Hard-working colleague missed

Dan Nichels

Dan Nichols had a quiet, reserved demeanor, a good job, a paid-off pickup truck and a bright future with Olsson Associates, an engineering firm in Grand Junction.

On Sunday, Nichols was with his father, Clancy, and Wes Hawkins, working to clear an irrigation ditch up Little Salt Creek east of Collbran when the men apparently were engulfed in a slide that carried mud, rocks, trees and other debris nearly three miles down the mesa.

On Tuesday, his desk sat empty, a white hard hat tucked on the desk, unused.

He might have been “Danny” in Collbran, but he was “Dan” in the Olsson offices said, Stuart Hall, who made a point to speak about Nichols in the present tense, holding out hope that Nichols and the two other men still would be found safe.

Nichols “was, is, a soft-spoken, hard-working kind of guy,” said Hall, who hired the University of Wyoming geology grad last year.

In a tribute to the reach of small-town networking, Hall said he relied on the advice of a Nichols relative who had worked for Olsson to give Nichols an interview.

“I knew right away I wanted to hire him,” said Hall, who put Nichols into the entry-level job of stormwater inspector.

Nichols, 24, was in charge of monitoring the wells on a pad that was affected by the slide, Hall said. The wells were shut down after the slide and associated pipelines drained, according to the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Nichols’ previous assignment, however, was working on a pipeline in Nebraska.

“He worked 90 hours a week for three weeks” to get the job done, Hall said. Nichols used the money from his overtime to pay off his pickup.

Though he and Nichols hadn’t specifically discussed Salt Creek, it seems almost certain that Nichols knew the terrain from hunting and working in the vicinity, Hall said.

Many of their conversations, however, had to do with the rivalry between the Cowboys and the Rams, with Nichols favoring the University of Wyoming and Hall his alma mater, Colorado State University.

“We were always talking about the Bronze Boot,” the trophy awarded to the winning team in the annual Rams-Cowboys football game, Hall said.

Though reserved, Nichols wasn’t shy and he quickly earned respect from his coworkers.

“The office is devastated,” Hall said.


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