(from the California
Tales from the Blue Ox:
A Hands-On Manual of Traditional Skills from
the Blue Ox Millworks Historic Park
By Dan Brett
Astragal Press, Mendham, New Jersey, 2006
232 pages, softcover, $29.95, ISBN 1-931626-16-2
Reviewed by Bill Hole
Professor of Construction and Historic Preservation
College of the Redwoods, Eureka
Eric and Vivianna Hollenbeck have spent over 30 years to develop a lifestyle
based on their belief and passion to teach people, with hands on experience,
traditional building trades. Eric has acquired historic tools and built
traditional tools in the Blue Ox shop while giving public tours of this
evolving “working” museum. What started in 1904 as the electric power
company for Eureka’s trolley cars has been rehabilitated into a marvelous
local treasure, Blue Ox Historic Millworks, which is now a destination point
for curious travelers.
One example of earlier
machines is the “molder,” over 100 years old, which Eric still uses to cut
authentic redwood gutter stock. It has original cutters, and Eric can also
use it in the custom fabricating of knives. Rare are his old-school craft
skills and the remarkable tools in this functioning workshop. Visitors watch
Eric fire up the 52-inch “Buzz Saw” that rips a log lengthwise into boards.
By touching the real processes and seeing the real tools, Eric’s gift to you
is a lifelong understanding and appreciation of milling.
Tales from the Blue Ox
is a basic hands-on manual of traditional skills, historic tools and recipes
from the Blue Ox Millworks Historic Park. Dan Brett, the author and
illustrator, dovetails the common interests in traditional craft skills with
the marvelous experience of the Blue Ox. Dan not only delightfully engages
you with Eric’s colorful stories but presents his own amazingly accurate
lifelike sketches to bring the stories into a three-dimensional reality.
The hand tools, early
hand-powered machines, belt-driven machines, traditional arts, recipes and
plans used to create all the historic fabric we see in our old buildings can
make sense best when we touch them first hand. Reading this book will
probably change future vacation plans so you can experience history and this
labor of love for yourself.
Meanwhile, be sure to
find your own copy of this book and enjoy the virtual tour. I might caution
you, traditional hands-on craft work is very captivating. When you work
around historic property and become aware of the lost building arts, you
will likely develop a strong curiosity compelling you to, in some way,
participate. Maybe the appreciation will drive you — maybe the curious self
will drive you to visit the Blue Ox Historic Millwork and School in Eureka.
Tales from the Blue
Ox: A Hands-On Manual of Traditional Skills from the Blue Ox Millworks
Historic Park will inspire even the casual reader to keep this book as a
valuable addition to his/her reference library.