Tom Rees is yet another Moabite who, through his resourcefulness and willingness to tough it out, made Moab home from the 1970’s (end of the mining boom) through the 1980’s (the uranium bust) to the present. Tom remembers one year in the early ’80’s when he made no money. Another year, he worked for Tag-a-Long in the summer and took his family to Baja for the winter, not because it was the “in” place to vacation, but because it was cheap to live. Still, he says, “I’d rather be poor in Moab than anywhere else, even with lots of money.”
Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1944, Tom married Mary Schlange in 1968. They had two children--Tait who now lives in Boulder, Colorado doing custom mill work and Hillary who is working on her masters in public health at the University of Arizona. Tom graduated from high school in Salt lake City and college from the University of Utah in psychology. In 1972 he and Mary moved to Moab where they lived until moving into the home Tom built in Castle Valley in 1977.
During the 1970’s, Tom did everything from making and selling silver jewelry to driving truck for Mac ‘n’ Hack, more officially known as MacFarland and Hollinger. Of his ore hauling experience Tom says, “It was good money but grueling hours--often 14 a day. I would get up at 3:30 a.m. and get home at 7:00 or 8:00 that night.” With building his own home and working for contractors, Tom was getting experience in construction. He remodeled the Popular Place for Joe May and the Sunset Motel for Harold and Jean Johnson.
By 1984 Tom had his contractor’s license. His first construction job was rebuilding Rim Cyclery after the fire that gutted the building and set back the fledgling bike business. Tom was doing “remodels, furniture and decks--whatever it took to get by.” Finally, in 1988 he got a job building a house for David and Jean van Pelt in Professor Valley. That project was the solidifying of a reputation he had been establishing with the smaller jobs--a reputation as a quality builder. Recently, Jan Crutchfield observed, “We believe it was his stellar reputation that moved us through what could have a lengthy and unpleasant process.” That process was starting over after Cliff and Jan’s partially built home burned to the ground.
The increase in retirees settling in and around Moab brought many potential clients to the construction business. Tom’s next home construction was for Tom and Carolyn Cartwright at Pack Creek. In the next six years he built nine homes there and did extensive remodels for Ken and Jane Sleight. Before 1999 closed, he had also built three homes in Castle Valley and did one remodel in Thompson for the owner of the Blue Moon Hotel.
Then Tom returned to Professor Valley. This time to build a shop for Peter Lawson. The shop became affectionately known as the Taj Mashop. After building a house in Spanish Valley, Tom started the Lawson’s house in Professor Valley. The house took from 2001 to 2005 to complete, but Tom calls it, “The best job I ever had.” When asked why, he said, “wonderful clients, exciting work with fine materials, and well thought out plans.”
Toward the end of the house project in Professor Valley, Tom was approached by David Bonderman to build a house for him on the property he had purchased near the Matheson Preserve. “I had little idea of the magnitude of the job. There was little to go on because it was what they call a ‘fast track process.’ Meaning that in order to get it done as quickly as possible, the architects would get plans ready as I needed them. That job took four and half years.” When Tom finished the Bonderman job, he once again found himself doing remodels since the housing boom had slowed new construction. Following a local contractor’s career is a pretty good indication of the economic ups and downs of a community. As Tom puts it, “My work has been part of the changes in Moab. I recently built three houses in Castle Valley, but have also been doing remodeling.” This bust was obviously shallow compared to the 1980s’.
Asked what it is about construction that he likes, Tom said, “I like the problem-solving aspect. It gives me an opportunity to use my skills--organization, planning, scheduling.” According to clients he is also good at collaborating with his clients, crew, and sub-contractors. He takes time with the homeowners explaining their options without trying to sell them anything, and gains the respect of his crew and sub-contractors by working along with them and being clear in his expectations.
Tom has tried to build community as well as houses in Moab. “In the early 1990’s we [most Moabites] were trying to put Moab on the map. It made me nervous because I had been in Aspen, Jackson, and Telluride and none of them felt like a community. I hope a sense of community will always be part of Moab. “ Tom’s own contribution comes, in part, from the respect he shows everyone he deals with.
“Those bust years in Moab taught those of us who stuck it out how to be resourceful. We had to build our own jobs, our own work.” Because Tom built his own job with skill and integrity, he has all of the work he wants.