Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Carl Tesitor

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Sherry Cook
Date of Interview - 1-29-1980
Interviewed by - Sandra Cason

Carl Tesitor
Date of birth - 10-12-1913
Parents - Nicholas Tesitor and Josephine Campagne
Ethnic group - Italian
Family origin - Palermo, Sicily
Date of family arrival in County - 1903
Location of first family settlement - Pueblo then Hastings
Kinship ties - Lenzini's
Profession - Coal mines, 1/3 owner Lenzini Motors

We are at Lenzini Motors, this is Sandra Cason and I am speaking to Mr. Carl Tesitor.

SC: When did your family first come to this country?

CT: I think it was around 1903; somewhere around there. They lived in the coal camps around here in 1903 and then they moved to Walsen County a little later than that. Probably about 1913 or '14. But my father came from Europe, he went into Pueblo first and then moved down to the coal camp down around Trinidad, at Berwind and Hastings. In fact, my oldest brother, Sam Taylor, was born at Hastings, Colorado.

SC: Where were you born?

CT: I was born in Aguilar, in 1913, during the Ludlow strike. Right after that we moved to Walsenburg.

SC: Where did you family come from?

CT: My father came from Sicily, in Italy.

SC: Did they grow up in the same town and know each other?

CT: Yes.

SC: Do you know the name of the town?

CT: Palermo, Sicily.

SC: Do you know how they came, how it happened that he came here?

CT: Evidently he had relations with some friends in Pueblo that got him a job at the steel works. That's how he got into the country. Then after that he came down and started working in the coal mines.

SC: Did they come together, your mother and father?

CT: I don't know.

SC: Did they come to Walsenburg because of the strike?

CT: No, my father, after the strike at Ludlow, got a job at the Cameron Mine and we moved to that camp. We lived at Walsenburg but he worked over there.

SC: Did he go out on strike in 1913?

CT: Yes, I think everybody went out for quite a while.

SC: Do you remember any stories about that?

CT: No, not that one at the time. I remember more or less the strike of '22 and the 1927 strike. That lasted a long time.

SC: Do you remember that yourself? Where were you then?

CT: We lived in Walsenburg. My father worked at Walsen at that time.

SC: So could you tell me any stories about that?

CT: Not anything in particular that somebody that hasn't already told you. Some of these old coal miners probably know more about it than I do. I remember my father worked at Walsen and, at that time, you didn't have to have a driver's license. I was 12 or 13 years old and used to drive him to work. That's about all I can remember. I was a kid at that time.

SC: Do you have brothers or sisters?

CT: Yes. We had a large family. There was 9 of us. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters.

SC: And what are their names?

CT: The ones that are living are my sister Helen Dellagante, at the First National Bank and Jim Tesitor, the Postmaster. Myself, here in Walsenburg. I have a sister, Jean Thompson, in Denver and a sister, Ann Bell, in Owensboro, Kentucky and a brother Phillip in Grand Junction, that are living. My brother's Sam and Tony passed away about two years ago.

SC: Did your father or mother have relatives here?

CT: Yes, my father had a bother that lived here in Walsenburg. He drowned in the 1922 flood. That Pueblo flood, he drowned in that. He has two boys that are still living. Sam Tesitor and Nicky, both still living.

CT: My bothers, Sam and Tony and my dad started in the coal business in the early '30's. That's when we got started in the coal business. We were in the coal business for a long time. During the war we had three mines going. At one time, we had 203 employees at three mines. I came in 1942, January of '42. My brothers Sam and Tony were both going in the service and I happened to fail the army exam, so they asked me to come run the mines at Craig. So, I quit Safeway and came up to the mines in 1942 and stayed for 17 years. But, like the rest of the small coal operators in the '50's we went out of business.

SC: What was the cause of that?

CT: Well, there wasn't any demand for coal at the time. We were selling coal at Craig, at that time, for $2 a ton. We had to haul it all the way to Craig, 33 miles, and had to screen it and we just couldn't make it.

SC: There is still coal here?

CT: Oh, yes! There is a lot of coal here. People don't like me to say it, but you might see small activity here around the strip mines, stripping and cropping, but these seams of coal are thin and they all pitch quite a bit and it isn't conductive to a good strip mine operation. That's the mines that are operating now. You get over to the Western Slope, property just leased out to Gulf Minerals, has a 17 foot, 20 foot, and 30 foot seam of coal on it. So that's where you will see activity, over on the Western Slope, over around Craig or in Wyoming or Utah where you have these thick beds of coal. That's where the coal companies are going to put their money. It's minor down here.

