Comatose: More than the Sum of Its Parts

By Ben Fogelberg (B.A., ’94; M.A., ’98)

Have you ever restored an antique piece of furniture by sanding down layers of paint to reveal the original wood? Like tree rings, each layer represents a period of time, a chapter in the antique’s story. Removing those layers is like flipping through a book backwards to page 1, where it all began.

CSU’s ROTC cadets pose with Comatose before its departure to Englewood for restoration. The cadets are charged with caring for, and firing, the cannon.

The Colorado State University cannon known as Comatose has a been a herald of woe to our opponents on the gridiron since 1920. Fired each time CSU scores and before and after games – its booms bookending wins and losses alike – the cannon is one of our proudest and loudest traditions.

Currently, Comatose is in the care of Mile High Powder Coating, Inc., a family-owned business in Englewood, Colo. Its employees have been entrusted with the task of pealing back its layers of history and restoring its parts to their original glory.

Asked if the project had presented any surprises, shop manager John McRee said, “Not really.  Except for the layers.” After disassembly and photo-documentation, careful sanding revealed layers of green, gold, and even blue. Colors that witnessed hundreds of games, withstood good weather and bad, and brought a joyful and often jolting noise to crowds for decades.

Mile High Powder Coating used a forklift to remove Comatose’s barrel from its chassis.

According to McRee, the project will take about two months to complete. The cannon made the trip to Englewood on April 27, and will be finished by the end of June 2018. “It’s not easy to disassemble,” he says, noting that the shop had to buy additional tools to do some of the more specialized work. They started with the smaller items: brackets, clamps, and so forth, and then continued with the 1918 French 75 barrel and World War II-era chassis.

They’ll polish all of the brass parts and add a clearcoat to retain the shine. The barrel and other painted parts will be sandblasted and placed in a paint booth, where the powder coat – essentially a dry paint – is applied. Then they bake the painted parts in an oversized oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the surfaces are as smooth as glass. The parts can be handled immediately after they cool.

After reassembly, Comatose will be returned to CSU. Alumni and fans who want to get up close and personal with the cannon will be pleased to learn that it will be on display in the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center during the off-season, ready to start another chapter of its story startling new generations of students, fans, and alumni.

Kristi Bohlender, executive director of the Alumni Association, is thrilled. “The traditions surrounding the cannon and our ROTC program are some of the most revered and time-honored traditions for our alumni, and it is only fitting to provide an off-season home for Comatose in the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center.”