Sunday Profile: Rifle will have to get by without Klocker
Although he tried to go about it as “just another day,” Roland Klocker admitted on Jan. 28 that he was a bit nervous.
It was his last day working for the city of Rifle Operations and Maintenance department — a conclusion to a career of more than 40 years with the city. If you want to be more specific, he said that day with a chuckle, it was actually 40 years, seven months and about two weeks since he graduated from Rifle High School and took a city job, thanks to a government program.
As Rifle Public Works Superintendent Bobby O’Dell told City Council on Jan. 20, Klocker “ is an icon for the city.”
“I can tell you right now as a supervisor, and I’ve been with him for almost 10 years now, he is an excellent employee,” O’Dell said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about Roland.”
Growing up in Colorado, Klocker never envisioned doing the job he had done all these years. He was born in Golden and his father’s career as a rancher took the family to numerous destinations. After a stint in Grand Junction, the family moved to Denver. One day Klocker and his brother “were out in the street doing something we shouldn’t be doing” when their father came home from work.
As Klocker tells the story, “he went back into the house and says, ‘Mom, we got to get back to the country.’ He said, ‘You can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.’”
It was a different world with different rules, Klocker added. The family moved back to Grand Junction and eventually ended up in the Rifle area.
Klocker admitted he was never a good student, but he had a knack for running equipment.
“I didn’t do well in school because … my mind was always out on the job and running equipment, or one thing or another,” he said. “I’m not really book smart but I can go out here and do anything I want. I can drive anything with wheels, I like to say.”
Shortly before graduation at Rifle High, Klocker was one of three students being considered for a government program that would provide one year of employment with the city. The city would pay half of the wage and hire the person on full time after one year.
“For whatever reason,” Klocker said, they picked him.
‘Young and dumb’
To say things were different when Klocker started his career is an understatement. The city did not have a salt truck. Back then, workers plowed snow with a road grader, and they dumped sand out of a pickup truck with a hole cut in the tailgate. A person in the back of the truck would shovel the sand into a spinner attached to the back. It was “a huge lifesaver” when the city got its first sander truck several years later, he said.
Klocker has stories, and not all of them are related to work. In the ‘70s he and his wife, Carol, were back by Fravert Reservoir where they noticed a van resting on its driver’s side. He called law enforcement because he thought it was likely stolen.
A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene and, as Klocker tells the story, inspected the van. Since it was on the driver’s side, the deputy could not access the VIN number. After a couple of nudges, Klocker put his shoulder into the van and tipped it back onto its wheels. The deputy had a hard time processing what he had just seen.
“He looked at my wife and he said, ‘Does your husband tip cars over for a living?’”
Much like some of the younger men joining the Public Works crew today, Klocker was, as he puts it, “young and dumb” back then.
During the spring clean-up periods where Rifle residents can put their junk on the curb and have the city remove it, Klocker would pick up refrigerators, car engines and other obscenely heavy items and toss them in the back of a pickup truck.
“I would pick them suckers up and throw them in the back of a truck,” he recalled.
The “young and dumb” days aside, the physical aspect of his work has taken its toll, and that might be an indication of the adjustment ahead for Klocker. Years ago his back, as he said, went “to heck.” O’Dell put him in more of a supervisory role to ease the strain. One day years ago, O’Dell saw Klocker swinging a sledge hammer and asked him why he was engaging in physical labor.
“I said, ‘You know, Bobby, 30-plus years of doing the same thing, you know it’s kind of hard to turn that switch back off,’” he said. “You see something that needs to be done, you pick up the shovel, or hammer or whatever you need, and go do it.”
Reflecting on his career, Klocker does not romanticize his tenure with the city. While he has enjoyed the job, and more importantly his coworkers, he admits that part of the reason he stayed all these years is because “nothing better came along.”
“That was my attitude: ‘Oh, sure, I’ll go work for the city and probably stay there four, five, six years and then something better will come along and I’ll move on. But nothing better came along.”
There have been times, he adds, that he has been fed up at work, but there was nothing that “would let me do what I do here.”
Regardless of the circumstance, Klocker is aware of how unusual it is for a person to stay with one employer for that many years. He has seen a countless number of people come and go over the years.
In commenting on Klocker’s career, City Manager Matt Sturgeon pointed to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2014 report found that the median number of years a wage and salary worker had been with their current employer was 4.6 years. The number bumped up to 10.4 years among older workers.
As Sturgeon said, “40 years with one employer is what a statistician would call an outlier.”
“The world doesn’t produce a lot of Roland’s — he’s a rare breed and we’re going to miss him,” Sturgeon added.
As for retirement, Klocker knows it is going to take some adjusting to. Recently he was in Grand Junction and he stopped to look a new work boots.
“And I was like, I’m retiring. What do I need new work boots (for)?”
In the midst of that adjustment, Klocker said he is looking forward to getting out and riding on his Harley Trike, and heading down to Texas to do some deep sea fishing.
“Other than that,” he said, “I’m going to take off on my bike and when I come home I come home.”
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