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A pink-skinned redhead and a bear named Pete

Intro: Reno Pretti died peacefully at his home on Devereux Road on Sept. 18, 2013. He is survived by JoAnn, his wife of 63 years, and his sons Scott and Anderson.

This interview was recorded in 2009.

Pretti: I was born in Glenwood Springs in 1918. My grandparents on both sides of the family came from the Tyrol in Austria. They came because there were too many kids in the family and there wasn’t enough land to support them.

My mother was a Moscon. Her father, Peter Moscon, came to this country in 1880 as a stonemason. He worked in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Boulder and Leadville before ending up at Spring Gulch outside of Carbondale.

He told my mom he came to the Valley because it reminded him of his beloved Tyrol where the mountains were high and the valleys narrow. He worked at Spring Gulch until 1883 when he returned to the Tyrol to marry his sweetheart, Phyllis Arnoldi. After the wedding, he brought his new bride to Spring Gulch.

The economy in western Colorado was driven by the Colorado Fuel and Iron (CFI) coalmines. So most people went to work for the mines as a place to start until you could get enough together to buy a farm. But my Grandfather Moscon didn’t like farming, so he stuck with masonry.

He went to work as a fire boss at the mine in the town of Spring Gulch, five miles from Carbondale. His primary job was the safety of the mine. He spent a lot of time shoring up weak spots in the mine and watching for cave-ins.

He also worked as a fire boss in the other CFI mines in the area. The Union, Marion, Pocahontas, Sunlight, Sunshine, New Castle and Coal Basin mines were active at that time. He also helped build the coke ovens in Redstone, Cardiff, Union and Marion. Many of the miners in these mines were Austrians from the Tyrol and northern Italians.

Granddad Moscon turned 51 working in the mines. By then he and my grandmother had 10 kids, all of them born in Spring Gulch. Two died in infancy and my mom and seven others lived long, full lives. I think my granddad was realizing about then that it was time to get out of the mines while the gettin’ was good. He hadn’t been seriously injured, and he didn’t suffer from black lung like so many miners.

So in 1908, when the Devereux brothers decided to divide their ranch up into small farms, Grandad purchased eight acres for $2,400 dollars. With the help of his miner friends, he built a barn while Grandma planted a garden. By 1910, they were selling vegetables and milk from their farm. Mom always said that it was Grandma who was the farmer. Grandpa always boasted that he was a stonemason not the type of guy to clean out a barn.

Gallacher: What’s your dad’s story?

Pretti: My dad was born in western Austria just south of Innsbruck in 1888. He turned 17 in 1905 and came to the U.S. to work for his dad’s brother, Celeste Pretti, who already had a farm on Silt Mesa.

It was while he was working for his uncle on a job in Glenwood that he met Elmer Lucas, the owner of the Hotel Colorado. Lucas was so impressed with my dad’s work that he asked him to come to work at the Hotel Colorado.

Before long, my dad was in charge of managing the grounds of the hotel and overseeing Lucas’ other properties. He milked cows and took care of the horses and managed a big garden across from the west entrance of the hotel where they raised all the fruits and vegetables for the hotel kitchen.

Gallacher: It sounds like your dad worked really hard.

Pretti: Oh yeah, I think Lucas worked him to death, but my dad didn’t seem to mind. They were good for each other. My dad worked hard for him, and Lucas acknowledged my dad’s work by giving him whatever he needed. We used to go eat with Lucas and his wife in their apartment at the hotel. Lucas died in 1927 and willed all his dogs, guns and horses to my dad.

Gallacher: So what kind of jobs did you have to do as a kid?

Pretti: Well, I did a lot of things, but the job I liked the most was taking care of the hotel’s pet bear. They called him Pete, Pete the Bear. He lived in a cage on the east side of the hotel. In those days during the summer, the hotel always had a bakery, and Pete used to get the stale bread after all those wealthy people were finished with it. So Dad let me feed Pete. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound like such a good idea to have a 6-year-old feeding a 300-pound bear.

