When a woman crashed her car into the custom-made gate of author Stephen King’s West Broadway home Sept. 26, Leamen Allen had a pretty good idea that he would be the one to fix it.
Allen, 42, of Bangor has worked a variety of metalwork jobs. In addition to fence repairs, he has worked on local firetrucks, a 10,000-gallon airline refueler and damaged oil skimmers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. He now works at Allenfarm Fence Co. in Hermon, which is owned by his brother Ralph Allen.
“[The Kings’ property management] called for a chain-link fence job years ago for behind their house,” said Ralph Allen. “After that, the man who manages the property calls us every time they have something that needs to get done.”
Leamen Allen was on the crew that reinforced the fence around King’s personal library. When property management called Allenfarm Fence to repair the recently damaged fence and gate, Leamen stepped forward.
“He’s got the talent and the patience to do it,” Ralph Allen said.
The 270-foot-long wrought-iron fence surrounds the high-profile home King purchased with his wife, Tabitha, in 1979. Crafted by Terry Steel of Steel Forge in Bridgton in 1982, the fence and gates are embellished with iron flying animals resembling bats or gargoyles and a spider web motif. King and Steel collaborated on the design.
Five 8-by-10-inch photos of the intact fence were taped to the workroom wall for Leamen Allen to refer to as he straightened, welded, cut and replaced parts of the gate.
“When this came here, it basically looked like a dead spider laying on the floor,” Leamen said. “I came out here to look and said, ‘Oh my.’”
“We’ve never done a repair as extensive as this,” Ralph Allen said. “It’s really time-consuming work. The thing that saved time was when we came up with the idea to save the original forge-work. Otherwise, we would have had to bring a forge guy in.”
Leamen Allen laid each gate piece on the workshop table and used an oxy-fuel rosebud torch to heat sections of the iron, softening it to be worked with.
His drive for perfection was apparent when he noticed a bar that was less than an inch off. Rather than assume the bar was altered by the accident, he examined old photos and found that the original blacksmith had created the imperfection. So Leamen fixed it.
“If I left it, every time driving by the house I would notice it,” he said.
Although the fence was a crumpled mess, it wasn’t Leamen’s toughest job. Iron is much easier to work with than easily dented aluminum, his specialty. The cost to repair the fence originally was estimated at $100,000, but Ralph says it will cost the Kings much less.
The project is special to Leamen because King happens to be his favorite author.
“I’ve always wanted to meet [Stephen King], and I started reading his books in eighth grade,” he said. “I’ve read a lot of his stuff over the years, to the point that I had to tell myself to branch out.”
Leamen himself has long had the ambition to be a writer, and his wife hopes that this project will inspire him to move forward with his writing.
“[Fixing] this fence is tedious and rewarding, and I think writing will be the same way,” Leamen said last week.
King’s damaged fence and gate may be Leamen’s last big metalwork project. When he was 6 years old, he broke both of his arms and legs in a farming accident in Exeter. Ever since, he has had some physical problems, especially with his arms.
“My arms were sore after the first two weeks,” he said. “I’d rather do this in the company, but it’s tough — it’s catching up to me. It may be my last major welding and repair project.”
Leamen saved the big decorative gate, which was directly struck by the car, for last.
The gate’s focal point is a giant, spindly spider. During the crash, the legs on its right side were yanked from its body.
Leamen made the spider whole again, but as he worked on perfecting other areas of the gate, one of the spider’s legs kept popping away from the body, and he considered fastening it with a discrete welding tack.
He stood at the edge of the worktable and pushed down on a prong at the top of the gate with his hand to feel where the tension in the twisted iron remained.
“It’s almost like a game of chess,” Leamen said. “You have to plan a couple steps ahead.”
He heated up more than 200 sections of the intricate gate, focusing on the joints. When he reached the last corner and heated the metal, the gate creaked as it relaxed to its original shape.
The demolished gate operator lies in a pile of scrap outside the workroom door. The Kings will have to install a whole new access control system before the job is complete.
The high-security gate isn’t for show. A Texas man claiming to have a bomb broke into King’s home in the early morning hours of April 20, 1991. In November 2003, a Czech man was arrested and charged with stalking for sitting in his car across from the Kings’ home, according to previous reports in the Bangor Daily News.
Copia Specialty Contractors of Brewer will paint the repaired gate and pieces of fence within the next two weeks. They will try to make the paint job look old and weathered so the section fits in with the rest of the fence. King has requested to have the gate reinstalled by winter, and Allenfarm plans to meet the deadline.
The fence isn’t expected to be completed by Halloween, a popular time for fans to drive by and take photos of the iconic house. In some past years, the Kings have purchased advertisements in the BDN explaining that they won’t be home for Halloween to accept trick-or-treaters.
“One thing I’d like to learn about the fence is where Stephen’s inspiration came from for the design,” Leamen said. “If I was ever to chat with him, as much as I’m interested in his writing and everything, I’d rather talk about his fence.”