Travails with Pat’s: The Creede Edition

Happily, the typo ended up on an e-mail but not the shirt.

I almost had more travels to report to you today, but instead all I have for you is travails, hopefully with a happy ending.

While I perhaps have given you an impression of the remoteness of Gunnison, we serve as the hub of even more remoteness: Crested Butte to the north and Lake City to the south. South of Lake City, one watershed over, lies Creede, another small remnant of the mining era now panning tourist pockets for gold.

Of that town, the poet Cy Warman once wrote, “It’s day all day in the day-time, and there is no night in Creede.” Of course, that was more than 100 years ago, and Creede was a different place — the kind of place where Ed O’Kelley could walk into a saloon and shoot Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James as he straightened a picture. [Ed O’Kelley, dead himself later of a gunshot: quite the chain of deceased pistoleros.]

While most of the random violence appears to have diminished back in the day, Creede held out in the mining realm much longer than most Colorado mining towns, towns like Crested Butte and Lake City. But Homestake finally pulled the plug on its gold mining operation in — what? — the ’90s, perhaps, and since then one of the mines has been converted into a museum honoring the trade.

While Creede still may celebrate Mining Days the way Gunnison has Cattlemen’s Days —

[I don’t know if it’s still a featured event, now that people who did it for a living may be kind of scarce, but they used to have a competition called “double-jacking,” where some brave and/or foolish volunteer would hold a metal spike above a piece of rock for some other person to pound with a sledge hammer as fast as possible. Sign me up!]

— the town has been busy creating other events to draw out gold without having to smash anyone’s hands. Even though Creede is on the Rio Grande side of the mountains, rather than the Colorado River side, Pat’s Screen Printing produces the t-shirts for a number of these festivals and races.

I don’t know if this weekend’s festival is new or we just got the call this year, but we had a new customer whose event starts today. It has a perfectly fine name, the Headwaters Music Festival, but a typo from the organizer in his initial e-mail to Kara has us referring to it as Headeaters.

His request for shirts didn’t seem that difficult, although the post/still-pandemic landscape has made numerous things uneven, including things like being able to offer a quantity of shirts all in one color. Our shipping costs have skyrocketed as Kara has to order not only from assorted warehouses from the same distributor, but numerous distributors. We have opened all kinds of accounts with vendors I’ve never heard of in the effort to get our customers something close to what they want.

We’ve had to extend our lead time as well, in order to allow all the moving parts to coalesce. We take pride in telling people we’ve never missed an event deadline, but this year we’ve been put to the test — a lament that seems to be shared broadly on industry message boards.

This week we pushed it right to the brink, not only for Headeaters but also for a conservancy district in Lake City, beneficiary of a really fun-sounding bike race where contestants ride up and down not one but two very steep, treacherous, dirt passes.

For both of these jobs we screen-printed the front of the shirts, which meant most of everything was within our control. (Although ink is becoming hard to source, but we’re reasonably set. For now.) Due to the detail of the prints on the back, however, we opted for a more digital technology, one that comes with a longer supply chain.

We get a material that requires an eco-solvent printer, which we don’t have but our friends at Sign Guys and Gal do. They handle the actual printing for us, and then we apply the prints to the shirts.

What we don’t quite seem to have a full grasp of, either us or Vicki the Sign Gal, is how much of the base layer this process requires. Kara ordered rolls of the material last week. Then she ordered more. She ordered again on Monday. Vicki ran out on Wednesday, still with half of Headeaters and most of the conservancy shirts left to go. Kara ordered yet again.

But this time that Law caught up to us: the more you need something, the likelier it is to be the box the shippers will lose. For most of Thursday, with deadlines looming ever larger, we waited. The company we get this from always ships FedEx, which is a far less predictable delivery service for us than UPS, showing up anywhere from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We waited, until Kara got a tracking number, only to discover the Law in full effect: the box had gone from Littleton to Henderson, both in the Denver area, by 2:30 Thursday morning, and there the box sat — I figured in a forgotten corner of a warehouse.

So now we were looking at not getting material until Friday afternoon, which still had to be printed by Vicki, applied by us, and shirts needing to reach their destinations one and two hours away before Saturday morning. In the case of the bike race, before a 5:30 a.m. start time. (Are you rushing out to sign up for next year’s race yet?)

We started reviewing our options. Kara spent most of Thursday afternoon on the phone with our customers. Vann ran through a bunch of ink cartridges printing transfers, which look fine but don’t hold up nearly as well as the specialty material.

Friday morning Kara tracked our package and then went to our FedEx facility, where she persuaded the driver to pull it off his truck. Vicki started printing right away, and Kara started re-coordinating the rather convoluted delivery plan, which had initially been that the conservancy customer would come to Gunnison for all the shirts, dropping the Headeaters shirts off with a musician in Lake City who was going on to Creede early this morning.

Back-ups plans called for me maybe going to Lake City and then onto Creede, or possibly Lake City twice, but both orders got done by early afternoon, and Kara used the power of social media to locate someone already planning to go to Lake City who was willing to haul boxes. The shirts got handed off and all seemed well.

Until 4:30, when the musician called to say he hadn’t seen any shirts. Fifteen minutes later, the conservancy man called. By then, Kara had left for a weekend of wedding festivities for good friends, so I had to text her to track down our volunteer courier.

The ketchup on the hamburger of our week? Our volunteer made it to Lake City, but then his truck broke down, and he was still trying to fix it when I caught up with him by phone. He did finally get the shirts to the lodge that was serving as the drop-off point, but no one — of course — was at the front desk, so he left the boxes on the front porch. Good thing this is Remote Colorado.

The point of screen-printing is to be an effortless behind-the-scenes part of someone else’s event, never given a thought to, but — just this weekend — while bike riders are laboring up their mountainsides and music lovers are jamming to their bands, it would be nice if the shirts get extra appreciated, if not the effort that went into them.

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