What follows is part one of a series of blog posts that will highlight the various goings on over the years at Kirk Frameworks. I’ll be making one entry per year and these entries will come out roughly one a week. Now I realize that this is nothing truly historic or all that important in the big scheme of things but I thought it might be an interesting diversion to look back and chronicle what happened when, and maybe give a bit of insight into why it happened at all.
I suppose it’s obvious by now that this year, 2013, marks tenth anniversary of the formation of Kirk Frameworks. I founded the company in June of 2003 and set up shop in our home…………a dedicated phone number, a website designed by Karin, some artwork for logos and a few new tools and I was in the framebuilding biz on my own. I had worked as a builder and built my fair share of frames over the previous 14 years working for others, but 2003 was the first time they were completely of my own design and with my name on the down tube. It might go without saying it felt very good to hold that first frame in my hands and see the logos I designed gracing it. It was a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
Before I dive into the first year, 2003, I thought I might share what lead up to my forming the company and starting work under my own name. So this first installment will be “Pre-2003”.
I started working as a framebuilder in 1989 when I got a lucky break and was offered a job at Serotta in Middle Grove, NY. I was an experienced wrench and wheel builder and was good with tools and my hands but I’d never done any framebuilding before so there was a lot to learn. In the end I spent 10 years at Serotta and every day there taught me something new. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do this as a career, and would eventually want to do it on my own, but I had no firm plans and just let things happen organically.
After I’d been at Serotta for about 4 years I was contacted by an old friend from my previous life in retail and he asked me if I wanted to strike out on my own and offered to financially back the effort. This was a serious temptation but I guess deep down I knew I wasn’t ready to be on my own. I was about 30 years old at the time and could make a very nice frame but something was missing……….I wasn’t sure what that something was but I knew I didn’t have it at the time.
So I stayed at Serotta until 1999 when Karin and I decided to move to Bozeman, MT to live life in the high mountains that we loved. Karin would be going to grad school in Bozeman but I had no plans of any kind. I knew I wanted to snowboard a lot and needed a break from standing at the bench after so many years but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I opened the phone book and saw there was a framebuilder in Bozeman so I put on a clean T shirt and went down there and introduced myself to Carl Strong and Tony Smith of Strong Frames. I liked them immediately and shortly thereafter they offered me a job helping out in the shop. I worked a few days a week (not on powder days!). We made some very nice bikes and it was a great place to spend time and make friends in Bozeman.
Carl, myself, and Tony.
A few years later Strong Frames and I, along with Ibis Cycles, formed a company called Acme Cycles with the idea that Acme would produce frames for Strong and Ibis, and other small companies on a contract basis, from our hole-in-the-wall shop in Bozeman. It seemed to be going well but I didn’t love the work at this point. We did a lot of production line work with hundreds of steel Ibis’ coming out of the shop along with plenty of Strongs. I liked working on the Strongs as they were all different but the Ibis were mostly the same. I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s not that much fun to build the same frames every day – day after day.
Strong Frames and Acme at Story Mills complex.
Inside Story Mills - Strong and Acme
Well, as it turned out the guys that owned Ibis and formed Acme with Carl and me were not very ethical. Now I’m not talking about Scot Nicol here – he’d sold the name to a couple of investors and these two ended up being very shady to say the least. Without belaboring the story they robbed Acme blind and stuck Strong with the bill. Not good.
So Acme went away and with it my framebuilding job. It was the first time in 13 years I wasn’t building frames. Strong made the right decision to downsize but this left me without frames to build. So I did various things for a while……I was the supervisor of the Bridger Bowl Snowboard school, I worked for a friend drilling water wells and I made some kinetic sculptures.
At just the right time I got a call from Ben Serotta. They were short handed in New York and needed some temporary help. So I flew back and worked some very long days for about two weeks doing my best to help them out. By the time I left New York we had an agreement for me to build brazed steel Serottas from Bozeman. Serotta sent me tubes and I turned them into frames and sent them back to be finished up and painted. It wasn’t ideal for either of us but I was proud to be working with Serotta again and it paid the bills. I rented a corner in Strong’s shop and used their jig (sorry about the flux mess Carl!) and in the span of about 4 months I built about 40 Serottas.
Strong Frames where I built steel Serottas.
It was great to be doing what I loved and I didn’t fully appreciate how much I’d missed it until I got my hands dirty again. After about 4 months Serotta rightfully pulled the plug due to the very high cost of shipping stuff back and forth. It was the right thing to do but it left me once again without frames to build. I had most of stuff needed to build along with a strong desire and suddenly felt the time was right.
It was the spring of 2003 and that I knew it was finally the right time to start my own business and build frames under my own name. I felt that at this point I had developed the skill set needed to not only make a nice frame but to be able to do all the other stuff one needs to do to run a profitable business. With Carl Strong and Ben Serotta each supporting the idea and no toes to step on I was free to do my own thing.
Next up – 2003.