Michael Mathers, 60, stands Thursday in the back bar at Mathers Bar, which he co-owns with his brother, Tom. Michael contracted polio at a young age, but said he doesn’t let the affliction hinder his outlook on life. He said he owes much of his continued success to his family.

Photo by Brian Smith

Michael Mathers, 60, stands Thursday in the back bar at Mathers Bar, which he co-owns with his brother, Tom. Michael contracted polio at a young age, but said he doesn’t let the affliction hinder his outlook on life. He said he owes much of his continued success to his family.

Craig native credits family in helping overcome life’s setbacks

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As a third generation Moffat County resident and co-owner of Mathers Bar, Michael Mathers has seen Craig’s good times and bad, the booms and busts, and two more generations of Mathers born and raised in the area.

He’s also survived a number of accidents, broken bones, bar fights and even polio.

But, none of that has stopped him, he said, or will in the future.

“Now I am 60 years old and I am in better shape than a lot of people at 60 years old,” he said. “I strive to keep it that way.”

Michael’s brother, Tom, 61, said his younger brother is probably the toughest person he knows.

“Anyone that knows Mike will tell you he is their hero,” said Tom, a Moffat County Commissioner. “Nobody could have gone through what he has gone through and still walk through the door every day with a smile from ear to ear and a joke to tell you.”

Life, Michael contends, has been pretty good.

“It could have been better, but it definitely hadn’t been bad,” he said.

Michael was born in 1950 and was the third baby born in The Memorial Hospital’s old location, he said.

“All the ladies were trying to have the first baby so they could win a bunch of prizes or something,” he said with a laugh.

Michael also has three sisters, one who lives in Craig, and two that live in Grand Junction.

When Michael was 8, he contracted polio despite being vaccinated for it, he said.

“When we were kids, we went through the line at school and got our little sugar cubes,” he said. “I had been vaccinated all through my life for certain things, and I’m sure some of them were polio.”

The several months of treatment he received for polio was a time he said he’ll never forget.

“I was sick and they put me in the hospital and they didn’t quite know what it was,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I can actually remember them thinking it was spinal meningitis.

“I spent nine months in the children’s hospital in Denver. Of those nine months, once a week, someone from Craig came to see me.”

He left the hospital in a wheelchair, but later found he could get around well enough with leg braces.

When asked if he was disappointed in missing out on some athletic activities as a youth, Michael said he was unsure.

“I don’t know that it was (disappointing),” he said. “I think I was young enough to know that this is how I was going to get around, or to not dwell too much in the past when I did get around.

“I don’t know that it didn’t bother me, well it did, but it wasn’t severe, I guess.”

Michael, who has used the braces since childhood, said he’s able to get around just fine, now.

“I got so good on my crutches and braces at getting around that up until last year, when I broke my arm, I didn’t know I was crippled,” he said with a laugh.

Last March, Michael was laid up for about six months after falling and breaking his arm in seven places.

“When you are already (messed) up and you bust an arm, it’s like breaking an arm and two legs,” he said.

Michael said he doesn’t let his affliction and the things that come with it, accidents and broken bones included, get to him.

“I’m sure everybody probably did (judge me), but it didn’t bother me,” he said. “I guess I fit in good enough that it didn’t bother me and it didn’t bother some of my friends. They’d climb a ladder and get on the roof and say, ‘Well, come on up here.’”

Michael graduated from Moffat County High School in 1968 and shipped off to Mesa State College, where he spent two years studying, mostly.

“Tom would get one of his buddies to ride with and they would come visit on weekends down there,” he said. “They’d come down and we’d tear up that damn town down there.”

From Mesa, Mathers enrolled in a trade school in Denver, where he received his certificate in architecture. He landed a job as an architectural draftsman in Hayden until an unfortunate accident landed him in the hospital with a broken leg.

Architecture, he said, was something he enjoyed, but is not quite his passion.

“It was something that I thought I would enjoy at the time,” he said. “I enjoy building a lot, except sitting in a room with a roll of plans.”

His passion, he said, is in the art of restoring old cars.

Although he only has time to get over to his shop to work on a car about once a week, Michael said he has restored about 10 cars over the years.

“I love doing that,” he said, holding a binder with photos of his cars. “I like working on them almost more than I like driving them.

“It’s like a carpenter — when he gets done with the day’s work, he looks at it and says, ‘I got some self-gratification, look what I have created here.’”

Restoring cars, he said, gives him a little bit more “satisfaction” than selling whiskey.

In July 1974, Michael was working for a distribution company when his father, who owned Mathers Bar at the time, came to he and Tom with an idea.

“Dad came up with the idea of how would us two boys like to buy this place?” he said. “So, that’s what we did and I can’t believe 37 years has gone by. I don’t know where they went.”

About six months later, the boom hit as the Hayden Station and Craig Station power plants were being built.

Running the bar took all of Tom and Michael’s time, he said.

“It was jam packed full, both bars at both ends from 4 o’clock until quitting time every night,” he said. “It was a headache.”

It was a time that felt like the Wild West again as iron workers and pipe fitters filled the bar looking to spend their wages, he said.

“They had their little rivalries between them,” he said. “You could walk in the bar back then and you could smell it, you could feel it — there is going to be some (fights) here in about 10 minutes.

“You didn’t know where to look, but you knew it was going to happen.”

With all the fights and other activities, the bar was the subject of a lot of police interest, he said.

“At that time (the police chief) sent me a letter and said, ‘We can’t keep up with it. You guys have to police your own place,’” he said. “I wish I still had that damn letter.”

Throughout his life, Michael said Tom has helped him not only get around, but also shape who he is as a person.

“I don’t think I’d be here without Tom,” he said. “I think I’d be successful, but I don’t know what at.”

Earlier in his life, Tom would physically carry Michael, “piggyback style.”

“Every place we went, for the most part, Tom carried me,” he said. “I could get around, but if I didn’t have my crutches and braces, like if we were going swimming, Tom carried me.”

Simply put, the two have a lot of respect for each other, Michael said.

“He has been, I guess, more than a brother,” he said. “We’ve just been together all our lives. I don’t know how to say it any different.”

Tom shared a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think there are any partners or brothers that are closer than Mike and I,” he said. “When he hurts himself, I feel the pain.

“Should Mike have never had polio … our whole lives would have probably been different, I’m guessing.”

Strong family values run deep in all generations of the Mathers family, Michael said.

“We have one of the most tight-knit families that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He said there aren’t any of the Mathers that “wouldn’t go to bat for me.”

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