Twelve years ago and then some, Trey Warren did something totally unthinkable.
He plopped a mountain bike on the very tip-top of Lander’s 75-foot-tall grain elevator — a wreck of a building at the time that he was determined to save.
There was nothing particularly special about the bike.
Warren doesn’t even know what kind of bike it is exactly, other than a cool old bike with big, sweeping handlebars so it would stand out.
“I also wanted it to be solid to sit on when I chose to climb up and sit on it,” he said.
And climb up and sit on it he has. In fact, he’s actually stood on top of it, looking down on the Lander world and making a video he calls “Ride The Day Like A Bull!” (below)
Shot with a 3D camera swung in a circle above him, the effect of swinging the camera around overhead makes it look like Warren’s precariously riding the bike like a rodeo bull high over the town.
The bike did have a Lander license plate, which made it cool. But it’s main perk was that it was quite affordable at the time.
“The guys at Gannett Peak Sports found it in a parts bin,” Warren recalled. “And I traded them a 12-pack of beer for it.”
Warren isn’t sure what exactly possessed him to put the old bike on top of the Lander Elevator in the first place.
Maybe part of it was just being creative.
The grain elevator he was trying to save was, after all, a complete wreck. Most people would have taken it down, salvaged its beautiful old wood and built something new on the corner lot, which is one of Fremont County’s most valuable in terms of location.
The elevator was full of pigeons — and their poop — and grain in various stages of rank decay.
Bolting a bike permanently on the top of the Lander world said something about the work he was doing.
But with determination, with effort, impossible things can become real. Like a bike perched at the top of the world, perpetually riding the sky.
Inspired By The Pedal House
Warren can blame part of the inspiration for placing a bike on top of the elevator on a visit to Laramie.
“There’s a bike shop there, the Pedal House, and they have a bicycle mounted to the side of the building,” Warren said. “And it’s like it’s riding up the building or whatever. And I just thought that was kind of creative.”
The whimsical sight started a train of thought that led Warren’s thoughts back to the Lander elevator he would eventually save.
“What would it look like to have a bicycle on the top of the elevator that looks like, you know, it’s up there riding or rolling or whatever?” Warren said. “And, you know, there’s that song about riding a horse on a boat, and I just thought the concept of mixing these different completely disparate themes was pretty entertaining.”
The more he told himself that this was a pretty crazy idea, the more his mind picked at it, working out the complexities.
“Every time I do something with (the Lander Elevator), I’m kind of drawn to it from a creative standpoint,” he said. “You know, like somehow I get tapped into the Muse whenever I’m at that building, or whenever I’m working on that building.”
Before long, he was designing components that would anchor the bike permanently in place, impossibly riding a thin bright line against a bright blue sky.
Then he enlisted a friend who worked for his construction company at the time, Whimpy Wolf, to build the actual parts.
On Top Of The World Looking Down On Creation
Getting the bike on top of the elevator was not an easy feat, and it was not without danger.
But Warren was a rock climber in a previous life, so that part was already second nature to him.
The first hurdle was just figuring out how to get all the materials to the top of the roof. He used a pulley and rope system to haul things from the east side door up to a space near the very top that today is called The Roost.
There’s a door on the south side of the roost, which he used to mount ladders that would take him the rest of the way to the top of the roof, bolting it to the wall.
A friend named Mike Lowham kept Warren on what’s called “a belay” in the rock-climbing world. Essentially, a second person provides a safety line in case there’s a fall.
After that, Warren bolted another ladder on the roof, and then he could place a steel mount on the roof’s peak to bolt the bike in place.
“It was very important to me to make that super sturdy,” Warren said. “I never wanted the wind to kind of rattle it and start to shake it loose so that it falls down on Main Street or the Main Street sidewalk.”
Once everything was super sturdy, Warren then did something else that would be unthinkable for most people.
He stood up on top of the bike on a whim.
That moment was captured for posterity by passersby who happened to see it.
“I was riding a particular high that day,” Warren told Cowboy State Daily. “I had just kissed my new girlfriend — a friend of mine for a long time — but my new girlfriend at the time.”
And, for the past 10 years now, his wife.
Bringing Some ‘Pop And Shine’
It would take Warren a decade in all to clean out the elevator he’d bought in 2008.
“It was completely derelict,” Warren said. “The building had no usable space. It had no water to it, no electrical to it.”
It had dead pigeons though, along with lots of pigeon poop, along with composting grain and beet pulp.
“Along First Street, there was no sidewalk,” Warren recalled. “Parts of it were open to the street, so water would just flow in underneath the building. It was just really in such a poor state of affairs.”
It took years for Warren to talk the former owners, the Sorensons, into selling the elevator to him.
“They were afraid anyone who bought it would just come and tear it down,” Warren said.
But that thought never occurred to Warren, despite the elevator’s terrible condition.
“Its bones were solid,” he said. “I knew the building had incredible potential. I’m like, ‘I can really make that building pop and make that shine.’”
A Wall Of Decaying Grain 14-Foot-Deep
White Tyvek — a polyethylene material commonly used for protection from hazardous materials on job sites — and a respirator were the fashion du jour for Warren every day after work.
“The elevator was built in the early 1900s as a way to gravity feed material onto train cars or into sacks so people could buy sacks of flour and that sort of thing,” Warren said. “But all that stuff had long since been dysfunctional.”
Taking the grain out of a space that was intended to dispense material by gravity was interesting, to say the least.
“I hauled it out one wheelbarrow at a time a lot of the time,” Warren said.
Sometimes a wheelbarrow, sometimes one 5-gallon bucket at a time was used to remove the grain and compost.
His respirator would become clogged with the fine beet pulp dust, forcing him to leave so he could unblock the airway in a safer air space.
“I was running a construction company during the years I was cleaning this up,” he added. “So, it wasn’t like I was making any money on this. I’d just go over there in my free time to work on it, while earning a living through my actual design/build work.”
Lander Elevator Is Finally For Sale
Once Warren had the elevator cleaned out and all the junk hauled away, he could focus on demolition and reconstruction.
At the time, Lander was in something of a glacially slow but steady resurgence, coming back from a bust when its iron ore mine went belly up in the 1980s.
“In no way would I take any credit for the comeback, but I was in the middle of that period,” he said. “It’s something I wish I could have done sooner, but I just didn’t have the resources.”
Today, the elevator houses the Bike Mill, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, as well as an Airbnb called The Crib. Its name comes from the way the wood is stacked.
Warren also has his real estate brokerage Householder Properties LLC there, as well as the Bhava Shala, which translates to House of Good Vibes. That houses a Yoga Collective, as well as providing space for things like dance lessons and painting classes.
Visionary Broadband, meanwhile, rents The Roost for its internet devices.
While Warren is very proud of the project and how it has turned out, for him it’s always about the journey.
He recently listed the elevator for sale for $1.5 million, after which he has his eye on other downtown development projects.
“That is my passion,” he said. “The downtown redevelopment model. That’s what I do, and that’s what I’m driven by. But this is the project I can say without hesitation is the one I’m most proud of.”
Time will tell if the next project gets an unlikely guest on the top of its roof, worthy of a new 360 video proclaiming, “Ride the Day Like A Bull!”
They are for sure words to live by in the Cowboy State.
Other stories in Cowboy State Daily’s “What The Heck …” series:
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.