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Water tank filled with history

J.K. Perry/Vail DailyThe silver Minturn water tank sits above Williams Street and served the town and railroad at times until it was put out of commission about 15 years ago.
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MINTURN As the sun waned, three Minturnites crept toward the old town water tank above Williams Street with a ladder and black spray paint and an updated, artistic interpretation of the tank in mind.The exact year eludes resident Fred Haslee, but it happened on a summer night in the late 1970s or early 1980s, he said.(We) were sitting in front of what then was known as the Gamble store looking up at the tank, resident Fred Haslee said. Cecil (Warfel) saw the stick letters and said it really needs to have a western look to it.Warfel, who no longer lives in Minturn, made paper templates for new letters and with Haslee and an unnamed man, the three not-so-quietly climbed up to the tank, Haslee said. Haslee and the unnamed man secured the ladder while Warfel painted, he said.We were just trying to dress up Minturn, Haslee said.The following day in full light, Haslee gazed at new letters on an old tank with a history dating back to 1941 when it held water to serve the town and feed steam engines on the railroad tracks to the east.It was a venture between Minturn and the railroad, historian Bill Burnett said.The railroad kept water along the tracks, but not enough to fill the 10,000 gallons of water needed to power each coal-fired steam engine, Burnett said.So the tank was built and a pipe carried water from the tank across the Eagle River under a bridge to the rail yard.Once, the pipe froze during the winter so Burnett and others came up with an ingenious way to thaw the frozen water inside. They hung a sheet metal trough filled with oil from the suspended pipe and set the oil on fire, Burnett said.We didnt know what else to do, he said. We didnt have any machinery to thaw out the pipe. The railroad would have been dead if they didnt have any water.Post thawing, the group put heat tape around the pipe to keep it from freezing.When water began to eat away the tanks innards, a $25,000 rubber bladder was installed inside to separate metal and water, Burnett said. The bladder literally didnt hold up, Burnett said.The tank went kaput 15 years ago, but not because of the bladder.It was put out of commission because the water pipe that fed the tank couldnt handle the pressure to bring the water to the tank, Burnett said.In recent years the outside of the tank began to rust and the paint began to fade. Town officials made a deal with C&B Development, which built the Minturn Towne Homes, to repaint the tank. The redo was completed in May, but the logo Haslee and the other letter-painting culprits completed on their twilight mission remains the same.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or jkperry@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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