Saturday, 8 September 2012

Another one behind me.

   I'm finally finished the Gas Traction Engine Co. Traction Engine (early Big 4) project I started earlier this year. It was another one of those projects that required a lot of upfront preparation before actually doing the work. With being one of the only 3 known to exist, there's not a lot of information available. Another problem was the fact that it was Canadian made, manufactured in Winnipeg, Man. in 1909. The overall restoration took the staff at the Reynold-Alberta Museum10 years to complete. It was restored back to a  fully functional, running piece of  history. It was also interesting to see all the engineering up close that made a piece of machinery like this work With little information, it was quite a challenge to re-create all the graphics. One thing about doing Museum type of work is, you always restore back to how it was, not how you think it should be.

Re-creating the graphics was going to be a big challenge. It started with a trip to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum and meeting with Randy Kvill, the museum curator, and also the person heading up the project. I spent the day looking at photos and some manuals that they had in the museum collection. I then took some photos of  the original rusted out fender, for any traces of the company stencils. I also had some help from other sources that are very good in finding information on these types of things. One source of information is museum libraries, most have an archive that is open to the public. A friend suggested I contact Lindsay Moir, of the Glenbow Musuem in regard to some manuals he had donated years back, he though they might contain some information that would be helpful. In the end, they didn't provide much, but it opened the doors to a new avenue of doing research. Lindsay Moir and her staff from the museum were extremely helpful in pulling the information, and also on how to do searches. The pinstriping on the wheels was pretty straight forward, but the lettering on the fuel tank, radiator and fenders, was a different story. Looking through a number of photos and old manuals, I could make out some of the fonts used, and also that the graphics had been applied by stencil. One thing that helps is to use fonts that would have been used back in that time period. The fender graphics proved to be the biggest challenge, as this early tractor had been made at the factory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The layout was probably done by their design department, and was hand drawn before being turned into stencils. With the little information that I had, it was time to create layouts that would then be used for patterns.

One of the challenges of the project was to make the lettering look stenciled. This would mean putting breaks in the lettering that would have been used in the actual stencil making process. The second problem was to transfer the layout to the actual surface being lettered. To do this I prepared pounce patterns ( paper patterns, perforated with tiny holes), and then using white chalk to transfer the image to the surface. If your not sure what I mean, you can read my post from last year  explaining the process ( look under Older Post). Once I had the layout transferred, I taped off the tops and bottoms of certain letters, also the stencil break lines. Although I could do the lettering without taping, I find using tape produces a far better quality job, and saves time. One of the problems when using tape to re-produce a stencil break is it slows down the painting. When painting a letter without the stencil break, it's a fluid motion. With a break, you have to stop and clean up the line where ever the tape is. Also the color being used was a yellow, which is well know for being transparent. This meant everything had to be second coated. Back when I first started painting signs, the paint used for signs had lead in it. This allowed for far better coverage, and also made the paint last. But  around 10 years ago, they  removed the Lead and changed the formula. This has created issues with both coverage and longevity. Most of the work would have to be done from a ladder, or sitting in an uncomfortable position for a period of time. I'm now in my fifty's, so doing this for any period of time takes its tole on my body and feet, ah...the pleasures of getting old. The lettering and striping took around six days to complete, the research took more time than I would like to think about. Overall, it was a very challenging project to work on. But in the end, the results were well worth effort. Here's some photos of the job in progress. Thanks for taking the time to check it out. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions.

This is how most of my projects start. A few photos, and a lot of research. I find this part of the project to be one of the more interesting parts of the project. You basically become a history detective. This is the part where it helps to have a good group of  people that can help point you in the right direction. I've had the good fortune to know some very knowledgeable people that share information freely. Without them, I couldn't do this type of work.

Usually the reference material is vague, but at least enough to get a start. I spend a lot of time looking through books and cruising the internet. The internet has been such a valuable tool when it comes to this type of work. If you want to get into this line of work, I highly recommend developing you internet search skills.

The engine used two different types of radiators,
but the lettering was the same on both. The problem with working from old  black and white photos, is you can only guess at the colors. Also, a lot of old photos have been retouched, making them not overly accurate when it comes to details

The graphics on the rear fender proved to be the most challenging part of the job. Because this tractor had been produced in Canada, there was no pictures available,  that we knew of. The only information we had was an original fender that had long since given up it's information. It would take a little coaxing, and a lot of luck, to try and salvage any imaging that may have been there. Here's a few photos of the steps we took to try and see the image. First, we sprayed some water over the fender, this helped a little.

Here we're starting to getting a little more by applying wax over the lettering ( this was Randy's idea). It brought it out a bit, but was still quite vague. Just not enough to work with. You could only see a couple of the letters. The one thing you have to careful with is, you don't destroy what little you have. You could always just make it up due to lack of information. But that would be taking the easy way out. "No Pain...No Gain"

 I decided to try a few more things. At times, I thought I had lost it. But then I got lucky, I managed to get the ghosted lettering to a point I could finally get some good information. Sometimes you just luck out. I was now setup to create a layout from which I could then make a pattern. After sketching a rough layout, I scanned it into computer, and then created a vector file. Once I had a vector file, I created my pattern.

This is a copy of the finished vector file. It didn't have to be perfect because I was only making my pounce pattern. I could easily clean up any discrepancies when I do the lettering. One of the things we noticed, was the use of 2 different "N" styles. Not sure why they would do this. But I'm sure they had a reason.

The finished lettering

 The next step was to apply the patterns to the radiator for the lettering. From what I could see in the reference photos, they moved the stencils to the sides of the straps, so the lettering would be visible and not under the tank straps. I guess it made it easy for the people working on the assemble line, and kept it legible at the same time.

 With the patterns in place, it was time to do the transfer.. To do this, I create a pouch from a rag filled with white chalk, then pat and rub it over the pattern. This  pushes the chalk through the perforated holes, you then end up with the layout transferred to the surface. Once you have the layout transferred, you have to be careful not to accidentaly wipe it of. otherwise you have to pounce it again. If you've already started the lettering, you'll have to wait until the paint has dried to re-pounce the layout. Not to mention wasting time.

 With the layout done, it's time to tape the edges, and get on with the lettering. When applying the tape, take some time to plan it out. It will help when you have to remove the tape as you paint. I usually do all the taped letters fist, then come back and do the rounded letters such as O /C /S/ U, that go above and below the horizontal guild lines. Everyone does things a little different, this is the way that works best for me.

 Now, the fun begins, I actually get to paint. I tell people this is the easiest part of the job. You can see how sharp the edges are. This is the advantage of using tape. Although the original would have been stenciled, hand lettering the graphics produces a very clean, finished product. I'm sure the lettering never looked this good coming off the factory floor. Because this machine will be on display, it pays to spent  time to making  the best it can be.

The finished lettering

The finished machine


  1. Rick, Thanks for sharing your information and techniques with us all. After 39 years of lettering I am still learning. Thank you for all of your efforts to keep Sign-painting a living relic in itself. You know what I mean. KUDOS.

  2. Thanks Bob, Working on something like this really drives home the point of keeping the craft alive. Hopefully, with the resurgence of hand lettering and pinstriping, it will help to keep the craft going. Otherwise it will fade into the past like so many other things in life. All I can do is put it out there and hope others pick it up.


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