Building in the High Country

He made living on the edge his life’s work. Literally.
Larry “Bud” Striegel represents the second generation of a family business started by his father. The company found its niche where few others dared to go — laying pipeline in the high country of Colorado and other western states.
That’s where the company made its mark, and its money.
“It’s work nobody else would do,” Striegel said. “It’s pretty damn dangerous. We do other work, too, but … I can get more money out of two miles up there in the cliffs.”
Striegel is president of the company, which is a true family affair. His brother Randy is vice president, and his daughter, Teri Wilczek, is office administrator. Sons Erik and Deven also work for the company, as does a grandson Kellen, who represents the fourth generation to enter the family business.
Striegel’s father started the company 64 years ago.
“You’d have to check, but I think we’re the oldest business in this county that’s still in the same name,” he said.
His father, W.C., came to Rangely in 1945 because of work in the oil fields. The company still bears his name.
“They called them boomers,” Striegel said. “When they came here, they thought they would be gone by ’55. They thought they would have it pumped out and be movin’ on. But that ol’ hill has been pretty good, and it’s still a goin’.”
That ‘ol hill is the Rangely oil field.
“It made this county and it made (nearby) Vernal (Utah),” Striegel said. “The Rangely oil field, that’s what financed this county. It’s still keeping this county going. If you talked to anybody who worked in the oil field, clear up into the ’80s, they went through Rangely. A lot of people, Rangely made ’em. It’s still a major deal. That’s been a real pot of gold down there. It’s been good to me and my family, I can tell you that. Where else can you work for 60 years, the same deal, and it’s still going?”
Business wasn’t always booming. There were lean times. The booms were followed by busts. It’s a familiar cycle to families and communities whose fortunes rise and fall with the production and price of oil.
“In ’76, dad and I got out of debt,” Striegel said. “Things were really tight there for a while. We laid a line from Steamboat to Rangely in ’74, that kind of got us going again. But I can remember when we didn’t draw a paycheck for six months. The grocery story in Rangely would extend us credit. I’ll tell you something that will make you humble … go down there and ask if you can charge food for another month. That will make you pretty damn humble.”
With the energy resurgence in recent years, maybe that’s why Striegel doesn’t get too worked up now with all this talk of an economic downturn. He’s been there, done that.
“We’ve had three booms,” he said. “Dad told me we have one every 20 or 25 years. That’s about what they figure up. We came here in the ’45 boom, then we had a pretty good one in the ’70s, and then this one.”
Striegel’s father didn’t live to see the latest boom. He died in 1981. He had a heart attack in 1965, and wasn’t quite ever the same.
“I had one, too, the same age he did,” Striegel said. “I had a five-way bypass in ’96.”
Not that it’s slowed him down a whole lot.
“I thought I was going to retire when I was 65,” said Striegel, who is 67. “We’ve worked really hard, with no days off. I went 17 years before my wife and I ever had a vacation. But I work now because I want to, not because I have to.
“People will ask me, ‘When are you going to quit?’” Striegel said. “I tell them, ‘You know, I’m making more money now than I’ve ever made. Hell, I got a raise man.’”
His “raise” came from the government.
“I get Social Security now,” Striegel said. “I wasn’t going to take that, and then they were giving all of that money away. So I went and signed up for it. I felt kind of guilty, but I thought, ‘Hell, they are going to give it away anyway with this bailout or blow it on something, so what’s the difference?’ I’ll just put that in my scholarship fund. I might as well do something with it. I figure why don‘t I give it to somebody.”
Striegel and his father, butted heads sometimes, like fathers and sons can do.
“I couldn’t get along with my dad. I used to get mad and quit,” Striegel said. “But I’d come back and he’d say, ‘I thought you quit.’ ‘I came back,’ I’d say. When we got older, hell, were good buddies.”
Striegel sees some of his father in himself.
“My dad never did see me play any sports or anything. He was always working, trying to make a living in Wyoming or some damn place,” Striegel said. “I never saw my kids play any sports, either. It’s kind of sad. But that’s part of construction, I guess. You have more time for your grandkids. I’ve seen everything they’ve done.”
