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Boyd Struble bends glass for neon signs across the Front Range 

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
In one Pueblo alleyway, not far from the Union Depot downtown, neon signs rule the night. Known as Neon Alley, it hosts both refurbished vintage and newer custom-made signs in a variety of styles.

Boyd Struble made a few of them, including the high-heeled Blue Slipper Café sign and the giant pencil labeled Scott Office Products, Inc. In the Springs he’s done repair work on iconic signs like the one above Johnny’s Navajo Hogan. He’s been toiling in neon for over 30 years, running his own company, Boyd’s Neon, since 2001. Though he doesn’t do design, he makes the tubes for many of the sign companies in the area — and there’s a bit of an art to that process alone.

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
Struble’s work starts with pre-made glass tubing, open at both ends. He almost exclusively uses tubes filled with argon or neon gas, which glow blue or red on their own. For other colors, Struble uses tubes coated with a coloring agent. To bend the tubes to the buyer’s specifications, Struble heats them — hot enough to be flexible, but not so hot as to damage the coating. He bends the glass by hand, lining each piece up to a pattern. Once the tubes are bent into the proper shapes, Struble takes them to what’s called a bombarding table, where he hooks them up to a vacuum pump.

“You pull it down to what’s called a black vacuum; there’s nothing in there,” he says. At this point, he also runs electricity through the tubes to remove any impurities. Afterward, he fills each tube with the appropriate gas and caps each with an igniter. When plugged in, the igniter charges the gas in the tube with electricity, causing it to glow.

Struble also lights his own house with neon. He notes a blacklight half-moon as a permanent wall decoration, plus Halloween decor. And whenever the Broncos are playing, he hangs a glowing logo in a window.

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