September Science Story 2021

Benn Schmatz

Maintenance Man

Benjamin (Benn) Schmatz has been hard for newsletter writers to get hold of lately. It’s not that he isn’t responsive. After all, responsiveness is a key requirement of his job on RMBL’s Work/Maintenance crew, and he’s nailed that qualification. In fact, he says one of his favorite things about the job is getting the call — for a leaking faucet, a heater on the blitz, you name it. He loves fixing things for people. “I enjoy doing something that improves their quality of life so they can have a good experience while they’re at RMBL,” he says.

Finding time to sit down for an interview was challenging for Benn because he’s been emersed in a Wilderness First Responder course with NOLS, the North American Outdoor Leadership School. He’s been learning advanced first aid techniques to help people with all sorts of injuries from sprained ankles to severe trauma. He’ll need those skills when he takes on winter caretaking for RMBL. Especially this winter. The Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Lab (SAIL) project will send three technicians every two weeks to live on-site and maintain the dozens of instruments used to measure the atmospheric and surface processes that control precipitation. In addition, a rotating cast of scientists will show up at RMBL to monitor the calibrations of each piece of equipment.

It’s a tall order to maintain the buildings, grounds, and infrastructure at RMBL through the winter while also being ready to respond to wilderness injuries and supporting logistics for the throngs of scientists who will be working on SAIL. But Benn is up for the challenge. He says he may have help from an additional winter caretaker, or a couple. What’s more, billy barr, RMBL’s permanent resident, will also be around, and nobody knows Gothic winters better than he does.

During the summer season, Benn is joined on the work crew by foreman Kyle Voss and James Ryan. Benn gets along well with his teammates and likes to refer to the group as the Three Musketeers. He’s proud of the role his crew is playing in helping bring RMBL into the new age of science — supporting pioneering programs like SAIL and building toward the coming North Village campus — while honoring the traditions and decades of work put in by generations of scientists.

Benn hasn’t always been a mountain man. He was raised in Kansas City, but his family loved vacationing at the YMCA of the Rockies on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. His affection for Colorado grew as he did. He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO, with a degree in engineering physics. Then in 2019, he landed in Crested Butte, where he worked at the Nordic Center as a youth programs coach. One of the kids in his program happened to be the son of Steve Jennison, RMBL’s Facilities Director. Steve offered Benn the job at RMBL last fall, and Benn started work in May.

Though he may be just one person doing a very big job, Benn is clearly ready for the coming winter at RMBL. He says that he’s excited to bring together RMBL employees, scientists, and technicians, and he’s looking forward to helping all parties feel welcome. The way he puts it, he’s “bringing the whole community together to do good science and create a good life for everyone.” Sounds like a job well done.