SC: What were the names of the mines you had?

CT: We had Rouse, which in Huerfano County and then we had Radson and Berman that were in Los Animas County. We had all three of them working at the same time during the war. Then we ended up after the war. Still, during the war we closed Rouse down. Ran out of coal and then we concentrated on Radson and Berwind and then we closed Berwind down and concentrated on Radson. I went to Craig in 1947 and my brother, Tony got aback from there service, he took the mine at Radson and I went and opened the mine at Craig. I was there, involved in the coal business, till 1958 when we closed down and then I worked in Craig for a year, came back to Walsenburg and bought into the Lenzini Motor Company.

SC: Who are the other owners at this time?

CT: My bother Sam and my bother Tony. The three of us.

SC: The same ones that had the mines?

CT: Yes.

CT: Sam bought them up from a man by the name of Taylor. He started the company in 1942. Sam took up the name of Taylor. He was a senator for 40 years. You probably heard that.

SC: Uh-huh. State senator?

CT: He started the business and I took over in 1942. He took back over and I operated the one in Craig.

SC: He was a State senator?

CT: Yes, I think the longest one in the history of the state.

SC: Democrat?

CT: Yes, Couldn't have been elected a Republican in Walsenburg.

SC: Do you remember the changeover at all? I guess you were young then, when the Republican Party was going out and the Democrats were coming in.

CT: We moved into Walsenburg, into the city proper, about 1919. We lived at Cameron and then we lived on the ranch for 3 years, east of Walsenburg. Actually, best I remember is in the late 20's. From then on. My brother Sam was elected, I think, in 1932 or '36. That was when the Democrats and the New Deal and everything went in.

SC: Do you remember any incident from the strike in '22?

CT: Not too much. I was about 9 years old. I remember the Wobblie strike where they had the parades here in town and they had their headquarters down on South Main Street. It was a lot of friction and animosity in those days. Lot of strikers were coming in from Trinidad and places like that. It was touch and go there for a while, I think.

SC: How about the depression here, what was that like?

CT: I remember the depression real well. I graduated from High School in 1931 and I got a job with the Safeway. Well, which is Safeway now; it was a private store at the time. I started out with $12.50 a week and worked 18 hours in those days, 6 in the morning and by the time you got through stocking shelves and got home it was 10 or midnight. And sometimes come back on Sunday and clean up. That was '31 or '32 and things got worse before they got better because they cut us from $12.50 to $10 a week if we wanted to stay. At that time, I was about the only one in the family working. We'd get $10 a week for 8 people and men with families come in and want to work for 5 or 6 or $7 a week. They didn't care as long as they had a job. So, I remember the depression real well. Course things were cheaper but you didn't have money to buy anything.

SC: What were the holidays, when you were a child, that were celebrated in your home?

CT: Fourth of July and Christmas. That's the only two I can remember. In those days wasn't gifts like you get today. You'd get maybe a sack of fruit or something and you were real fortunate. Things were quite a bit different.

SC: What was your mother's maiden name?

CT: Compagah. When my father came over here he spelled it a little bit different. TESSITORE. But, in 1927 they just shortened it to Tesitor, legally. Shortened it up. Still Tesitor.

SC: Was your brother in the county after he was elected or did he move to Denver?

CT: No, he was here. He died about 3 years ago.

SC: Do you remember the campaigns, the early ones, getting him elected?

CT: He didn't have much trouble. He really didn't have to campaign very much. His district at that time included Costia County and Walsenburg and Trinidad. After they reapportioned the state he had part of Pueblo, the last time he ran. Then his health failed. Then he quit in 1976, I think it was. He didn't have too much trouble getting elected. He was very well liked. He was an attorney and I don't think he ever sent anybody a bill in his life and he did a lot of free work for a lot of people. And they appreciated the fact. He was well liked and he did a good job, I think. He was well liked in the state.

SC: You married?

CT: Yes, I married Mary Lenzini. The brothers-in-law are my partners. We have been married for 35 years and have 6 children.

SC: What are your children's names and where are they?

CT: We have Lisa that's still at home. Jeannie is teaching in Longmont. She lives in boulder and teaches in Longmont. My youngest son, David, just graduated in January in Boulder. He's an insurance broker in Denver. He started two weeks ago. Carl Jr., we call him Jed and he calls himself Carlos, Carl Jr. We have a daughter, Nicchi, in Colorado Springs in publications and advertising business. We have a daughter in New Jersey. Her husband is an actor, plays and in a few short movies. We see him an awful lot on TV in commercials.

