COBWEB CORNERS: The railroad’s paint company
By Mel McFarland
A hundred and twenty years ago you could go to a shop on Colorado Avenue and buy paint for your house that was made right here in Colorado City. The factory was just west of the Colorado Midland depot on South 25th Street, inside a grand, yellow, timber-framed building with the colorful words, “Ute Pass Paint,” lettered on its walls.
The company was dreamed up by Colorado Midland officials. It would provide the hundreds of gallons of paint the railroad regularly needed, plus sales to residents would help keep the equipment running.
In 1891 a smaller operation had been cranking out experimental colors for the railroad. Tests proved the paint could handle our weather and sunshine. The proper concentration of turpentine and minerals was mixed in 500 gallon batches.
Machines ground up minerals from the nearby hills for many of the reds, whites and yellows. Lead and zinc were mixed to get bright whites. On the first floor were the paint mixers. A large stock of dry powders was in the next room. Large turpentine and oil tanks in the basement fed the mixing tanks on the first floor. Men with experienced eyes monitored the mixing of the colors.
Paint cans arrived empty in box cars. The company never made their own cans. A local printer made the labels as different colors came out of the tanks. The paint went into various sized cans and sent to the third floor for storage. The second floor was mainly offices. Names like Little Chief, Ute Pass, and Royal were brands of some of their paints.
The business only lasted about three years. On a cold February night the whole place went up in flames. A frozen fire hydrant prevented quick action, and water from Fountain creek was pumped onto the flames. One of the area's biggest supporters, Jerome B. Wheeler of the Manitou Bank, refused to underwrite the plant's rebuilding. A poor economy at the time prevented the company from finding investors.
The fire was big news, and was remembered well into the twentieth century. A few of the buildings survived, but eventually the site was empty. The land in the area now bears no reminders of the paint factory. The name, Ute Pass Paint, remained in the paint stores on Colorado Avenue into the 1920s. I have seen examples of the advertising from the plant, but no examples of the paint!