A shuttle driver with wings: Bob Huron recounts his years as an Air Force pilot
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hardly a minute goes by when Bob Huron doesn’t think of the time.
He wore two watches on Friday — one a silver analog, the other a Fitbit that also tracks his steps — as he picked up and dropped off guests behind the wheel of a Steamboat Resort shuttle bus.
He has timed, to the second, how long it takes to get from his house to work. “When I drive out until I punch in is exactly 20 minutes,” he said.
Huron is one of four military veterans who now works as a shuttle driver for the ski resort. He spent 21 years as a pilot in the Air Force, then another 13 flying corporate planes.
“I flew for 20,000 hours, 34 years and I didn’t hurt anybody,” he said proudly.
Those decades made him a fiercely adherent to the ticks of the clock.
“Everything was set on time,” he said. “If we were scheduled to take off at 8 a.m., we took off at 8 a.m.”
But his attention to time also acts as a reminder not to waste his own. It has invigorated him to accomplish his dreams and travel the world, never settling on a mediocre life.
A pilot from birth
Huron’s accent has faded a bit, but his vowels still carry an unmistakable East Coast twang. He was born in the Bronx, but at age 3 his family moved across the Delaware River to North Arlington, New Jersey.
“We were 6 miles directly across from the Empire State Building,” he said.
Ever since he can remember, he had a passion for flying. As a young boy, he would watch in awe as planes zoomed over his house on their way to or from the Newark Airport.
“I used to say, ‘I’m going to do that some day,”’ he said.
Eventually, he did.
Two years after high school, in 1965, he enlisted in the Air Force and was deployed to Vietnam.
Serving in the military had become a sort of family affair. His father, a World War II veteran, was among the second wave of troops who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, one of the bloodiest invasions in history.
“He always told me that if he was in the first wave, I wouldn’t be here,” Huron said.
The Air Force stationed him on a base just outside Saigon. He had to have a college degree before he could be a pilot, so he spent his year there loading and unloading aircraft.
When asked about his experience in the war, he replied simply, “You’d have to be there to understand it.”
Immediately after returning to the U.S., he married his wife, Margaret. The two vowed that they would take turns going to college while the other worked. Huron graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, which allowed him to return to the Air Force and train to be the pilot he always dreamed.
For almost 11 years, he flew large, four-engine, military transport planes, shipping everything from cargo to troops around the world.
“You name it, we carried it,” Huron said.
On a few occasions, he even transported the president’s personal limousine.
“Back then it was President Carter’s, I believe,” he said. “The Secret Service wouldn’t let you near it.”
His job took him to 65 countries in almost every continent. As he gradually moved up the ranks, he took on more leadership roles, which also meant more hair-raising assignments.
One of his favorite memories of his service dates back to his time as a “select lead.” He would head a formation of 15 to 20 aircraft, each full of soldiers, and dip his own plane down close enough to the ground so troops could parachute out.
“It was a kick in the pants to fly really low to the ground, then pop open the doors and everyone jumped out,” he said, his eyes suddenly ablaze.
From open skies to high peaks
Even after he completed his active duty — he would eventually retire as a major from the Air Force — Huron loved flying too much to give up his wings. He took a job as a commercial pilot based in Houston, Texas, but a colleague recommended that he get a second place in Steamboat.
Huron and his wife had lived in Durango while he attended Fort Lewis College and ever since had wanted to return Colorado. In 1983 they dipped their toes as part-timers in Steamboat, spending a few weeks during the summer and the winter in a townhome.
It didn’t take long for the Yampa Valley curse to take hold.
“We got hooked on the place,” he said, and they moved permanently in 2008.
Now fully retired as a pilot, Huron continues to work for the resort mostly to prevent boredom. Working on Saturdays, which he does every weekend, has given him a steady dose of excitement this year.
“If you’ve been here on a Saturday, you know what I’m talking about,” he said.
On those days, the Meadows Parking Lot can fill up well before noon. Huron claims that as a result, he has had to drive to overflow lots more often this season than ever before. He attributes it on the new Ikon Pass.
The Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend marked an especially hectic day. A heavy snowstorm wreaked slushy havoc on the roads. Multiple cars got stuck, which caused a fellow shuttle driver to lodge his bus into the snow.
“On top of all that, I saw four city buses get stuck,” Huron added.
The traffic jams backed up the line for the shuttle, which stretched all the way to the Wildhorse Gondola by the afternoon.
Though he no longer takes the pilot’s seat, Huron and his wife still enjoy traveling. It helps that he accumulated more than 3.5 million Marriott points and another hefty sum of airline miles from his decades-long career.
“For the last 11 years we’ve been traveling all over the world basically for free,” he said. As for all those points, “I’ve just about run out.”
With eyes to the horizon, Huron said he wants to continue exploring as much of the world as he can, this time closer to the ground. He plans to take a river cruise through Europe in the near future, something he has wanted to do for a while.
He laughed “Of course, we’ll have to actually pay for it now.”
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