SC: What do you think the biggest difference is between now and when you were growing up?

CT: Kids have a lot more freedom then they did before. My parents were very strict. You were in real early or somebody was waiting behind the door when you got home. And, of course, in those days we didn't have spending money. When I was a growing kid working, first I worked for Safeway, graduated from high school and I'd get 20 cents to go to a show and a nickel to spend out of the paycheck and the rest went for something to eat. You didn't have cars. Well, we had a model T Ford that I used to take my dad to work in, but not to ride around in. No joy rides there. Nothing like that. And entertainment, they used to have dances all over and kids would get together and go to a dance. But it wasn't anything like it is today. They got a car, stereos. I think one of the biggest mistakes parents make today, and I did the same thing, is to think “oh, my kids aren't going to have it as tough as I did when I was a kid.” And you spoil them. And they just don't have value judgment growing up. In my family nobody was ever hungry, everybody working but getting money coming in, you learned to survive and our kids never had to go through that. They just have a free ride and if you can't give it to them the government will. So they don't have a problem.

SC: Did your parents maintain any customs that you remember from the old country?

CT: Not that I know of.

SC: Did you ever hear any stories about their trip?

CT: Nope. Funny thing. We never talked much about things like that. About the only thing I can remember my mother saying was I went back to one of her brothers. Most all the Tesitor's…my mother was 5 foot one and my dad was 5 foot 4 or 5 foot 5 and all the rest of my brothers were short. I was about 6 foot tall; I remember her saying, “well, you take after my brother. He was tall.” But they didn't talk too much about that. I remember my dad telling me though, they used to swim in the ocean, in the Mediterranean, and said it was just beautiful there, in Sicily. And he said the climate was an awful lot like in California.

SC: Do you think they missed it?

CT: No, I don't think so. My father was a baker in the army in Italy and he showed me several places down south of Aguilar and he was a real good cheese maker. During the strike he moved in with some people that that had goats and he used to make cheese for them. And then, there was a house down there by that Stuckey's south of town and he said that used to be a bakery and he worked there some. That's about all. He never talked much.

SC: Where did you go to school?

CT: I went all twelve grades here in Walsenburg. The old Hill school is where I started. And graduated from Huerfano County High School. I didn't get a chance to go to college. I went to work.

SC: Do you remember any stories about Jeff Farr?

CT: No, I knew the Farrs, but I read the stories where he was hired by the CF&I and ran the county. I read that out of “The Depths” that quoted him, but outside of that I don't know anything about him.

SC: Did you have, when you were growing up, have chores?

CT: We all had chores

SC: What kind of things?

CT: Cut wood, take out the ashes. When I was 8 years old I sold newspapers and went to meet the train at 4:30 in the morning to deliver newspapers. So I worked most of the time. Sold papers after school. And I can't remember when I didn't work.

SC: Was that true for other kids in the family?

CT: Yes, we all did our share. Had to. When we first moved up from the ranch we brought a cow up and one of my sister's jobs was to milk the cow so we all had something to do.

SC: What did your father do when he moved to Walsenburg?

CT: Worked in the mine. When we lived out at the ranch, way I understand it, we got a free house and free rent and we took care of the cows, the kids took care of the cows.

SC: What ranch was that?

CT: Corsentino Ranch. Fellow named DeVeta owned that and let us live there and we took care of the cows and my dad made cheese for him so we got free rent for that. But, my dad, he did that just in his spare time. Cause he'd walk from there all the way to Cameron. He'd walk all the way to work every day and back. I remember seeing our dad just on weekends because it was long hours. He'd go to work long before we got up and he'd get home after we were in bed. So it was rough for him. He had a tough life.

SC: Was your family church goers?

CT: Most of the children. And my father wasn't but my mother was a very devout Catholic. She went all the time. My father never went. And most all the kids. One of my sisters went all through the Catholic schools. One of my brothers was very devout. He went to seminary for a while to be a priest. My daddy though, he'd go to church on Sundays. Most of the time.

SC: Do you remember any entertainment, at home or otherwise, when you were growing up?

CT: I think we had a little old radio, but that was about it.

SC: Did anyone in your family or anyone you knew play a musical instrument?

CT: Not any in our family.

SC: Did you family, father, belong to any fraternal organizations?

CT: He might have belonged to the Elks or the Eagles, but I don't think so. He worked all the time.

SC: Was the church more active in the community when you were younger?

