COBWEB CORNERS: The Ute Pass Paint Company
By Mel McFarland
One of the needs of the community in the 1880s was paint. As the town grew, the lumber industry boomed, but other building suppliers were necessary. In addition, the railroad had a regular need for large amounts of paint. Several of the railroad officials put together a proposal for a paint factory. In 1892 the company found a likely spot for a factory. Today the new postal facility (the Carrier Annex) sits almost on that spot, and from there as far west as 25th Street. I have seen pictures of the plant and it was quite distinctive. It was painted bright yellow with colorful lettering advertising itself on all sides.
As at the glass works, the management of the paint works found that many of the local minerals could be used to manufacture paint. A mill was built to grind the various minerals into a very fine powder. Large tanks held the volatile chemicals like linseed oil. In another part of the plant, the paint was put into cans and barrels. A wide range of colors was offered, and several stores in the area immediately started offering the paint for sale. The paint was quite popular, and I have seen ads for it in newspapers from Trinidad, Walsenburg and up to Cheyenne. The Colorado Midland had a large fleet of freight and passenger cars that it regularly repainted. It used paint in 20-gallon barrels. Over the years, I have even found some of the kegs that were used, still showing their original colors.
On a cold night in February 1894, the agent at the Midland's depot spotted trouble. Across the tracks at the paint works, there was a fire in one of the out buildings. Perhaps a heating stove got a bit hot. In any case, the word went out and a crew started to battle the spreading flames. The fire quickly grew and soon the main plant building was also burning. The cold night was no help. Several of the hydrants needed to provide water were found to be frozen. The fire was still going when the sun came up, and the factory was destroyed. Nearly the entire complex went up in the fire. The owners worked to rebuild, but their efforts failed, and the Ute Pass Paint works became another memory.