Riddle: What do you call 11 sign painters and 240 square feet of dilapidated faded corrugated iron?

A "Lower Case Heads Meet"..... of course!

That's exactly what John Rigby (the exclamation point himself) called it when he put the request out, a few months back, for volunteers to come together in true letterhead tradition June 12th & 13th.

 The sleepy little town of Holbrook in southern NSW (just an hour out of Albury) lays claim to a colourful collection of historically minded citizen and a bloody big submarine. The local museum is home to an amazing array of agricultural and homestead memorabilia and its committee's concern for preserving items of bygone days guarantee that travellers up and down the Hume Hwy can break their journey, wandering happily for hours among treasures of times long gone.........

(AND you can climb on a bloody big submarine!)

I don't think many who have had the pleasure of meeting John Rigby in person or viewing his fine art, would be at all surprised to find him here in Holbrook, surrounded by this towns historical allure. John's work in water colour has allowed many people...me included, to be transported back to days when the only concern most of us had, was how to stop the wheels falling off our Billy carts and if mum would have a cold drink waiting when we finally made it home from our adventures. One such Rigby painting simply titled "Billy and the Kids" shows the joy of those days, his inspiration? an old

 Billy Tea sign on a shed wall he saw each time he travelled thru Holbrook township. This original sign, painted god knows when, by a long forgotten signee who, like most of us was probably just "doin his job", had faded to almost unrecognisable condition. The wall had been patched thru the years to protect the sheds contents from the weather, but the area originally lettered was still fairly strong, and so an idea caught in John's mind (a scary place if ever there was one) that someone should restore this sign, to preserve in part what that first sign painter had obviously laboured long and hard to create.

That's where we come into it! (smile)

By "we" I refer to our very own motley (or should that read mottled?) Crew, John and Julie Hadfield from Hadfield Sign Company in Sydney, Glen Phipp another SmartArt, Craig Stephens from Sign of the Times Canberra, also haling from the nations capital were Jacki Nagle and her apprentice Shannon Armstrong from Sign Innovation, Ivan Faes who operates I&J Sign Supplies, add the crew from Newcastle included, Adam (ace) Howison truck liner extraordinaire, Michael George from Mg Signs, Dave, and yours truly, Gail Beattie from Taurus Signs Maitland. And so you get the idea. Darren from Fraser Coast Signs sent his regrets at not being the asterix of the weekend but we all understood. With our hosts John and Veronica Rigby we were the

'Sign Restorers from Hell'

The letterheads movement in Australia has fostered a great many friendships. I guess 'like does attract like'. Funnily enough however most of us only get to see each other at the annual events. And always in parting we promise to keep the great feeling of those weekends going thru the year but then never do..... We go back to our normal daily lives dreaming of next year and in this case looking forward to Hervey bay and the 3 days in September that will bring us all back again to "slop paint & swap lies". So you can imagine when John had the idea to restore the Billy Tea sign and told a few letterheads "we" made our way to Holbrook to be a part of it happening.

First I gotta say to anyone who has never been in that part of the world that Holbrook is cold...... No I mean it's really COLD!!! John Hadfield's car said so..... (Grin) 3 degrees and foggy it was, as we all stood and looked at the wall for the first time.  Any paint that was left had faded, flaked and was now falling off so the first thing any respectable professional would do was just what we all did! Went to Veronicas and drank coffee! .... That'll fix it. The wire brushes were all still there waiting for us when we returned, so I guess the coffee didn't work like we thought. Everyone hooked in and pretty soon we had an almost respectable..... and very bare wall looking back at us. A quick slap white undercoat and we were away.

Being not to fond of anything more than 3 inches of the ground I decided to start at the bottom and let the braver souls crowd in on the plank and ladders, with John Hadfield hanging over the skillion roof coating out the trim & dropping paint on those underneath, Ivan's white streak I found particularly charming but tried not to end up with one of my own.

Most of the local population managed to check in sometime during the day, walking or doing a drive-by. The lady Mayoress along with the local newspaper woman stopped in, as did one of NSW's finest. Country police officers come, as we all do, in lots of different styles....this officer was a man of few words "truck" being one.... "move it" being the rest of his dialogue, don't ya just love workin on site.

Our plan of attack was to paint the letters and cut in the background. With the chances of anything drying in those cold conditions non existent, the speed of application using only traditional methods (yeah right) was great, it wasn't long before we had the layout ticked out with the shade and background painted in. Time for lunch.

Veronica's coffee shop, is a big part of the Rigby gallery, bringing together a warmth and hominess that was very welcome after the cold. We collected around the fire ate hot pumpkin soup and looked over John's pictorial collection of old signs. By the time we returned to the wall we had done the democratic thing and decided who was to paint which letter by drawing them out of a hat. I got the H, and guess who got the B? Dave, and may I add it couldn't have happened to a more deserving person. All those lovely curves on corrie...mmm. To say that Dave has a thing about fire crackers is just a tad understatement, Ivan was heard to remark that he didn't realise until this weekend that gunpowder played such a big part in sign painting. The fact that crackers just seem to go off around Dave is gaining him quite a reputation and its one he delights in....not so the people who were desperately trying to paint a straight line over the out of control background when some lunatic sets off an explosive underneath them (he deserved that B).