CT: When we had all the mines working and 18-19,000 people in the county, the main thing was the church and it was very, very active. The miners and people that lived here were mostly all Catholic and the church was much more aggressive. More strict. First priest we had was Father Leshone and he was tough.

SC: In what way?

CT: Well, everything you did was a sin. You didn't dare do anything but it was a sin. The sermons were all about money, about how the church needed money. Needed money. It changed after that. Then we got Father Miles and Father Delaney after that. Then you know how things moderated some. Then it got too far the other way.

CT: I don't know that I am telling you much.

SC: The history of the community is just the history of everybody that lived here. It can't be more than that. It is all worthwhile.

CT: What I thought was interesting, when I was in high school, I wrote sports for the, it wasn't the Huerfano World, it was the Huerfano Independent at that time. All these coal camps, they were small communities, had their own baseball teams, football and soccer teams. I really enjoyed that as a kid, to go to all the camps. It was really Walsenburg, years ago when the mines were all working, was pretty good town. I think that's one thing that hurts Walsenburg, in recent years, when people drive through and see all these boarded up stores, they think Walsenburg's in a heck of a shape. They just have to remember back to when all the mines were working and these were all busy places. The buildings are here but the people aren't and so when you go from 18,000 to 7,000 people. I think you'd be better to throw all these out and get rid of them. Wouldn't look so bad. But, just left of a real good era…

SC: Do you remember an area down around the river that was like a park that used to be here?

CT: The one park I remember was on East Colorado, where Shakey Drive is now. There used to be a park down there. I don't remember one on the Cuchara, but I remember one east of town. Corsentino Ranch was only about a mile below that and when we moved into town we were on East Kansas, last house in town, so that only 6 08 blocks from the park. I remember it very well.

SC: Did you spend time there as a kid?

CT: Some. Didn't have much time. Working all the time. (laughs) I remember one time when we moved up to the ranch, I was about 6 and old Prof. Andrews. I was where Shakey Drive and above is now, herding my jersey cow that we had and Prof. walked up and wanted to know when I was going to start school. I was 6 and not in school yet.

SC: Got you, did he? Do you remember any especially good teachers when you were in school?

CT: Well, I remember Janet Chatin, Everybody remembers Janet Chatin that was in school here. She was an excellent teacher. Anybody that ever had her couldn't forget her.

SC: What did she teach?

CT: I think third or fourth grade. She taught here a long time. And I had some high school teachers that I liked, that I thought were good teachers. Some real good teachers. Mrs. Beaver, our English teacher, she was very good. And Prof. Williams, our Algebra teacher. Dr. Lester, our Science teacher. Mrs. Stephens, Al Stephens's wife. She was the Spanish teacher and she was excellent. Mrs. Glin, she taught Math, Typing, I liked her.

SC: Were there ever any plays or dramatic events at the schools?

CT: I can't remember too much. They had the school plays, but I wasn't involved too much in them.

SC: Do you remember the first time your family got a car?

CT: Yes, I was the only one that could drive it. He used to, my father used to work out at the mine. And he thought, “Well, the thing to do is buy a car and teach him to drive.” So I tried to teach him to drive and the first time he tried he ran in an irrigation ditch and the next time hit a post and he said, “I give up.” So till he quit working I drove him to work and back every day.

SC: When was that?

CT: That was about '25. I'd drive him to work. It was just a model T coupe and I'd pick a kid up on the way and then drive him to school and first thing there'd be all these kids hanging on the car. I had the car at school so I could go pick him up at night. Those days were fun.

SC: When did you move to the ranch?

CT: It was about…I was 6. We lived at Cameron for 3 years…It was about 1916. Then I was 6 when we moved to East Kansas there. We were the last house in Walsenburg, at that time. We lived there until mother passed away. Then dad sold it. Folks lived there, at least, 30 years.

SC: And you graduated from high school in '31 and started working?

CT: I was janitor at the old Service Drug Store, in the mornings and I would work for several hours after school. And I sold newspapers till I was a junior. I don't remember when I didn't work. It's all I've ever known. It's crazy. Then, after I graduated from high school, I worked for Safeway and did that for 11 years. Had to work all the time. I used to love to play golf and tennis and sports and for 11 years I never touched a golf club. Worked 6 days a week and go back on Sunday and clean up. Never had any spare time to play.

SC: And you did that until you went to the mine.

CT: Yes. Started Safeway in '31. Started at the mines in '42. Did that till '58 and then in Craig for a year and came back here and I'd been here 17 years. I bought in here in 1959.

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