Gilbert Fernandez was born in Valdez, Colorado and began working for CF&I at the Valdez Frederick Mine as a high schooler in 1927. He was laid off in 1931 and began weaving for two years. Fernandez began digging coal again in 1936 until 1941. He then worked for four years on machines that dug the coal for him. Next he was given the job of fire boss for sixteen years and then as pit boss for three years.