Glen was unlucky enough to get two letters but that was just because he drew the I and everyone agreed it didn't count. Michael's E was executed expertly but Ace had to wait till everyone moved the ladders before he could even get near his L, full marks to Shannon for painting thru the many obstacles to complete her E and I thought the idea of zebra stripes on the T worked well Mr Hadfield..... Don't know why everyone couldn't see it?

As so often happens with the best plans of mice and men....(you notice that this quote makes no mention of woman) the wall was way too wet to pounce the script lettering that John had prepared for us.... Soooooo it was decided to cut the lettering out with scissors and tape it in place so that we could just tick around it. Well it could have worked! Except the tape wouldn't stick to the wall which by this time Jacki insisted wasn't really wet but instead was frozen. The bright spot was the creation of what we in the trade like to call.... "the Distinctive Holbrook Historical Rigby Upydowny Script"..... along with the very distinctive Holbrook Historical Rigby Upydowny Red Paint (but how are we gunna fit the name on the label?) that had to be extended from one litre to almost twice that amount cause the plan had changed and now the border had to go all the way around, as you know a sign without a border is.... well never mind! It came together beautifully which put the finishing touches on the whole thing........

Our great concern as the sign came to its end was the weather. We'd been workin wet on wet all day and the evening air was dense enough to wring out ... what if it rains? We all had visions of coming back to the site in the morning to find a red stain running across the road and into the creek...yuk! What could we do?

Round the corner right then came the cavalry, in the guise of another John (the town's full of em). "Great truck" Ace said, checking out John's red beast, "lets pinstripe it", down boy! After hearing of our dilemma John came up with an immediate solution.... "back in a bit" he said, jumped in the truck and off he went. He came back with a 44 gallon drum which was sat in front of the wall and loaded with combustibles..... It didn't take long before the question was asked.... why didn't we do this earlier? We huddled around the drum as flames all but licked the fresh paint, you could see the steam lifting from the freezing iron and we all hoped that, that was all that lifted. Every few moments someone said "that's it... this bits dry... lets move it". Question! How do you move a red hot metal drum full of fire along the length of a wall? Answer! Easy ..... You use the traditional step ladder method of course. This method requires split second timing, as one person yells "push" two others jam the wide end of a close-up ladder against the base of the drum and heave, no worries!

So much laughter and dripping acrylic paint, cold fingers and one liners had to make this job some of the best times anyone can have and still be legal. Good natured jibes about what, is and isn't, the apprentices job on site, I'm sure had Shannon wondering what she'd done, choosing to be a sign maker for a living.. Ace, like each of us before him at our first meeting, raved about how great it was to work with all these friendly talented craftsmen, he won't miss another meeting. Without wishing to sound theatrical, sharing has always been what letterheads is about, the only rule for a letterhead meet is that there are no rules, we just get together to do stuff, hopefully further the craft and have fun.

By the time we made it back to the gallery Veronica and Julie had the fire stoked and the food ready. We talked, ate and laughed some more, took time to tell stories about the good old days and appreciated the good now days.

Eventually we headed for the pub and a warm up drink before bed. One highlight in a weekend of many was the fantastic people who ran the Mangoplah Hotel where we stayed. Don and his delightful wife Marley took care of us in great style and can't be thanked enough, even the house rooster wanted in on the act.... But then I was so tired by the days activities that I didn't hear a thing.

Sunday morning and off we went again to check out the wall and do the few touch-ups we figured it would require. Oh, and of course sign the dedication panel we'd included on the now restored Billy Tea Sign. At every letterheads held so far in Australia there has been an attendees panel which we all sign, so why should this meeting be any different?

We also wanted to be sure to include Viponds Paints in this sign's dedication. The folk from Viponds, whilst not there in body had made sure with their generous supplies of paint that this project would be completed. It is with grateful thanks for their continual support we feel they must also be mentioned here.

The rain started about the time we unpacked the gear and so we donned our meeting t-shirts kindly supplied by Craig Stephens (the quiet achiever) for the final photo opportunity. Standing in the rain taking turns out of the shot we closed the chapter on Billy Tea and wondered what would our next adventure be.

Back to the gallery and more coffee. By now Veronica the master coffee maker had worked Dave out, if she kept making it Dave would keep drinking it.....

People will come.......people will most certainly come!... (quote from the movie field of dreams)


Then somehow we got talking about an old barn near Maitland with the Indian Root Pills sign that has almost completely faded away and..... Yes the wall is corrugated iron, (Ace's favourite background)....... How'd you guess? Oh well early April sounds good, before it gets too cold you know....... Maybe tents and sleeping bags in the field? We'll keep you posted!

So until then, we'll see you in September at Fraser Coast Signs for the annual Oz Letterheads meeting, give Darren a ring.

Regards Gail