Birth of The Sportsman's Calendar

By John Ford Sr. | Jun 09, 2010

As I patrolled my district, I found myself thinking about the possibility of somehow using my love of drawing to provide a service for sportsmen and simultaneously generate a little extra income to meet my family's needs.

During the off-season, I spent a fair amount of my time dabbling with painting and drawing as a hobby, occasionally selling a few of the finished products to folks who were interested. For me, painting and drawing were relaxing and allowed me to enjoy and promote the great abundance of wildlife we had roaming our area.

My constant doodling every chance I got managed to get me into a fair amount of trouble over the years, especially at meetings and other places where the topic of conversation was not receiving my fullest attention.

I think back to my high school days when I created a caricature of one of my teachers. I wasn't all that fond of the man, as I'm sure he wasn't really all that fond of me. As I sat in the back of the classroom crafting my artistic rendition of him in a rather non-complimentary position, I was caught red-handed and ordered to go to the front of the class to display my creation to the entire class.

I don't dare describe the embarrassing pose I'd placed him in, but I can tell you it was my last official day in his classroom ... and damn near my last day in school for a while. The hysterical chaos that erupted from my classmates when I stood in front of them displaying my masterpiece was nearly my demise from the facility.

In June 1982, I decided to pursue the idea of creating a wildlife calendar by illustrating a series of 12 fine pen-and-ink wildlife drawings, including a host of hunting and fishing information, then incorporating it all into my version of The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar.

I hoped to have the product completed for the upcoming Christmas holidays, believing it  would be a great gift for sportsmen to enjoy 1983 as they embarked upon their favorite form of outdoor recreation.

The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar included opening and closing dates for various hunting and fishing seasons, sunrise and sunset times, moon phases and a wide variety of other sporting information.

With Mrs. Ford's encouragement, I spent every spare moment tirelessly composing the calendar in preparation for a final trip to the printers.

Being an admitted novice in this type of an operation, I knew absolutely nothing about printing procedures. I assumed the lettering and composition of the finished product were entirely up to me to construct. Once it was completed, the printing company would run off as many copies as I wanted and then we could market them at our leisure.

It took me countless hours to place each rub-off letter in place. I created every word and number on that first calendar. It was an extremely slow and tedious project, and one that was rather unprofessional looking in the end. But at least I had accomplished my goal, as time was running out to meet the Christmas holiday market.

At the printers, I was quickly informed I'd painstakingly done way too much with regard to setting the type and print. I could have expedited the entire process by simply penciling in the lettering on a calendar blank, and they would have done the layout for me, including setting the type to professional perfection.

“Now you tell me,” I sputtered, recounting the hours I'd spent rubbing off each letter and number overlay for the 12 months in the year.

Oh well, live and learn. I was quickly gaining an education in the printing process, something I should have diligently pursued right from the start. Because of the time frame, the printers suggested I go with my own creation that first year. They thought the roughness of it all might just add a little extra character to the finished product. The following year, if I continued with the project, it wouldn't be so time consuming, since I had a better understanding of the printing process.

Within a few days, Mrs. Ford and I retrieved the boxes of the finished product from the printing presses. With a hand-operated binding machine loaned to us by the company, we began compiling the calendars in our cellar, one by one, ready to be marketed.

My fear of the entire project becoming a complete financial failure added to my decision of trying to keep my investment to a bare minimum. It was a high-stake gamble at best.

Like the printing experience, we soon discovered it would've been much easier to have paid the extra cost to have had professionals bind and package the finished product. That first year doing The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar was a great learning experience all the way around. It was one that I damn near decided might be my very first  — and more so, my last.

When we had the calendars ready to market, it was time to promote them to a wary public. What better way to perhaps get a few reviews than to send a sample or two to Maine's most noted outdoor columnists, Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News and my old pal, Gene Letourneau, whose column was a favorite in Waterville's Morning Sentinel and the Portland Press Herald. If nothing else, it would be an opportunity to solicit comments and criticisms from these men as to possible future improvements.

I was indeed quite honored when Bud Leavitt requested that I personally sign one of the calendars for his old fishing pal, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

The publicity generated from these two noted columnists paid off handsomely. Much to my surprise, a few days later, they penned what I thought were a bit overrated reviews in their columns. Orders started coming in from all around the state. And, after articles from the local papers helped further promote the adventure, a few more orders came in.

The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar was officially conceived in June 1982 and placed on the market in late November. The calendar business was a hobby, one that I continued until December 1999. I was quite excited to be providing sportsmen with a wildlife calendar. I felt as though I personally knew many of the regular customers who anxiously re-ordered the next edition.

I continuously strove to make improvements with each edition, eventually switching from pen and ink to colored pencil, highlighted with a fine ink pen.

All in all, over the years, the calendar made a great stocking stuffer for many folks, as evidenced from notes and letters we received from sportsmen around the country.

Sadly, as time moved forward, the shipping costs, along with the rising production costs, made the project no longer worthwhile. Finding the time to create 12 new drawings every year was becoming more difficult, seeing as where I had retired from the warden service and had become involved with public service at another level as sheriff.

Thus, it was decided by the Ford family that the 2000 version of The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar would be the final edition.

Looking back at that first edition of The Sportsman's Wildlife Calendar, I find myself almost embarrassed to have placed it on the market. But what had started out as a dream was, in fact, another chapter in my life that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Perhaps some of you purchased one of these calendars for your pleasure. If so, I hope you enjoyed displaying it as much as I did composing it. Hobbies are fun, as they should be. This adventure was one of my hobby highlights.

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