S&M Supply had mother lode of mine equipment in WWII
The building at 735 Fourth Ave., which a fire recently destroyed, was once the home of S&M Supply. In its time, it was one of the largest mining supply businesses in the United States, started in 1938 by John R. Munro and Dorcey G. Son.
Fred Munro moved from New York state to Telluride in the 1890s and began mining. In 1898 Fred moved to Antlers, about 20 miles east of Rifle, where he built a stone house and store. Both structures were destroyed soon after by floodwaters.
Fred then moved into Rifle where he and Mr. Clarkson, a saloon keeper, went into business together and opened the Munro Mercantile Co. Fred bought out Clarkson in 1905. In 1908, Fred built a new store, which is now an office building for Garfield County.
John R. Munro worked for his father at the main store in Rifle and a branch in Rulison. In 1928 he, with a couple of partners, opened a bank in Rifle. By the mid-1930s, the bank closed, and John spent the next five years paying off the failed bank’s debts.
After the bank closed, John became postmaster at Rifle and for a time worked for the Deering Harvester Co. When U.S. Vanadium Corp., which later became Union Carbide, came to Rifle, John went to work as western U. S. chief purchasing agent for the metals division, based in Grand Junction.
In 1939, Son (known as “Sonny” to his friends), a former superintendent with the National Park Service and engineer on Colorado National Monument road, approached John with the idea of buying old mining companies, cleaning up the equipment and selling it as used mining machinery.
A lot of the old mines were stooped with dangerous aging timbers. John suggested hiring his son, Jack, who was then working as an engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, to join the company to run the field office to clean up the mines. S&M Supply had now become a company with the slogan “We buy junk and sell used machinery.”
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, all U.S. manufacturing production went into the war effort to build military equipment, not mining equipment, and the vanadium mining industry boomed.
So did S&M Supply, which was sitting on one of the largest inventories of used mining equipment in the western U.S.
S&M was able to supply the much-needed equipment to the mining operations around Durango, Naturita and Uravan, and Monticello, Utah. The vanadium not only was the element needed to harden the steel for the production of military equipment, but the U.S. Army also was secretly extracting the uranium from the mill tailings, some of which went into the making of the atomic bomb, it is believed.
By 1943, S&M Supply was located at 721 S. Seventh St. In the early 1950s, John purchased 735 Fourth Ave. at a tax sale, cleaned up the property and moved S&M Supply from the South Seventh location. Recycled ammunition boxes had been used as building material in portions of the Fourth Avenue building.
During World War II, ammunition was shipped to troops in wooden boxes, which would be filled with any number of things and shipped back to the U.S. These used boxes became surplus and were reused for various other things, including construction.
S&M, one of the largest employers in the area, continued to grow until the uranium bust in the late 1950s. The Munro family sold its stock in S&M Supply to Son in 1958. Son continued to do business until 1963.
During the uranium mining heyday, S&M was the largest distributor nationwide for Leroy portable air compressors and the first to bring Butler steel buildings to Grand Junction.
Although the Munro family continues to do business in western Colorado and around the globe, through Munro Companies, today all that remains of the once fast-paced mining supply company is the shell exposing the recycled ammo boxes of times gone by.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.