ARLEE – Win Sunday’s Missoula Marathon – or place in your age group – and you’ll be recognized with a plaque that’s been stomped on, tromped on, pooped and peed on.
Now how cool is that?
In a converted garage east of Arlee, Merrill Bradshaw and Casey Barrows are handcrafting 258 plaques for the race.
Bradshaw is the woodworker, and using old-but-reclaimed lumber from the floor of a barn on a southwest Montana sheep ranch to fashion the plaques. That’s where all the stomping, tromping and other assorted activities took place over decades.
Barrows, meantime, is etching the marathon’s new logo – an elk with a pair of running shoes dangling from an antler – onto sheets of copper that will be attached to the repurposed wood.
“I’d like to tell you the copper is from Butte, but I have no idea,” Barrows says. “It’s a Montana metal, and it looks great with the reclaimed lumber.”
This is the third year Merrill Bradshaw Carpentry and Barrows’ Jocko Graphics of Arlee have teamed up to produce the “trophy-ettes” for the Missoula Marathon. They were approached by Anders Brooker of the Runner’s Edge in Missoula, one of the marathon sponsors.
Their first ones focused on the race’s 2012 motto – “The Best of the Wild West” – and incorporated horseshoes into the design.
Funny thing, that.
After runners from other places who participated in the Missoula Marathon saw them, Bradshaw and Barrows were suddenly being hired to design and produce awards for races as far away as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“It’s added to both our businesses,” Bradshaw says, “both in cash flow and with the creative juices.”
For The Rut, a race at Big Sky Resort, Barrows melted pewter and crafted it into elk antlers for the awards. For Missoula’s Freezer Burn 10-miler, he set the race’s polar bear logo inside an iceberg-shaped piece of plastic he designed with the bubbles left in to make it look like ice.
In all cases, what Barrows does winds up attached to what Bradshaw calls “gourmet reclaimed wood,” which, he says with a laugh, sounds better than “old barn floors.”
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Not all are plaques. When Missoula Marathon organizers told Bradshaw and Barrows this year they wanted something easy to mail to winners, plaques were an obvious answer.
There’s still a couple weeks of work involved for both men to handcraft all 258 Missoula Marathon awards.
While Bradshaw is fashioning the plaques out of the reclaimed lumber, Barrows is making the etchings. He uses an electric tank filled with copper sulfate; the plates to be etched are the positive terminal and the plate transferring them is the negative. Pass a current through the solution, and copper moves from one plate to another.
The plate is then painted, and the excess paint removed, to make his half of the plaque.
Bradshaw and Barrows are making 24 larger plaques for the winners and places in the men’s and women’s open and masters’ divisions, six midsized plaques for the 5K race and 228 smaller ones for the age group winners and finishers.
Most of the year, Bradshaw and Barrows do their own thing – Bradshaw building furniture out of reclaimed wood, and Barrows concentrating on his embroidery and print business. They first worked together when Bradshaw went looking for a permanent stamp to attach to the things he makes.
Now they team up on things other than hand-crafted running race awards. They’ve been involved, for instance, in a couple of high-end Montana weddings where the invitations came attached to reclaimed lumber.
Barrows is from Arlee, where he graduated from high school in 1999. He bought Jocko Graphics about 10 years ago.
Bradshaw came to the valley 35 years ago from Washington, and logged – using horses – until the timber market crashed.
“It’s one of the few ways you can make a living with livestock,” he says. “I farmed with horses and mules, too. It was fun – and lucrative at times.”
The Missoula Marathon is one of nine races Bradshaw and Barrows build trophies for. Others range from Arlee’s own Buttercup Run to the Two Rivers Marathon in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, where Barrows has incorporated railroad spikes – including ones bent to form the shape of a human runner – into the designs.
They figure they produce between 1,000 and 1,500 individual hand-crafted race trophies or plaques for running races per year these days.
More than 250 of them, for Sunday’s Missoula Marathon, will be ready in a day or two.