But wait. What’s wrong with this picture? Blanchard Mechanical opened in 1982 in Roseland, La., near New Orleans, Louis’s lifetime home. Nearly all of its jobs – in heating, air conditioning and plumbing for commercial building – are in Louisiana and Mississippi. In fact, just two years ago, Blanchard Mechanical completed work on the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
So how did Blanchard Mechanical end up on Last Dollar Road? Blame it on a vacation to Ouray in 1984 that included a Jeep ride over Last Dollar. That changed everything. The Blanchards were determined to make the Ridgway-Ouray area their home. The beauty, the wildlife, a relaxed lifestyle, and the friendly folks they met offered everything they wanted.
That summer vacation was quickly followed by a ski trip here with their three children. Their youngest daughter, Renee (then 12), fell on her first day out, and announced that she was through with skiing. Louis stayed with her the next day. And found a real estate agent.
“Mama, guess what Daddy did today?’” Sharon recalled Renee saying.
What Daddy did was purchase 35 acres across the road from Last Dollar Ranch.
“Since I was a little girl,” said Sharon, “I’ve loved the mountains. My grandpa had a cabin in New Mexico, and I’d always dreamed of a mountain home.”
Until they were married, Louis had never been to the mountains; now he, too, dreamed of living here full-time.
Work on their Hastings Mesa home began in 1986, but for several years, business demands in Louisiana allowed the Blanchards to spend only a few weeks each a year in Colorado. Eventually, they began trying to complete some business from here. “But with no phone and only a generator,” said Sharon, “I didn’t think we could do it.”
That is, until the day they had to turn in a project bid. They raced to Montrose’s old City Market, with its two pay phones; Louis was on one, and Sharon was on the other. They were awarded the bid.
“We did it!” said Sharon. “I knew then we could make it work.”
It still wasn’t easy. Every day in the 1990s, Louis visited the only pay phone in Placerville to get messages from his son, Donald, who had joined the company in 1991. Later, a radio telephone helped.
“We had a fax,” said Louis, “but it was so slow that if we had more than two pages, we had to go to Ridgway. At 4 p.m. every Wednesday, we went to Ridgway to overnight the payroll.”
Eventually, with the addition of daughter Renee to the Louisiana staff, and with satellite computers, electricity and a landline added to the Mesa house in 2000, the Blanchards could effectively work from here. And remain successful. In its early years, Blanchard Mechanical grossed between $300,000 and $400,000 a year with two employees.
“Now we gross between $6 (million) and $8 million,” Louis said, “and have 30 workers in the field.”
These days, Louis bids on prospective projects, talks daily with job superintendents and generally “stays on top of things,” he said. He and Sharon return to Louisiana frequently, for a week or two at a time, to take care of business, and to see their children and 13 grandchildren, all of whom come here often.
“Our plan now is to be in Louisiana in March and April,” Sharon said. “It’s beautiful then, with the azaleas. But here is where we want to be.” She waved expansively at Hayden Peak and the Sneffels Range.
“Just look around you,” Sharon said. “We love the people. In Ridgway, Montrose – everywhere here – they’re so friendly.”
The Blanchards are well-known for their own friendliness and generous hospitality. “They make us more of a community than we’d ever be,” said neighbor Nathania Elder.
“Louis and Sharon dress up as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus at Christmas and deliver gifts on snowmobiles,” said neighbor Katie Moews. She and her husband, Ted, are long-time friends of the Blanchards, who “have everybody’s love,” she said.
“They’re the glue that holds this group of miscellaneous characters together,” said Ted, indicating the guests at the most recent Blanchard-hosted “Shoot Out.” It’s an annual event, held each September.
The Shoot Out evolved, Sharon said, 11 years ago, from a bet between Louis and Duane Beamer, long-time foreman at the Last Dollar Ranch across the road. “I told Louis I could hit a beaver at 100 yards, with an open sight,” said Duane.
Louis bet that Duane couldn’t. Today, six eagle eyes compete in the Shoot Out, with elk-legal rifles. They shoot at targets, not beaver. The one with the best three shots at 100 yards is the winner. Losers fry and serve Southern delicacies: catfish and hushpuppies.
This year, Duane won; Louis came in last. (Louis has, however, won four Shoot Outs.)
“They’re salt of the earth,” said Duane of the Blanchards. “They’re grandparents to our kids. They’re willing to help any neighbor any time.
“And he’s still a fair shot.”