.
“It’s hard to leave,” he said. “There’s so many guys that keep coming back.”
It’s not quite the same job as it was, though. The town is becoming a tourist destination in its own right, and has become very economically diverse.
“In one shift I can be in million dollar home in RVR and a three-bedroom apartment with two different families living in it,” he observed.
Perhaps more significantly, Williams said, people seem focused on other things and don’t get to know their neighbors.
“We live in such a beautiful valley. Let’s slow down and take it in,” he said. “I used to know everyone in town. I knew their kids, and I knew their dogs. People that move here now think it’s a small town, but to me, that was small town.”
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