Master blacksmith Vaughn Shafer forges a new chapter in El Jebel
Vaughn Shafer’s 1,000-square-foot blacksmith shop in the heart of El Jebel has accumulated odds and ends for 32 years.
In one corner there is a Sabertooth Tiger chopper motorcycle that won first place in a competition at the Sturgis motorcycle rally in 2015.
Resting on a counter is a metal warrior helmet that looks like it came from the crusades.
Several skulls from deer, elk and bighorn sheep hang here and there. Chandeliers featuring Shafer’s handiwork with metal hang from the ceilings.
One wall is “insulated” with flattened Miller Lite beer packages, three layers thick. Another wall features photos and mementos of people, living and dead, who have had a big influence on Shafer’s life. A picture of Jesus Christ is among them.
Various-sized hammers, pliers, anvils and other tools of the trade cover tables and are jammed into containers. Welding equipment is strewn here and there.
It’s a welcoming place despite looking gritty and possessing a musty smell. People always pop in to “drink a cold beer and shoot the shit,” Shafer said.
The old building housing his workshop was a chicken coop dating from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It’s come to the end of its useful life and has to be torn down, said Robert Hubbell, president of Crawford Properties, the property owner and landlord.
Everything must go — something that Shafer came to grips with after taking stock of his surroundings.
“When they came in here about a month ago and told me I was leaving, I didn’t realize how much of a hoarder I am,” he said with a laugh earlier this week.
Fortunately, this isn’t another “tenant gets the boot” story with an unhappy ending, all too common in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The Crawfords, they have taken me under their wing,” Shafer said. “They said they’d set me up.”
He plans to be doing business soon in the El Jebel area. He’s recruited 20 buddies to help move all his stuff later this summer.
But first there will be a party. Shafer is hosting an open house at the current shop Saturday from 11 a.m. until who knows. He wants friends and customers to drop by to celebrate his next chapter — socially distanced, of course. There will be a guest book where Shafer wants people to jot down how they met.
Blacksmithing is in Shafer’s blood. Both his grandpas were in the trade in Indiana. His dad was as well until he was killed by a lightning bolt in the same boat where the then-9-year-old Vaughn was a passenger.
Shafer initially pursued a different career. He took a bus to Phoenix from Indiana at age 18 and learned to be a stuntman, with dreams of being in movies. He soon realized that blacksmithing was his calling.
“It got in my blood,” he said. “That’s what happens when your family is in a trade.”
He took up blacksmithing at the Roaring Forge coop when he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1985. He met members of the Crawford family and moved to his own workshop in 1988.
Word of mouth has kept him busy ever since. He makes everything from ranch gates to chandeliers, railings to sculpture, everything custom made. He likes to work directly with his customers rather than through an interior designer. He likes connecting with people.
“We get to work one on one with the clients,” he said. “When they come in here they go ‘Wow.’”
Missouri Heights resident Fred Fellows stopped by Shafer’s shop Wednesday to check on some work. He commissioned Shafer and his business collaborator, Thomas Barlow, to make a sign for his ranch gate and a sculpture of his daughter riding a horse. Fellows said a friend referred him to Shafer. Then he started asking around and received numerous hearty endorsements.
“Everybody loves Vaughn,” Fellows said.
He was thrilled with their work. He credited Shafer and Barlow with taking his general idea and designing the perfect custom pieces.
Shafer and Barlow, a sculptor who works with everything from marble to ice to metal, have collaborated the past three years. They are meticulous about researching their topics. For example, when creating elk sculptures for the El Jebel Road roundabout, they consulted with numerous hunting guides to get the muscle definition just right.
Barlow said he likes working with Shafer because he encourages him to dream big and get out of his comfort zone. Shafer said he likes working with Barlow because of the vision he brings to the work as a sculptor.
They will continue to collaborate at the new site.
The street in front of Shafer’s current workshop has been torn up. New pavement and an 8-foot sidewalk are being poured. It will be renamed Balboa Way. A two-bay, touchless car wash with a detail station is being constructed across the street, Hubbell said. Nothing is currently planned to replace the building that will be razed. He is glad they can accommodate Shafer in a new place.
“He’s part of our family,” Hubbell said.
Shafer figures it will take two days to relocate all his tools and memorabilia. He’s not worried about losing the character of the old place at the new site.
“Give me a month,” he said. “It will look like I’ve been there 20 years.”
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