In their own words:
‘Skip’ Sherbak – rail man, boxer, sailor, TV repair shop owner

Westsider John “Skip” Sherbak, 75, has led the classic definition of a colorful life. The following, interview, taped inside Skip’s house in the Midland area, touches on aspects of a life that included working on the old Midland Terminal Railway, professional boxing, underage bartending, serving in the Korean War, raising his brother’s three children after he was killed in a car accident, living in the house his carpenter father (also named John Sherbak) built in 1926, and running his TV repair business (Skip’s Mountain TV) for the past 50 years. Skip Sherbak poses with some of the tools of the trade in his TV repair shop.

       Q. You worked for the railroad from 1947 to '49?
       A. Yeah. They made me (section) foreman cause I could read and write. I'd fill out the timecards. I knew nothing about the damn railroad, more or less.
       Q. You'd gotten your education at Midland and West Junior High?
        A. I went to Main High, too. Palmer. It was the only high school in those days. That's where I got into electronics. All the GIs were coming back, and Main had a vocational school. We had welding and electronics and stuff. If you went to school, you could go to vocational school.
       Q. You had a family background in the railroad business, right?
       A. My uncle was a foreman down here then, and my dad had been a bridge and building foreman.
        Q. Did you ever hear any good stories about the old days?
       A. Art Stanker in Cripple Creek told me about the gold mine up there (in Cripple Creek). If you wanted to go to work in there, you had to give your wages to the foreman.
       A. Why?
       Q. They were high-grading. They were stealing gold out of there. When they'd go to work, they'd haul gold out in their pockets and everything else, (like their) lunch boxes. The only way you'd get to work there was to turn your check over to the foreman.
       Q. So you'd get paid by how much you could carry out rather than your paycheck?
        A. The foreman would look the other way when you left, see? He was supposed to search everything. Q. As a section foreman for the Midland Terminal Railroad, what kind of work did you do?
        A. Repaired track.
       Q. You repaired track in all kinds of weather? Any good snowstorms?
        A. Oh, hell, we got big snowstorms. Three or four feet of snow… Repair jobs went on usually because there was a train wreck.
       Q. Were you ever in a train wreck?
       A. No.
       Q. But they had them pretty frequently?
       A. Oh, all the time.
       Q. What was usually the problem? Would the track be bad?
       A. Yeah. Them trains, when one of them tipped, they'd bring in these steam shovels and lift it back up and set it down on the ground. Then they'd jack it up and we'd lay track underneath it, then take the track back and hook it up to the main line. Then we'd drag the train back over there and tear all that up and tie the track back together… I made 53 cents, I think it was, and when I made foreman I got 62 cents an hour.
       Q. How many guys did you have working for you?
       A. Oh, 8 or 10. (In town) you could work for the Midland Railroad, Golden Cycle, Broadmoor, city or Yellow Cab. That was it. There was no place else.
       Q. I guess they didn't have Fort Carson yet.
       A. That's where we used to go rabbit hunting.
       Q. Did you ever compare notes with your dad (who worked for the railroad from 1926-42)? What kinds of things would he tell you?
       A. About hauling the gold from Golden Cycle. They got all the gold out and put it in bricks and put it in the back of the wagons with donkeys and take it down there to the Midland Railroad and load it on a railroad car there and then it would go up to the mint in Denver. A guy they hired to run the mill there, he came out of college someplace, and he went up there and told them (owners) how to take twice the gold out of the stuff, but he wanted some money out of it and they told him to go to hell. So in three years he retired and bought a ranch in Wyoming. And he still turned in the same amount of gold. He was in charge of it. But the other gold went home with him. They was always stealing gold. Them cars, when they'd have a washout, up in Cripple Creek during the night or something, they'd hold it up, and then they'd change the cars and put the low grade ore instead of the high-grade. High-grade - there was a lot of gold in there.
       Q. How did you feel on the last day of the railroad (Feb. 19, 1949)?
        A. Not happy. It was how everyone felt. We were out of work. A big employer was out of business. I was down there in the yard, and I was supposed to start tearing track out, and I said “I'm quitting.”
        Q. It just wasn't -
       A. I didn't want to. My whole family had worked on it. John “Skip” Sherbak strikes a pose as a teen-age professional boxer in the late 1940s.
       Q. You were in Golden Gloves. What kind of a fighter were you?
       A. About sixth in the state at one time. [Shows pictures, trophies and clippings of himself as a boxer in the lightweight division - 135 pounds - in the late 1940s.]
       Q. So you were doing this while you were working on the railroad?
