Immigrant Stories: An accountant whose dad was a different kind of numbers guy
Intro: Bill Barnes is a self-described “numbers guy.” He has spent his career in numbers as a certified public accountant at Barnes and Haycock Accounting Firm in Glenwood Springs.
Barnes: My dad grew up in Taylorville, Illinois, and my mom came from Seneca, Missouri. They met in Rifle, Colorado, in 1930. My dad’s father owned three farms in Illinois, and he lost all three in the Depression, so he quit farming and worked as the sheriff of Taylorville. The ’30s were a tough time.
I think both sides of my family came West for better opportunities. My mom’s dad, Grandpa Adams, started the Adam’s Café in Rifle, and the family ran it for years. My mom and her four sisters staffed the Café. Mom was the baker, Aunt Gladys was the cook, Aunt Rowena waited tables and Grandpa sat out front and ran the cash register and greeted people.
My dad ran a pool hall in Rifle, and, when I was 10, he moved us all to Glenwood so he could run the pool hall there. My dad was an unusual person.
Gallacher: What do you mean?
Barnes: He was a gambler. He played a lot of cards, poker and gin rummy, and he was very good at it. He actually made a fair amount of money. He ran the pool hall, and then in 1948 he bought a bunch of slot machines.
Gallacher: So it was legal to have slots in Colorado at the time?
Barnes: Well, it was sorta legal, somewhere in the middle. I’m guessing that nobody really cared or they just looked the other way. So Dad started putting these machines in bars all over the Western Slope. He had them behind panels, so they weren’t real obvious. I think he had at least 400 slot machines when he really got going.
About that same time, Dad opened up a casino in the basement of the Hotel Jerome in Aspen and the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood, and eventually he opened one in Idaho Springs.
Gallacher: Wow, he was a busy man. He must have had a few people working for him.
Barnes: He did. One of the guys he relied on was Abe Velasquez. Abe took care of the slot machines, and my dad supervised the casinos.
He used to tell me stories about Gary Cooper, a famous actor in the ’40s. Cooper was one of the first guys to build a house in Aspen when it started to take off. Dad said he didn’t gamble a lot but he would come down to the Jerome Casino in his cowboy gear and sit and roll cigarettes and talk to the people.
Gallacher: I bet he was great for business.
Barnes: I’m sure he was. I remember, when I was little, Dad was a great boxing fan. So when I was 8 years old, he told me he wanted me to start hitting the punching bag that he had in the back of the pool hall. That thing would barely move when I hit it, it was so heavy.
I wasn’t making much progress but that didn’t stop my dad. And when I turned 9, he enrolled me in a Golden Gloves boxing tournament.
Gallacher: Did you like boxing?
Barnes: No, it was just something he wanted me to do. The tournament was held in the American Legion building, which is where the Balcomb and Green law-firm is now.
So there I was in the ring with this other little kid, and I thought we were just gonna punch around for fun, but he came out and hit me about three times, and that was enough for me.
Gallacher: How did you and your dad get along?
Barnes: Actually, Dad and I got along great even though I was never sure what he wanted me to be. Dad spent most of his time in the pool halls and didn’t spend a lot of time with us kids. But as I look back, he was a darn good guy, and I’m proud he was my dad.
Gallacher: He must have been really busy. He had at least three businesses going for a while.
Barnes: He did love gambling, and he loved being in those casinos. He told me that he had to constantly watch for guys who would come in with their own dice and try to rig the game.
Gallacher: That gambling business does attract the grifters.
Barnes: It absolutely does, and when he started the casino in Idaho Springs he attracted the attention of the Smaldones, a crime family based in Denver. They didn’t want my dad’s casino in their territory, and they let him know in their own special way. They put a lot of pressure on him to close it. Dad was really worried.
Gallacher: Did he ever talk to you about it?
Barnes: No, I was only 13 at the time, but I heard him talking to my Mom about it. He was worried that they would take all three casinos from him. They never did make that move, and I am not sure why they didn’t.
Gallacher: Did your dad close the Idaho Springs casino?
Barnes: He did. I think the Smaldones made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Gallacher: So how did your mom take to all of this?
Barnes: I’m sure she was worried, too, but she spent her time creating a great homelife for us kids. Dad made the living, and Mom stayed at home. She was incredible.
Gallacher: Tell me about her.
Barnes: She contracted rheumatoid arthritis when she was 30 and, for the next 40 years, she struggled to walk and do everyday things. I can remember there were times when her knees were swollen to double their size. She had a lot of courage. She made the best banana coconut cream pie.
Gallacher: How long did your dad stay in the casino business?.
Barnes: It was probably about three years. I think the state of Colorado passed a law that put him out of business. He took the money he made with the casinos and opened a hardware store with a guy named Orville “Shoes” Morris. They called it B&M Hardware for Barnes and Morris.
“Shoes” managed the place, and my dad worked there, some, but he continued to play cards at the pool hall. I think Dad stayed away from real estate investments because he saw his dad lose it all during the Depression. But he did drill three dry oils wells in Wyoming. He lost a lot of money there. Then he opened a café in Rifle and, after that, he went back to running a pool hall.
Gallacher: Your dad was a numbers guy, and you turned out to be a numbers man of a different sort. Do you feel like he influenced your decision to become an accountant?
Barnes: I think he did, because he was a numbers guy. He could remember cards that had been played and figure the odds in his head.
I graduated from D.U. in 1959 with a degree in accounting and came home, and Barb and I got married. I did my stint in the Army, and then we spent a few years in Denver. And then we moved back to Glenwood and I went to work for Dan Handy’s accounting firm.
Gallacher: How did you meet Barb?
Barnes: She used to come to Glenwood in the summers to visit her uncle, Ben Naylor. She worked for Jerry and Marcie Fitch who ran KGLN, the local radio station, and a bookstore downtown.
I met Barb in the bookstore, she was 16 and I was 18. We stayed in touch and our relationship grew over the years.
Gallacher: How long did you work for Dan Handy?
Barnes: Well, I met Cliff Haycock there and, after a few years, he and I went in together and bought the business from Dan.
Gallacher: What was Dan like?
Barnes: He was a very nice guy, but he had no kids; accounting was his life. So he didn’t understand when we wanted time off to be with our families. We worked 65-70 hours a week during tax season. And right after tax season, there were the audits. We finally had to tell him that we couldn’t keep that kind of pace and raise our families.
In those days we always had more work than we could do, given the size of our firm, so we were always behind. It got pretty stressful at times.
Gallacher: There must be something about the profession — two of your daughters work with numbers.
Barnes: Actually all three of my daughters. Lyndie took over the business when I retired, Shannon is assistant superintendent for the Roaring Fork School District and chief financial officer, and Kaycee is an office-space planner for large businesses in Denver.
Gallacher: Do you miss the world of numbers?
Barnes: I miss it a little bit. We did tax returns for people for over 30 years. I miss the contact with my clients, my old friends.