Gallacher: Yeah, with a handful of bread you must have looked like a sandwich to Pete. Did he ever act like he was going to eat you?

Pretti: (laughs) Oh no, he just ate whatever I gave him like a puppy dog. He wasn’t vicious at all. I can remember very clearly, standing by that bear. I was a little nervous at first. Dad reassured me that it was safe and he needed someone to feed him. So I got the job.

Occasionally, Pete the Bear got out of his cage and headed west. My dad would have to saddle a horse and take Lucas’ hunting dogs and go looking for him. The dogs were accustomed to tracking Pete, so it didn’t take them long to pick up his scent and chase him up a tree. Dad would call off the dogs and Pete would climb down and Dad would lead him home.

But one day, Pete escaped and got quite a lead on my dad and the dogs. Pete took his usual route but he was miles ahead and seemed to be heading up Mitchell Creek toward the Storm King Ranch.

Dad finally got to the ranch and there was Curtis King, all excited. He ran up the road yelling, “Hey, John, I just killed a bear!” All my dad could say was, “Oh lordy, lordy, Curtis, you’ve killed my bear.” He was heartsick. He loved Ol’ Pete, a lot of people did.

Gallacher: Do you have a favorite memory of your father?

Pretti: Oh I have a lot of them (laughs). The most enduring one was over here in our field. My dad had about an acre of ground where he raised potatoes. He was out there with a team of horses one day cultivating the soil. I was just a kid and thought cultivating looked pretty easy so I asked him if I could try.

So he gave me the reins and off I went. I only got about five feet before I pulled up two potato plants. Dad grabbed the reins from me and said, “Son, you’re only young once, go out and play, because when you turn 16 there’ll be no rest after that.”

Gallacher: What about your mom?

Pretti: (laughs) Well, I don’t know if it’s a favorite memory, but it’s one I’ll never forget. You see I was a deep redhead. I think I was the only boy in town who was a redhead. At least that’s the way I remember it. I got that from my mom’s side of the family. Most all of the Moscons had red hair.

One day, when I was about 5 years old, I went outside with my mom to talk to the neighbor woman and she greeted me with, “Hi, carrot top.” Well, I started cussin’ a blue streak, and my mom grabbed me and hauled me to the house. I can remember the woman calling to my mom not to be too hard on me, but I still got the switch. I think that was the only time my mother switched me.

Gallacher: So did you get teased a lot about your red hair?

Pretti: Yeah, quite a bit. I remember the Strawberry Day Parade when I was 12 years old. Someone decided to have a float that represented the Hot Springs Pool. So they mounted a big tank on the back of this truck and filled it with water, and that was supposed to be the pool. Mr. Lucas chose me to be the lifeguard, and I couldn’t say no because my dad worked for him.

So they recruited five or six girls to sit around this “pool,” and I was supposed to sit up on a ladder and act like a lifeguard. I was a shy kid to begin with, and here I was this pale-skinned redhead in a bathing suit. I was supposed to be smiling and waving but I was mad and scowling. We were going up and down Grand Avenue on this contraption and everybody saw me scowling and they started razzing me. “Hey Pinky, smile for us,” they were saying. Well the more they razzed me the madder I got.

Boy my dad was so mad at me because I had embarrassed him in front of Lucas. He was scolding me about my attitude after the parade and Lucas overheard him and said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, John. He drew a lot of attention to our float.”

Gallacher: So part of the reason they were calling you “Pinky” was because you were getting a terrible sunburn.

Pretti: Oh yeah, I was so fair-skinned I could get a really bad sunburn in about 15 minutes. That’s why I always wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves. I’m white as snow under here.

Gallacher: So you weren’t the best pick for the lifeguard on the float were you?

Pretti: No, I sure wasn’t, and I’ve haven’t had a bathing suit on since.

Postscript: Reno Pretti, the shy redhead, went on to graduate from college and serve as an aircraft navigator during World War II. After the War, he went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad where he was vice-president of Research and Development. In 1975, he became an economist for the Interstate Commerce Commission until retiring in 1989.


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