|The Blue Ox
Millworks and Historic Park
town of Eureka, nestled on the waterfront in Humboldt County,
California might not seem the ideal place for vintage Victorian homes,
yet an eclectic mix of buildings built between 1860 and 1920 allows a
true glimpse into the past. Its main claim is the abundance of mighty
redwood trees though only 10% of the original 2 million acres of
old-growth redwood remain. In addition to these "ambassadors of
wood" as John Steinbeck called them, the landscape is peppered
with extraordinary Victorian homes. Eureka boasts the largest number
of Victorian homes per capita of any city in the United States, as
well as the Carson Mansion, probably the most-photographed example of
Victorian architecture in the world. A classic architectural treasure
can be found on almost every block. Its other attractions include a
1910 working ferry that tours the bay, blacksmith and other vintage
shops, a Victorian village and the "Wizard of Wood"....Eric
(Please visit the local
Visitors Bureau (www.redwoodvisitor.org)
for more information on this fascinating area.)
along with his wife Viviana, 3 daughters, 5 dogs, 25 parakeets,
15 chickens, 5 cats, 2 oxen and
1 donkey have become among the most famous of Eureka's residents.
Though fame and fortune are not their goals they have made such a
tremendous impact on the preservation and restoration of old homes,
especially Victorians, that the resultant recognition was inevitable.
Eric, dubbed "The Wizard of Wood", has made it a
personal crusade to not only ply his woodworking trade in the truest
tradition of the old-time craftsman but equally as important, he has
dedicated selflessly much of his time ensuring that there will be
another generation of true-to-the-era woodworking craftsmen to follow
in his footsteps.
Eric worked chopping brush for surveyors at the age of 14 so it was a
natural progression for him to start his own logging company at age
24,which soon evolved into wood product manufacturing. A brawny and
bearded man, he looks every bit the part of an old time lumberjack.
His wife, Viviana - a wizard in her own right - charged with the tasks
of marketing and office administration, is an integral part of the
operation today known as The Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park.
Their company specializes in reproducing not only the original wood
accents popular in the Victorian style home, but doing it with the
original tools and machines of the era which have been salvaged and
restored over the years.
Honored by dignitaries such as
President Clinton, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and various
other federal, state and local officials for his input on the
Northwestern Logging Policy Initiative, for the teaching of
disadvantaged youths, preserving historical treasures and for showing
that adaptation will permit the continuation of woodworking despite
declining resources, Eric is truly as much a treasure as the homes and
values he toils to preserve. Surprisingly, he even finds the
time for writing his own poetry and philosophical musings.
|H.G. Wells time
machine could not have provided a more accurate glimpse of the past
than the incredible vintage (and painstakingly restored) machines that
populate the Blue Ox Millworks cavernous shop. Rescued from the briars
and brambles of the local countryside, his collection includes
machines from before the Lincoln presidency and nothing newer than
1948. His philosophy is that true, authentic restoration is properly
achieved through the
use of the very machines that created the work in the first
place. Without printed manuals or any instruction, Eric bears the
scars of his trial and error method of learning to restore and operate
this original equipment. His collection includes a 1921 Hermance and
1904 Woods molder, a 52" circular sawmill, 3 planers, a
42" double drum sander, 3 lathes, an elbow router and an 1852
picket pointer. Since parts were no more available than the proper
instruction, Eric created his own blacksmith/machine shop to
manufacture the necessary parts. This can-do spirit is the cornerstone
of the Blue Ox Millworks success and the credo that he instills in the
disadvantaged youths that he teaches this forgotten art.
|The Blue Ox
Millworks has been involved in the restoration and preservation of
many architectural treasures including the Eagle House in Eureka, the
First Innocent Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska and even the White
House where he has visited as the personal guest of President Clinton.
He has even built and donated a gazebo for Eureka's sister city of
Kamisu, Japan, where he visited as the guest of the city. He has also
built a vintage trolley car for the revitalization efforts of the town
of Eureka. His skill, knowledge and authentic reproductions are sought
by homeowners, designers and architects all throughout the United
States and other countries.
Equally important to the Hollenbecks is
the idea of preserving the craftsmanship and artistry of the by-gone
era by teaching a new generation of artisans in the traditional
techniques of vintage woodworking. The Blue Ox School of the
Traditional Arts is carrying on the tradition by working with
disadvantaged and socially disenfranchised area youth. Serving as the
primary teacher and role model his curriculum puts heavy emphasis on
building self-esteem in these youths through the rewards of making
something from scratch and by teamwork, much as the original lumber,
logging and mill workers did.
Millworks was started as a logging and lumber company in 1972 but has
since evolved into a custom woodworking shop, a blacksmith shop, a
historical museum and a trade school. So far there has been nothing
they have been unable (or unwilling) to produce. Working from
drawings, old photographs, pieces of
original millwork salvaged from fires and demolition and sometimes
just vague descriptions, Blue Ox Millworks can reproduce virtually
anything in wood. Its vintage equipment and old-time process
guarantees a finished product indistinguishable from the original.
Though it's a painfully slow process, the rewards and satisfaction are
evident in the faces and hearts of his craftsmen and the buyers alike.
Blue Ox Millworks is the only shop known to custom match authentic
wooden rain gutters.
The 9000 square foot facility, housed
in an old abandoned and previously condemned power plant is where
these authentic reproductions are re-born. The 6 artisans taught by
Hollenbeck, the 3000 woodcutting knives donated by a retired
woodworker and the rest of the vintage equipment can take a project
from a log to the finished product. Their "Idea Book"
contains examples of the many products available. These include
siding, plinth blocks, rosettes, door and window casings, baseboards,
wainscoting, chair rail, picture moldings, hand and bar rails,
gutters, drip rails, lintel moldings, banisters, balusters, carved
appliqués, gable decorations and full length columns turned in their
vintage lathes. If you can imagine it - they can produce it.
|The Blue Ox
Millworks and Historic Park is located at #1 X Street in Eureka,
California. For information on products, services, museum group tours
or the Blue Ox School of the Traditional Arts call (707) 444-3437 or
(800) 248-4259 or fax them at (707) 444-0918. You can also visit their
web site at www.blueoxmill.com.
Victorian Station is
proud to announce the addition to our site of Mr. Hollenbeck as resident
consultant. Mr Hollenbeck has graciously agreed to serve the needs of
Victorian Station visitors by making himself available to answer
questions about the restoration and preservation of Victorian homes, as
well as his other passions. We are honored to be associated with
this man, his family, his company and his ceaseless efforts on behalf of
homeowners and preservationists everywhere.
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