STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
A retired Marine Corps captain has donated 5,000 figurines depicting military history from the American Revolution forward to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The collection of William E. “Bud” Davis sits in glass cases in the railroad museum in downtown Durango.
Davis, 83, for 50 years has collected and painted the figurines– in lead, plastic or a combination of the two – that he positions in dioramas or simply in realistic military formations.
He casts most of the lead figurines himself.
Figurine people are generally 2¼-inches tall, but they are scaled to proportion when positioned with miniature horses, trucks, tanks or armored vehicles.
The figurines. authentic in all aspects, overwhelm the eye as the observer tries to capture the details of Gen. Robert E. Lee with his adjutants, a skirmish at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach or the Battle of Waterloo.
Stand-alone scenes show French, German, Greek, British, American, Native American, Moroccan and other warriors in action.
A camel corps from the Middle East, troops mounted on elephants, a German panzer unit, a World War II medical center or a Confederate cavalry charge have their place in the showcases.
The accomplishments of Davis other than as a collector are just as impressive. He has been a president, chancellor, dean or regent at the University of Colorado, University of Wyoming, Idaho State University, the Oregon State System of Higher Education, Louisiana State University and University of New Mexico.
He was head football coach at the University of Colorado and produced state championship teams at Loveland High School (track) and Greeley High School (football) and is the author of several histories and biographies.
As a commissioned officer in the early 1950s, Davis was stationed at the First Marine Division headquarters in Korea. There, one of his enviable assignments was escorting Marilyn Monroe (“Jolting Joe” DiMaggio, her baseball-legend husband stayed in Japan on business) when she performed for the troops in 1954.
Davis today lives in Corrales, N.M., where he has an additional 5,000 lead figurines. A 75-book library about military miniature models provide details that allow him to paint authentic replicas.
Davis buys unpainted figurines from commercial manufacturers, finds them in flea markets and trade catalogs or obtains them through barter.
“I still collect and work with them, but it’s hit and miss now,” Davis said. “Time is running out, so before I go up or down to a different life I’d like to find a resting place for my lead miniatures.”
Davis met Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper through a Marine Corps recruiter in Albuquerque.
Harper termed the collection of figurines “amazing” and said they will add a new dimension to the museum’s railroad memorabilia.