GREENTOWN — Become a miner for a day. Pretend to be the sheriff of a lawless town. Prop your feet up and ask the barkeep for another drink at the Brass Saloon. Forge a new piece of ironwork in the blacksmith’s shop.
You can do it all at Kings Station, a replica of a 19th century Old West town built by 70-year-old Greentown native Dan King. According to him, it’s where anything is possible if you have a little imagination.
“I call it Kings Station,” he said. “But it has the ability to become whatever I want it to. It can be Tombstone, it can be Deadwood, it can be Dodge City, it can be Wichita. That’s the neat part. The imagination.”
And you don’t even need a plane ticket or a time machine to experience it. It just takes a drive to Greentown to find this particular homage to the Old West hidden in Dan’s backyard.
When Dan was a kid, he wanted to be a mountain man or a trapper. It was dream fueled by some of his favorite Western TV shows, like “Hopalong Cassidy” and the “The Lone Ranger.” There was always something exciting about watching the horse riding and gunfighting, where there was always a showdown at high noon and the cowboy hero always triumphed over the outlaw.
“What went on in the Old West was the only time and place anywhere in the world that it ever happened,” Dan said. “There was never another Western society anywhere other than here.”
While Dan was in the Army, he spent two years out West in Utah and Colorado, where he got to visit some of the real places depicted in the Westerns of his youth. When he married his wife, Becky, 49 years ago, they spent their honeymoon in Colorado Springs. They still continue to vacation there.
His fascination of the American West motivated him enough to pick up a couple of nonfiction books as he got older. From their pages, Dan discovered the characters and true stories of the West were much more exciting than the fictional movies or television shows.
“I picked up a couple books and read them and said, ‘Wow, that’s a good story,’” Dan said. “So I just started reading them more and more. The fiction is okay, but I read the history books. If you really want to learn the truth, read a little bit about it. It’s a lot different than you think.”
SETTLING THE LAND
But Dan took his love of the Old West to a whole other level in 2014.
He said he was looking to tackle a creative building project with his then-11-year-old grandson, Kaiden King. Of course, the idea of what to build was a no-brainer. They would build a replica of an Old West town in Dan’s backyard.
Kaiden got to pick the location for the first building of the project, which was the sheriff’s office. He and Dan used reclaimed wood from when they tore a barn down together to construct it.
And with that, Kings Station was born.
Construction continued over the next five years on the town. A lean-to eventually transformed into a blacksmith’s shop. Then came the saloon, complete with a wooden bar handmade by Dan. They eventually built an elevated wooden platform to connect the two.
The next project was a mine shaft built around a hole that Kaiden and his friends had dug in the yard while they were playing. Finally came an outhouse — but not one meant to be used when nature calls. Instead, it stores firewood.
“When we first started building it, I just remember being out here, hanging out here with the dog, and all of us slowly coming up with different ideas to put it together,” Kaiden said. “One building showed up and then it was like, ‘Hey let’s do another one, and hey let’s do another one.’ And then it just all happened.”
But it wasn’t just the exterior that looked the part. Stepping foot inside the sheriff’s office or pushing through the swinging doors of the saloon also feels like a step back in time.
Dan, a Delco retiree and a millwright by trade, built all the furniture except for the chairs. He also made all of the ironwork, including the holders for the light fixtures. Every piece he crafted was designed to be as authentic as possible.
“It’s the small details of things that you don’t really pay attention to that make the whole thing what it is,” Dan said. “There’s a lot of little things you don’t realize that add to the atmosphere back here. Things you don’t think about was all part of it for me. That’s the part that I imagined.”
And details are everywhere. A “Wanted” poster lays on the desk of the sheriff’s office, and a working wood stove sits in the corner. An antique trunk and a safe add to the atmosphere. Animal skulls, oil lamps and glassware line the walls.
In the saloon, a wooden keg built by Dan sits on one end of the bar. A framed photo collage of some of the Old West’s famous characters hangs on the wall. A popular gambling card game from the 1800s, called Faro, is spread out over the poker table. An authentic spittoon is positioned on the floor in front of the bar.
As Becky watched Kings Station continue to grow, she was amazed at her husband’s artistic vision.
“At first we loved the sheriff’s office,” Becky said. “We thought that was the best thing ever. It looks so authentic. But then we got on to the saloon and that became the greatest thing ever because of all the different stuff we could put in the saloon.”
Dan said he’s always on the lookout for old Western items to incorporate here and there, but some of his favorite decorations are the trinkets he brought home with him from his trips out West. Those include things like the petrified wood and the dried cactus he picked up during a trip to Arizona.
But his most beloved item hangs above the door into the saloon. Dan found it at a ghost town in Utah in 1970 while he was kicking around in the dirt. As he sat on the edge of an old foundation, he shuffled his feet along the ground and a small, simple brass ring emerged from under the dust. He picked it up, put it in his pocket and has held onto it ever since.
Today, it hangs over the saloon’s swinging doors and serves as the inspiration for its name, the Brass Ring Saloon.
“That’s our real connection to the Old West,” Dan said. “I know it doesn’t amount to much, but I wouldn’t part with that brass ring.”
HOME ON THE RANGE
These days, it’s rare for an evening to go by without Dan and Becky spending time around the campfire in front of Kings Station. A lot of times, their family will join them to roast hot dogs or fix a pot of chili over the fire and then sit in the saloon or sheriff’s office to eat and enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s quiet,” Dan said. “It’s peaceful. You can collect your thoughts. No one is bothering you. It’s a hassle today with everything that’s going on — all the COVID stuff. I come back here, and there’s none of that back here.”
Kaiden, now 18 and a senior at Eastern High School, tries to get over to visit his grandparents and Kings Station as often as he can. He’s there at least every weekend, and he even had his senior photos taken there.
For him, it’s a project that forever bonds him to his grandfather.
“It’s pretty special just being able to say this is ours and what we did to it,” Kaiden said. “Not everybody knows how much work we put into it. … It’s always a good time to be back here with him. There’s a lot of good memories of us sweating.”
Dan doesn’t have any current plans to add on to his Old West town, although he hasn’t completely ruled it out. He said if he could build one more thing, it would be a general store.
But for now, he’s perfectly content with Kings Station as it stands today — quiet and hidden away in his backyard.
And with just a little imagination, his town can transform him into a cowboy, a farmer, a townsperson, a buffalo hunter or the mountain man he always imagined as a child.
Inside his town, it’s all possible.
“I think one of the best things you can have and use is your creativity,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to be a little boy again. Daydream and create. I enjoy doing that. I always have.”