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Prepping for Pioneer Mike's return

As part of the “hundred year tune-up,” scaffolding and netting have been placed around the Carter Memorial Fountain on Ashland’s Plaza so it can be stripped, sanded and repainted in preparation for the arrival of the new bronze Pioneer Mike statue that should stand atop it by the Fourth of July.

The much-loved drinking fountain and statue have long stood at the center of pedestrian and vehicular traffic — and suffered from it, with vandals climbing the fountain and ripping the flintlock gun out of his hands more than once. Decades ago, a truck ran into it.

The historic assemblage was a gift in 1910 of Henry and Harriet Carter, founders of Ashland’s Bank of America in the 1880s and creators of Siskiyou Boulevard from their own lands. He was also a state senator, horticulturist and stockman. His historic house still stands on Gresham Street.

The fountain is sturdy cast iron, but the statue was cast in fragile zinc, which is hard to patch.

When trashed the last time in October 2014, the city declared him beyond repair and ordered a copy in sturdy bronze by Portland mold-maker Kendall Mingey. It is being cast now by the Calcagno Foundry of Boring, Oregon, and should be delivered in late June, says city Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison.

The core cost of the project is expected to come in under $50,000, including $15,000 for the artist who made the mold of the existing statue; $18,000 for Calcagno Foundry, which is casting the bronze statue; and less than $16,000 to the Sabel Painting Company for fountain base restoration. It will be repainted the same historic dark brown and get the statue bolted on top, to be kept under shrouds until the unveiling.

The Ashland Historic Commission is deciding on appropriate ceremonies and city Administrator Dave Kanner says he’d like to see a sheet pulled off the completed work about July 2 or 3, when plenty of people are in town. It should have a band, speeches about its history and expressions of thanks for all who participated, he adds, followed by punch and cookies.

The fountain will be taken down to bare metal, get its hollow interior rust-proofed and undergo replacement of all plumbing, says Morrison. The two-week job, performed by Sabel Painting of Medford, will cost $15,563. It will be repainted the same historic dark brown.

The statue was originally cast by the J. L. Mott Iron Works in New York and was one of four known to have stood around the country. This was the last one standing outside in the elements. The casting of Ashland’s Pioneer Mike involved a trip by the sculptor to Storm Lake, Iowa, where one of the originals stands inside and could have a mold cast. Like Ashland, that town had to make a copy. Ashland will display the old statue inside, at a spot yet to be decided – and keep the mold in case anyone wants to cast another one.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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