Tim Fritz, known to many as Cowboy, has been an Eastern Sierra fixture and fixer for more than three decades. Need help with a paint job? Flooring? Repairs? Finding antiques? Just call Cowboy.
The Sheet caught up with Fritz at a job site in Mammoth Lakes to get to know a little more about the man they call Cowboy.
Fritz came to Mammoth Lakes from the small town of Lake Hughes in the Angeles National Forest, arriving in 1988. He had friends who liked to come to Mammoth and he “came up with them the first time and didn’t want to leave.”
When he got to Mammoth, he moved into the backcountry, backpacking around the area, which brought him into contact with Red’s Meadow Pack Station, where he “bugged them for a job” repeatedly.
He was staying up a canyon near the station when one morning, someone from the pack station walked into his camp and told him he was hired.
Fritz didn’t have much experience with packing; he’d worked as a handyman, wood cutter, painter, ranch hand, and more when he was living in Lake Hughes.
At Red’s Meadow, Fritz became a packer, learning everything about the trade from the ground up under Bob Tanner. He drove visitors on hayrides around the property and worked backcountry trips, eventually working at Mule Days and assisting with the twenty-mule team.
It was through his work as a packer that he picked up the moniker Cowboy. As Fritz tells it, he’d come into town after working at the pack station and head to Goat’s Bar, a local spot located above what is now the Outlaw Saloon, where he had a tab. Problem was, Fritz says, there were too many Tims with tabs to keep track of, so he became Cowboy Tim. And the name stuck.
Goat’s, he said, was a place where everybody knew everybody. “It used to be that you were tight,” Fritz said of the community in the past, “You couldn’t have better friends.”
“I was shoveling snow my first winter here in cowboy boots,” Fritz said with a laugh, “And my friends got me Sorels [boots]. If you were ever broke, [people] would loan you money…if you needed to eat, you’d never starve.”
That last part is still true: Fritz has enough friends who need help fixing things at their restaurants that “I never go hungry”, he chuckles.
Fritz worked at Red’s Meadow Pack Station off-and-on for about nine years, also handling hayrides at Sierra Meadows Ranch on occasion. But he never quit being a jack-of-all-trades; when the pack station closed in the winter, Fritz would work odd jobs around town, doing maintenance work, driving plows, and crashing on friends’ couches.
He took a job working maintenance at the Sierra Nevada Inn in 1994, a job he held for 16 years. After clocking out at Sierra Nevada Inn, he’d load up and head out to help with painting, repairs, plumbing, and just about anything else. Once the Inn sold to a new owner, Fritz was laid off.
At that point, he started working for himself and has been doing so ever since. “I’m grateful for what I got,” Fritz said, “It’s better to work for friends than for strangers…electrical, plumbing, you name it.”
Much of what Fritz knows, he said, comes from “years of just doing it, years of experience, trial and error…You stop and figure out what you’ve got to do and then you just do it.” Another key piece of advice: “Read the manual.”
“I like painting,” Fritz said, “I’ve been painting for years.”
He gestures to the condominium complex behind him, adding “I’ve painted every one of these places twice in the spring.”
“If you can’t find work up here, there’s something wrong with you,” Fritz said with a laugh.
When he’s not working, Fritz enjoys the outdoors; “I cut a lot of firewood,” he adds.
The Sheet: “You’ve done it all?”
Fritz: “Except for skiing, I’ve never skied a day in my life.”
“I spend all my time off on the ocean,” Fritz said, “fishing, tuna fishing, catching big yellowtail.”
He shows a photo from his last trip in September 2020, posing with a 160-lb tuna caught off of San Clemente.
“Now I live on a dialysis machine three days a week,” he adds, “Total kidney failure…and I still go to work.”
He received the diagnosis in October 2020. “When your kidneys die, you start puffing up,” he explained. “I was in the hospital for a week after being in intensive care.”
Dialysis, he said, isn’t all that bad. “They give you a heated chair, a TV set, you can sit there and watch TV. You can’t read because you can’t use your left hand,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to show the needle marks on his forearm.
“I try not to let dialysis rule my life,” he said. Fritz spent Thanksgiving with family out of town: “I missed a session, but that’s okay.”
It’s not always easy. “Some mornings it’s hard to get out bed,” he said, “You’ll be feeling woozy in the morning because of the chemicals they put in you.”
But he still gets up and heads to work every morning because “the mortgage company don’t care.”
It can take a lot to keep guys like Fritz from doing their jobs: he had a friend, Scott Bartholomew, who fell, “right down there,” he adds, pointing down the hill to another parking area. “He went into cardiac arrest ten times. He died.” But Bartholomew survived the ordeal.
These days, Bartholomew, known as Scotty B, plays golf during the winter and helps Fritz with painting in the summers.
“Oh, he enjoys life now,” Fritz said of his friend.
The Sheet: “And you’re enjoying life?”
Fritz: “Oh yeah, it’s beautiful up here. You won’t catch me in the city. I only drive through to get to the ocean,” he laughs.
Fritz, 62, said that as far as future plans, he wants to “take it as easy as I can, not work too much.”
“But I really enjoy working,” he adds quickly, “and taking care of my home…and collecting antiques at yard sales.”
Every Saturday, Fritz takes to the streets in Bishop looking for rare finds. “Western motif is my collection,” he said, which includes paintings, art, memorabilia, and more. He has more than 250 pieces in his collection. “My house is all Western,” he said, “It takes forever for me to dust.”
“Matter of fact, I can’t wait ’til Saturday,” he adds, “Every Saturday at 7 a.m., I’m out cruising.”
And on Sundays, if he doesn’t have anything lined up, Fritz watches NASCAR, although it’s rare that he’s not getting a call for work.
Some sage wisdom from Cowboy:
-If you can’t find a job, you’re not working hard enough
-Try to just stay happy, stay busy, and do what you like to do
-Don’t let other people run your life
Does Fritz plan to hang up his spurs? “No, I’ll still do odd jobs,” he said, “I like doing it.”
He explained that when people retire, they don’t have as much to keep them going and tend to die soon after they stop working.
“I’ll keep working and eventually drop dead,” he adds with a smile.