One Tow Over the Line

The camouflaged kids have taken up arms. They're fighting to claim territory, weaving around old houses, wending their way through junked cars and trucks on this field in industrial north Denver.

Phhht. A hit.
The proprietor of the paintball battlefield is Floyd Samuel, and he knows all about war. He's in one himself with the City of Denver, he says. At stake is the very land where his young customers are now shooting it out.

Just a paintball shot away is the city's impound lot, where the Denver Sheriff's Department stores and then auctions cars abandoned on the streets of Denver. These boom economic times have also led to a boom in junkers, and the lot is overflowing. So the city wants to expand its auto impound facility onto Samuel's place, as well as a few neighboring parcels.

Which means goodbye to the paintball field, goodbye to Samuel's towing business, goodbye to the peculiar commune that occupies these seven dusty acres.

"They want to take us out, the car pound wants to expand," says Samuel. "They have initiated proceedings for condemning the land we're on. There are other directions they could have went, different ways they could have done it."

Instead, the city took aim at Samuel. He's not about to go quietly.

The 55-year-old Samuel--large belly, a few missing teeth--presides over his seven rented acres at 5300 Brighton Boulevard. Polite to a fault, always offering guests coffee or soda, he is also highly charged about the possible demise of his business.

A former Denver firefighter, Samuel moved into autos in 1979, when Dick Wyatt, a fire department colleague, rented him a body shop. A few years later, Samuel took over Wyatt's towing business, which to this day bears the name of Samuel's mentor.

In the early 1990s, Samuel was looking to expand his enterprises from their home on Smith Road. Another friend, Michael O'Brien, had purchased the seven-acre parcel off Brighton Boulevard in 1992, and he leased the land to Samuel. The intention, both O'Brien and Samuel agree, was for Samuel to one day buy the land.

"He's very hardworking," says O'Brien, who today lives in Yampa. "I thoroughly intended to sell him the property. I offered to sell it to him several times, but the financial stuff wasn't there for him."

"We were just startin' to negotiate when all this happened," Samuel says.
If the property is not much to look at now, and it isn't, things were worse in 1992. Trash and weeds were everywhere. The empty homes looked like dumps--and that's what some were used for.

Back in the Twenties, this land was a work camp for Globeville factory workers, which helps explain Dan's Corner, a working-man's bar on the property that was featured in the 1971 film Vanishing Point. "When Globeville was one of the happening districts of Denver, you had all your millworkers there, and your packing plant," Samuel says. "The bar was famous for its polkas and chops." Today, a friend of Samuel's runs it.

Other friends occupy many of the small homes on the property. "Half his employees are living in four-plexes," says Robert Foreman, one of Samuel's workers. "If they don't know where to stay, they stay here."

At any given time, a dozen or so people live on this land. Samuel's partner, Bonnie Rogers, shares a house with her five-year-old daughter. Foreman himself came to stay after a stint in jail. Samuel once fired one of his employees, but knowing he had no place to stay, let him continue to crash there. "He takes care of folks," Foreman says of his boss. "The city will take away jobs from a lot of people, take away homes from a lot of people."

On the graveled lot beside the houses are more cars. A boat. One day a garage sale with tables full of clothes and games and barbells.

And then, of course, there's "Paintball Adventures," the business Samuel started in 1993. "It's one of the most unique paintball fields in the country," he boasts. "People come in from all over the country. It's in a setting you could almost never duplicate."

The field is a square full of abandoned houses and junked cars, buses and trucks. As you walk around Samuel's property, the "phhht, phhht" sound of paintball rounds slices through the air.

Samuel assumes the city will assess the property at about $800,000, which is what he was going to pay O'Brien for it. But if he can convince the city that the paintball business is worth something, that could affect the appraisal value.

During the first quarter of the year, Samuel says, Paintball Adventures raked in $86,000. The field is popular with scientists, church groups and lawyers. "Paintball is one of the best stress relievers there is," he explains.

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T.R. Witcher