I have had the great fortune to meet many people in my lifetime. None probably made a greater impact on me than Udo Haufler.
Udo was my neighbor, my friend and my mentor.
The first day of 1977, Madeline and I moved into a house on a very quite, secluded south Austin street. Albert Road was like being in another place altogether. It wasn’t like living in Austin.
Directly across the street was a large 2 story house, with a horse stable in the back. Esther and Udo Haufler were the elderly couple that lived there. (of course now that I’m the age I am , they weren’t so elderly after all) I was familiar with the their last name. It was on many trucks and pieces of equipment around Austin. Haufler Excavating Co. was a very well known and respected business around Central Texas. I had actually worked on a project along side Haufler Excavatng a few years earlier, but didn’t have contact with the business owners. That was when we were working the expansion project on I-35 from US 290 south to 12th Street.
Upon moving in we became good friends almost instantly. Esther was very business savvy. She and her first husband had own an east Texas Lincoln Mercury Dealership. When he died at a much too early age, she sold the business and moved to Austin. Udo, a big hulk of a German had been a trader his whole life. Sometime in the early 1960’s He & Esther became acquainted, married and owned a car business in downtown Austin. Somewhere along the way he got involved in the excavating business and became very good at it. The Haufler’s were an excellent team,
They were getting to retirement age so they started selling off equipment. Within a few months he approached me about buying his yard and office, which was on Montopolis Drive, just off of Ben White Blvd. We made a deal and then I bought several trucks and other machines from him. That became the home for Lewis Contractors for about a decade.
Udo always said what he thought. He didn’t mince words. A lot people were put off by his frankness. I don’t remember he and I ever having a cross word. Madeline didn’t always think as highly of him. His German candor left her shaking her head more than once. We only had one son when we moved in. Matthew was 2 1/2 years old and she was pregnant with Michael. Then the next three were born during the time we were neighbors. So they actually watched as our family grew up right across the street.
It was a typical comment for him to say, shortly after her having another child, “sweetheart you sure are going to have to get after that weight problem”. Or “don’t you think maybe it would be good for you to get out and walk more, it’ll help you slim up”. Needless to say she avoided him as much as possible.
I literally went over almost nightly for years fora Udo visit. He liked young people and I liked old people. So we got along just fine.
He had so many interests. He was constantly buying and selling vehicles, ranches, anything he could make money on. He seldom lost on anything.
He owned the BMW and Moto Guzzi Motorcycle dealership in Austin for years. He loved fine motorcycles. He had the contract with Austin Police Department to supply their motorcycles for several years. He really enjoyed that relationship.
Esther had a love of horses. She traveled and showed horses for years. They were a very classy couple and knew everyone. Through those connections I was able to meet a lot of people.
He had been a pilot and had owned planes most of his adult life. Nice planes too. Udo owned nothing but the best of everything. Shortly after retiring, he took up a new hobby, helicopters. In his sixties he learned to fly them. He built a helipad behind his house with a huge hanger.
He started buying and selling only the best Helicopters made. Bell Jet Rangers became his passion.
This helicopter below is one of Udo’s but is the type he owned and flew.
He still had a love of seeing dirt turning out on jobs and seeing machines work. So anytime I wanted, he was more than happy for us to jump in a Jet Ranger and go tour my jobs.
By 1985 Austin ISD was pushed to desegregate schools. We did as many others did and left Austin rather than see our children bussed all over the city to school. We moved to Dripping Springs, 25 miles southwest of Austin. This was at Udo urging. Udo and Esther had a couple of ranches in that area and were spending more and more time out there. So we still had a lot of contact.
Other business opportunities and circumstance relocated us to Bertram by 1992. Udo and I still talked and visited often. In April of 1993 I received a call from Esther, telling me that Udo had crashed his Jet Ranger outside of Oakhill, Texas. He was 78.
He had lost his pilots license some time before due to heart problems, but he had a host of pilot friends he could count on that would gladly log time with him. Nothing was going to keep him out of the air.
On this particular day he had his chopper in the shop for maintenance. He and a mechanic took it up for a quick spin. The tail rotor came off and he was unable to control it. No license, therefore no insurance. That was the loss of a million dollar asset to the Haufler estate.
The mechanic’s family sued and Mrs. Haufler had to liquidate a good portion of her assets to satisfy the judgement.
Udo was a very careful person. He liked sure shots and didn’t normally take chances. I just think he had no idea that a crash could ever happen to him. He was a great pilot and he knew it. But it was a mechanical malfunction that got him.
I miss my visits with him. He was truly a one of a kind guy.
He taught me a lot.