DENVER — About 15 miles north of his usual post atop Empower Field at Mile High's scoreboard, Bucky — the white fiberglass horse statue — was indoors for the first time in decades.
With the Broncos'scoreboard undergoing a monumental renovation to expand by 70 percent, Bucky needed to be temporarily removed. In that time, he would be renovated and refreshed, too, in an extensive process.
So, for the first time in 22 years and just the second time since he was first placed atop Mile High Stadium in 1975, Bucky was carefully detached from the top of the scoreboard, lowered down to the ground and prepared for transportation to Broomfield's BSC Signs.
It was there that, as if to underscore Bucky's status as a legendary landmark, BSC Signs found old newspapers hidden in his hooves. Dated Nov. 15, 1974, the San Diego Union clippings were from when Bucky was first created.
Perhaps it was after reading stories about Richard Nixon and Jimmy Hoffa that Jim and Mildred Rorie placed the newspaper into Bucky's hooves.
For nearly 50 years, those newspapers stayed there, as Bucky became part of the fabric of Broncos games and tradition.
With Bucky, the Rories broke the mold. Literally.
Operators of Fiberglass Menagerie in Alpine, California, the Rories created a variety of larger-than-life figures from 1962 to 1985. For years, they would take orders from around the country, and Jim would drive the finished products in his flatbed truck.
In the mid-60s, they got probably their biggest client when Western star Roy Rogers came calling to commission a tribute to his famous equine costar, a palomino horse named Trigger. They took the horse's measurements, expanded them at scale, made a mold and then produced the fiberglass figure that Rogers would later display at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Apple Valley, California.
Nearly 10 years later, they'd return to the mold they made for Trigger.
In 1974, Denver approved a $25 million bond to expand Mile High Stadium and make improvements — including to the scoreboard — and construction would begin in 1975. The city contracted Chicago's Stewart-Warner Corp. to build the scoreboard. Part of the design apparently called for a unique design element to tie it to the franchise, and so the company called the Rories.
Since they already had the mold of Trigger, Mildred asked Rogers if he minded if they re-used the mold for this stadium project. According to a 1993 Rocky Mountain News article, Rogers gave his approval on the condition that the new horse would not be named Trigger.
"We originally designed that for Trigger," Mildred told The Denver Post in 1997. "But Roy Rogers allowed us to use the mold for the Broncos — and then we destroyed it."
The finished horse weighed a massive 1,600 pounds and stood 27 feet tall. The Rories' company loaded it onto Jim's truck, and then he set out on the 1,000-mile trek to Denver.
"Jim Rorie delivered the statue that he and his wife created to Mile High Stadium, happy to have it arrive in one piece," Joelle Klein wrote in her article for the Post. "He then turned around and headed back home to Alpine, Calif."
Bucky's installation was completed at some point in the summer of 1975; he made his first appearance in The Denver Post in a photo of scoreboard construction on the second page of the Aug. 28 edition of the paper.
Sadly, Jim died just two years later and never got to see it atop the scoreboard where it became famous and beloved.
Twenty years later, in 1997, Mildred visited Colorado to see family in Parker and Grand Junction, and along with her daughter and her niece, they made time to stop at Mile High Stadium to get a look at their most famous creation. She'd seen photos of it before, but had not seen it in person.
"Oh, I think it's beautiful," Mildred told Klein. "I wish Jim could've seen it. …
"I regret that my husband never did get to see it. He would've been thrilled."
WHAT'S IN A NAME
While Bucky is generally known by that name, his moniker was the subject of debate for a long time.
In early September of 1975, KLZ Radio advertised a contest to name the horse. According to the ad in the Sept. 11, 1975 edition of the Post, the winner would receive round-trip airfare for two to Denver's season finale in Miami, hotel accommodations and $100.
While the winner appears to not have been announced in archival Denver Post scans, one of the judges of the contest later recalled that the name that actually won was Bucko, not Bucky.
"Thousands of entries poured in, he said, and the judges settled on Bucko because the name was submitted several times," the Post’s Cindy Brovsky wrote in 2001 after speaking with that judge, former Denver city council member Joe Ciancio.
But over time, the name evolved for some from Bucko to Bucky.
"It depends on who you talk to which name is used," Matt Sugar, the Metropolitan Stadium Football District spokesman at the time, said in 2001. "We're sticking with Bucky, and Bucko likely will be used interchangeably as a nickname."
BACK ON TOP
When Bucky was removed from the existing scoreboard in late January, it happened remarkably quickly.
Around sunrise, birds fluttered about his head and a crane moved into place, its long arm extending above the scene. Crew members climbed through the roof hatch and stood, nearly a quarter of Bucky's height, peering up at the massive statue.
The crane then lowered a harness that a few workers in a boom lift carefully put in place to support Bucky on his trip to terra firma. Those on the roof detached it from where it was bolted down, and a short time later, Bucky was getting prepared to be loaded onto the truck that would take him to BSC Signs.
Over the months that followed, Bucky was restored through an extremely meticulous process, BSC Signs owner Joe Landin said. BSC, along with its subcontractors, evaluated Bucky's structural integrity through a variety of tests; they drilled holes at the mounting points and inserted cameras to take a closer look, and they conducted sonic testing for wall thickness.
After those assessments, they took him to E&J Fiberglass to add a new 3/16 inch layer of fiberglass to double the original thickness. Upon return, Bucky received reinforcement with new structural foam in the lower half of his hind legs and his tail for the mounting areas.
And then BSC began to work on the exterior.
"He has the fiberglass coat, fiberglass resin coat, fiberglass gel coat, primer gel coat," Landin said. "He has an adhesion-promoting primer that goes on top of that. He has two coats of sealer coat by AkzoNobel. And then he has two coats of base top coat, white, AkzoNobel as well. And then he has four coats of clear coat on him. And then he's been buffed and shined."
While BSC previously handled the miniature Bucky that adorns the Mile High Monument in Empower Field at Mile High's Lot J parking area, the real one raised more challenges. They had to figure out logistics and design the structure that Bucky would be mounted on for transit and storage. While their 21,000 square foot manufacturing facility can handle most projects with ease, they had to create a temporary paint booth just for Bucky.
"We went all out on him. He's basically brand new," Landin said. "He will last, for sure, at minimum another 30, 40 years with these coatings."
On Thursday, BSC delivered the immaculate and gleaming horse back to Empower Field at Mile High. By noon, he was back at his old home, although at a new elevation. With the scoreboard 31 feet taller than it was before, Bucky stands 161 feet above the field.
For those working for BSC and Mortenson Construction, which is managing the scoreboard renovation, working on this project and seeing Bucky return to his usual towering position was a source of pride.
"This definitely does mean something to me and the team, just to be a part of history, just to be a part of the refreshing of getting back to our winning ways," Landin said. "And I see this as a symbol of that, you know. New coach, clean horse, new stadium [renovations], new ownership. It all kind of ties in. It's great to be a part of that history."
Take an exclusive look at how Bucky, the 27-foot-tall horse statue, was refreshed and then return to his spot atop the scoreboard at Empower Field at Mile High.