His father was one of 13 children.
“His father died when he was 6,” Striegel said of his grandfather. “When I was like 1-year-old, dad went to California to work in the shipyards, and mother was a riveter who worked on airplanes. Dad was always chasing a rainbow. The Rangely deal started in ’45, and like I said, dad was always chasing rainbows. He was a welder, dad was. So he came out here and went to work. He borrowed $500 and bought a truck and out here he came.”
Striegel’s mother, Nelma, was a driving force behind the success of the company. She kept the books. She was active in the company until her death last June at the age of 94.
“She made our business,” Striegel said. “She was really a neat woman, and I’m not just saying that because she was my mother.”
In a similar way, Striegel’s wife, June, is the driving force behind him.
“She’s more of a people person than I am,” Bud said. “I’m more business oriented than she is. She never met anybody she couldn’t talk to. I never did like being around people very much. I’m introverted; my wife is extroverted.”
June has battled cancer, but she’s doing better.
“She’s doing really well since her last bout,” said daughter Teri. “She has lymphoma. She had a stem cell transplant in September. They thought everything went well. That’s why she’s in (Grand) Junction so much, to have tests and checkups there.”
June divides her time between Rangely and Grand Junction, where she looks in on her father, and the Striegels’ Campbell Creek Ranch upriver.
“I don’t have to see the doctor in Denver except every three months now, but I still have to see the one in Junction about every three weeks to have a blood test,” June said.
Both June and Bud grew up in Rangely. The oil boom is what brought their families here.
“We came when I was 4 years old,” June said. “My dad worked for oil companies. He worked on the rigs.”
Bud and June are a Mutt and Jeff couple. He’s tall; she’s short. He’s reserved; she’s outgoing.
However, Bud does like to tell stories.
“When we give tours (at the ranch), I don’t dare mess up telling the stories,” June said. “So he tells the stories and I give the tours.”
Spend time around Bud, and his sense of humor quickly comes through.
“I only went to one year of college (at Mesa State College in Grand Junction), and my wife swooped in and married me,” he said. “I had a (basketball) scholarship to Adams State (in Alamosa), but my wife trapped me. So I went to Mesa.”
Because of his 6-6 frame, Bud towers above the crowd.
“That’s too tall,” he said. “I like sports cars, but I never could have one of them. I never did like my body, because I was so tall. But I was looking in the mirror the other day and I thought, ‘God, I’ve still got my hair. I’m still skinny. I can still do knee squats. I’m starting to like myself.”
Despite standing out because of his height, Bud prefers to work behind the scenes.
Besides the money he gives for college scholarships to local students, Bud is a big supporter of Colorado Northwestern Community College, having donated $1 million for the engineering building, which will bear his father’s name.
“My father wanted me to go college and be an engineer,” said Bud, who never made it to engineering school.
He may not have the degree, but that didn’t stop Bud from becoming an engineer by trade.
“Bud is probably one of the best engineers in the area,” said CNCC President John Boyd. “I will tell you what, he’s incredibly gifted with his talent and ability. He’s a natural.”
Bud is old school when it comes to calculating bids for jobs.
“I figure it on an adding machine and a legal pad,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long … I pretty much know what something is going to be.”
When it comes to CNCC, Bud has been very generous, Boyd said.
“You rarely run across a man like Bud Striegel, who just care that much about the community he lives in and the college. He is a very giving person. And, frankly, the community as well as the college are blessed to have a Bud Striegel in our area.”
For his part, Bud enjoys giving to causes close to home.
“I like Rangely, I like Meeker, I like the county, and I like the state,” Bud said. “That’s where I donate my money.”
The family business has been good to Bud, and he’s not ready to hang it up yet. He still enjoys going to work every day.
“Fate’s got more to do with it than anything,” he said of his career path. “You’re really lucky if you can fall into something you like and you can do well with it. There are a lot of people going to work every day who hate it. I never did (feel that way).”