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Written By: Keeley Wonsowski
April 2022

My first conversation with Duke Altschuler was on a chilly Saturday morning in Wyoming. I sipped my coffee while I listened to the man on the other end of the telephone, who seemed to be more myth than reality. Whispers around town about the new owner of Sierra Madre Land Investments seemed to float along with the Wyoming wind, never quite knowing what was truth versus fiction. Over the course of several conversations, the owner spoke with such honesty and frankness that I realized he was Encampment personified. Real, honest, blue-collar spirited, with quiet tenacity hidden underneath the rocky exterior.


His personal life is filled with rich roots from his wife, Melisse, five children, and six grandchildren (ranging from ages 1 to 18). The numerous blessings in his private life are vast, but for this story, we will stick to Duke’s business journey and how he came to invest in Wyoming. “The main questions everyone asks are, ‘Who is he?’ and ‘Why does he do this?’” said the business owner.


As Duke tells it, he was born into a lower-middle-class family where his dad instilled the spirit of hard work. This spirit of hard work carried him through to Drexel University where he balanced a 5-year hybrid program in which he split the years in half to work and attend classes. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He then became General Forman at a heavy-duty truck manufacturing plant where he witnessed the great and the ugly of union shops within manufacturing. After that experience, Duke knew he needed to find a job in sales to fully reach his potential. He began working for the 4th largest steel plate producer in the country where others often told him he was simply too rough and ready to succeed in such a role. Just as he had always done, Duke did things his way and ended up breaking records during his 4-year experience in Chicago, where he even received his MBA at DePaul University.


This success led to a promotion at only 30 years old, which led to moves to Pennsylvania and Houston. Managing salesmen almost twice his age, Duke learned how to organize the most important assets of company-the employees. One day, he received a call from a softball buddy asking if he’d like to come work for him as a National Sales Manager for a Canadian steel pipe company. This career pivot introduced Duke to square and rectangular tubing, steel distribution, and the path that would change the trajectory of his life forever.

During this new chapter of Duke’s career, he relocated to Denver where he was met with company perks as well as a difficult decision. While he savored the position, his relationship with the Vice President of Sales was rockier than the mountains surrounding him. The VP wanted the young executive to move back to Houston, and he refused. This led to Duke being fired, but he then began his own business with a partner which they would sell three decades later. Duke still refers to that tumultuous time as, “the best thing that could have ever happened.”


The pair recorded impressive numbers in the first year due to Duke’s sales expertise and his partner’s talents to run operations. Over the course of their lucrative business years together, the team had 12 pipe yards across the country. As their growth reached soaring heights, they were faced with two decisions: either shrink and stay profitable or simply sell. As life settled after the sale, Duke stayed on as an executive consultant to ensure a smooth transition for their 200 employees. He even began another oil field tubular service company with his partner in Texas. As Duke described this season of his life, he spoke of the corporate setting as if it were an uncomfortable pair of boots that were never going to fit. “Creativity can be stifled in Corporate. I don’t like it…” In Duke fashion, however, retiring was not an option. “My worst day in the office is still better than my best day on the golf course,” he stated. “I like to work.”

What does a successful businessman now do with his time and resources? In Duke’s mind, the answer was clear-investing in real estate. “There ain't luggage racks on a hearse. What else are you going to do with the money? You can’t take it with you.” Investing in Wyoming, however, was a surprising location for many. When inquisitive people ask him why Wyoming, Duke’s answers are simple. “Colorado is changing. It’s now the new California.” The environment and politics began to shift in Colorado and Duke wanted to find something different.


He researched 45 ranches online before finding a property in southern Wyoming. As he and his wife explored the property, they knew they had stumbled upon the ranch they were meant to find. They put in an offer that very same day. “The problem with the ranch is that it’s very remote,” he explained. Brush and timber needed to be cleared which required a logging machine. Even getting onto the property during Wyoming’s infamous rain and snow caused issues. While the ranch was being refurbished, he decided to purchase the Bed & Breakfast in Encampment. “I liked the look of it and also put an offer in on the spot.” I then began to understand the full picture of Duke as he described these purchases, seeing far past the present with a razor-sharp focus.