        A. That's right. Back then I'd get, like, $100, $150 a fight. I'd work for two weeks (on the railroad) for $50. That was good money back then… Our boxing club was run by Whitey Bolton. He just died here a couple of years ago. He was a chef over in Manitou. You know where the police station is in Manitou? That used to be our training place.
        Q. [Reading from a clipping about a Sherbak knockout] “Smith was still out long after the count of 10 had been given.”
       A. I got worried. They'd usually come out of it in a few minutes. A doctor was there. You like to fight, but you don't want to hurt nobody.
       Q. Did you ever figure out what your record was overall, how many wins and losses?
        A. I don't know if I kept track of it or not. I don't think so.
       Q. But you won more than you lost?
       A. Oh, yeah. I probably had 70-80 fights.
       Q. Did you get in fights on the railroad?
       A. Oh yeah. Sure. We'd get off work, all us young guys. There was about 10 bars on the Westside.
        Q. In Old Colorado City?
       A. Yeah. (One time we went) up there and the roadmaster said you better get a crew to go up (to fix a washout). My uncle (Ed Sherbak) was a foreman and he said, “No problem, I'll go pick them up at the bar.” So he goes to the bar, and there was about 10 guys in there and he loaded them up and they staggered aboard the train. That guy said, “You're going to use all them drunks?” And my uncle said, 'They'll be sober by the time we get to the washout.” You could always get a crew to go to work. All you had to do was go up to the bar. I was tending bar when I was 16.
        Q. Tending bar?
       A. Tending bar (at Red's Bar, a beer-only place). That's when I was boxing. Crews would come back and I'd have a black eye or something. I had a birth certificate which I changed. A cop came in one day and said (to Red, the bar owner), “Are you sure that guy's 21?” And Red said, “I don't know; he's got a birth certificate.” And the cop said OK. Back then they didn't check you that much… I was bouncing too.
       Q. At 135 pounds?
       A. Uh-huh. I could take care of the drunks. I'd throw them out on the sidewalk, and then if they came back in we usually had a fight, and we'd call the cops. But if it was a regular customer or something, I'd put them on a cot till they sobered up.
       Q. When you were in the Navy (1950-54), were you involved in the Korean War?
        A. Oh, yeah. We made from Yokosuka, Japan and went up the Korean coast. They sent a couple of tin cans in there, destroyers, and they'd shoot at them. So we (in the heavy cruiser Quincy) set way out in the ocean and the tin cans would make a run in there and they (the North Koreans) would start shooting and they (the destroyers) would radio the direction of it and we'd shoot over them and blow the hell out of it.
       Q. How long were you over there?
       A. About a year. [He was stationed in San Diego for about three years before that.] When I got married (to Louise in October 1952), and I filled out my papers, they said, 'You shouldn't be on shore duty. You should be on sea duty.” So they put me right on sea duty. If I hadn't gotten married, I'd have probably spent four years in the San Diego harbor.
        [Louise walks in, Skip asks her a question about their marriage, and she notes they were married in Las Vegas.]
        Q. Is there a story behind that?
       A. Yeah. She got her divorce in Las Vegas, too.
       Louise: We got married in a little, small hotel. We didn't have any money so we played bingo. We couldn't play the slots.
       Q. What you did mostly in the Navy was electrician work?
       A. Yes.
       Q. When did you start your TV business?
       A. I used to own part of Tower TV. I sold that out years ago. I had Skip's TV on South Tejon, right across from KVOR. KKTV had just come on then.
       Q. When would that have been?
       A. 1954-55. They didn't have color TV then, just black and white. TV didn't come on till noon, and went out about 7- 8 o'clock at night. I had one of the first color TVs in town. There was no color TV here, so we put up an antenna and got a snowy picture out of Denver. Q. You've stayed up with the changes all through the years?
        A. I've never been out of it. If you just got into it, you'd get lost.
       Q. But you still keep your business going, still taking customers?
       A. High definition and all that stuff. I've got three sets out there (in his shop) that got butchered in other shops. I told them what was wrong (with one of them), and that it was screwed up. An engineer from Samsung asked me if I wanted to be a service station for them, and I said no, I don't want that much business. But they said you will do special work, there's plenty of money in it, and I said, “Oh yeah,” so they want me to repair some of the sets that got screwed up in other shops.
        Q. (On the subject of retirement)
       A. I quit working once and it drove me crazy. I've got to do something. I don't know anybody who's retired and don't do nothing. My uncle quit Golden Cycle and he died in six months. Another uncle retired, and in about a year he was dead. And I'm 75.
       Q. So you figure you better keep working?
       A. The last time I went to the doctor, he said, “You still working?” I said yeah. He said “Keep at it. Don't quit.”

Westside Pioneer interview and transcription

Editor’s note: “In their own words” question/answer interviews with interesting Westside residents will be an occasional feature in the Westside Pioneer.