When I asked about his wife, Melisse’s role in these business decisions, he described her as being the calm to his tornado, the balancing force of his life. “Her background is in accounting and finance so she can figure things out quickly. She has been a great asset for everything we’ve done. I get out there moving pretty fast and she’s really good at thinking.” He explained how Melisse has numerous professional projects of her own, so the pair utilize one another’s strengths in their businesses.


As they began to peel back the layers of Encampment, other investing opportunities presented themselves. A friend mentioned how the E&H building in the center of Encampment was also for sale. After Duke toured the vast, historic building, he described the feeling of it to be like the catacombs of Rome. Such a building was more than just construction-it was a pulsing part of town he could breathe new life into. “Then I started seeing the vision,” he illustrated. Duke visited The DiVide Restaurant along with the motel next door and put in offers quickly. The motel was not for sale, but Duke insisted, “I’m not buying one without the other.” The classic yet relaxed feel of The DiVide, paired with the optimal location of the motel next door made sense to the businessman. The restaurant and motel tied together seamlessly, while the E&H building would continue to hold the liquor store, a unique hotel could be built upstairs, and the once-upon-a-time Sugar Bowl establishment could also be resurrected.


With the five projects now in place, the personalized details now came into effect. The General Manager of the establishments, Stacey, mentioned to Duke how she’d like “to make Encampment grand again.” Duke laughed and said, “That sounds like a slogan.” The Grand Encampment Hotel name was born. The owner also discovered the name of a pub that used to be in town was called White Dog and he decided to use that name for the liquor store. Details from the town’s past will continue to unravel to the present as these businesses unfold.




















This building has worn many costumes, acting out several businesses for Encampment while housing apartments upstairs that haven’t been utilized in decades. The wide staircase leading to the apartments upstairs seems to welcome you with a “What took you so long to come back?” kind of greeting. The maze of rooms leads to the next, revealing bright yellow walls, mint green tile, and serving as little hints of lives once taken place here. Just as with many western towns, time doesn’t seem to exist in this building. It still pulses with purpose and joy, as if she knows the excitement coming her way. As Duke listed off the seemingly endless tasks of updates, he ended by vowing, “The E&H building will be standing another 150 years when I’m done with it. I can promise you that.”


The goals are sound, but the realities involved are the elusive time and capital. White Dog Liquors has been polished first just enough to reveal the charm of the E&H building, while now offering tables and chairs to enjoy a glass of wine. The motel needed to be stripped to the studs, completely refurbished, and will soon serve as a comfortable stay for guests. The DiVide is still producing impeccable food but focusing on adding staff for the busy summer season ahead. The E&H building will be a work in progress for some time, but the priority is to make sure it is structurally strong.


Sierra Madre Land Investments will be one chapter of Encampment and Duke’s hope is that young people come back to this town to work in these businesses in order to make it their own. “It is a perfect corner of Wyoming to draw up people,” he said with pride. The town is blended with ranching families who have been on this land for centuries, as well as transplants like me who found a feeling of peace and beauty in this corner of Wyoming. With its proximity to Colorado, travelers can enjoy world-class fishing and hunting, incredible restaurants, and a touch of grandeur as businesses are brought back to life. Sierra Madre Land Investments will continue to breathe into the town so that many more chapters of this town can unfold. Encampment reminds us that where there is life, there is remembering. And through remembering, there is a legacy.

As Duke outlined his business choices, he reflected on the elusive why that everyone wishes to know. “I just want Encampment to maintain its personality. The centerpiece is the E&H building. If there is a legacy, that’s it.” As you walk through the front door of the E&H building into what was most recently the town market, you are greeted by white and red checkered tiles which have been scuffed with life and time. Fall leaves scurry across the floor, still ever-present regardless of the season. Bank cards from the early 1900s are still organized on the shelf, reminding you of its tenure as a bank. Posters advertising Del Monte green beans from decades ago are on a table, sitting amongst its comrades like the vintage camera and beautiful vases masked in dust.

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