There's a country song about how tractors are sexy. This farm equipment certainly sells a lot of books and calendars for Austin-based Octane Press.
Octane focuses on the transportation niche, says owner Lee Klancher, including not only tractors but race cars and motorcycles. A prolific writer and photographer, Klancher first got into the niche in college, running an engineering school magazine, and was subsequently recruited by Motorbooks, which covers the transportation market from motorcycles to heavy equipment.
“They hired me to write a book about Farmall farm tractors, which sold about 40,000 copies the first year,” Klancher says.
But who are these people buying books about tractors?
“There is a huge group of collectors, people who store them and take them to shows. Sales are also driven by people who have fond memories, growing up with parents or grandparents who were farmers. Tractors played a huge role in our history.”
“There is a huge group of collectors, people who store them and take them to shows. Sales are also driven by people who have fond memories, growing up with parents or grandparents who were farmers. Tractors played a huge role in our history.” Klancher points out that tractors also benefited from the touch of some top industrial designers.
A 2012 calendar, "Tractor: The Art of the Machine," featured collectible tractors getting the super-model treatment by Klancher and light painter Mark Jenson, who photographed the equipment at sunrise, sunset, in the studio and under the stars.
If you don’t think tractors are sexy after seeing these spreads, well, you just don’t appreciate clean lines and beautiful lighting. The 2013 calendar features only Farmall tractors from some of the premier collectors in America, prettier than any working vehicle has a right to be, with more artful lighting and beautiful settings.
Octane Press has published full-length books about tractors, too, including one called How to Restore Tractor Magnetos. Most people probably don't even know what that means, and Klancher admits it truly is a niche market. But he happens to like that.
“When I started Octane Press, no one was doing tractors. Motorbooks had quit doing it, so I jumped at the opportunity to fill that vacuum. Our book sellers actually ask us for more tractor books, and I enjoy it, especially the photography. I love being out in farm country shooting early in the morning.”
Motorcycles are another passion of Klancher’s – he got his first one at age 11 – and they feature prominently in the press catalog. There are books on Honda, Ducati and Triumph motorcycles; books on how to choose, find and buy the perfect motorcycle; and one about motorcycle dream garages, which include a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in New York, a private airplane hangar in southern California, and Jay Leno’s garage.
Klancher personally researched “The Adventurous Motorcyclist’s Guide to Alaska” with friend and co-author Phil Freeman, hitting dirt roads and backcountry trails through remote country, dealing with inclement weather, bears, and bad food.
“The harder a place is to get to, the more interesting I find it, and Alaska is full of remote spots, some as out there as the Bolivian Amazon and Australian outback,” he says. “Alaska is the holy grail of adventure motorcycle riding.”
One of his favorite Alaska rides is the 135-mile route from Cantwell to Paxson on the Denali Highway, a narrow dirt road with views of Mount Denali, the Talkeetna range and the northern lights. On the almost-60-mile McCarthy Road, Klancher came up behind a grizzly running down the road, which is maybe 15-feet wide and tree-lined. Fortunately, the bear turned off.
He also publishes several books on auto racing.
“I like good narratives, and in this niche the good narratives are in racing,” he says, something anyone who followed the sometimes soap-opera-like saga of Austin’s F1 track will believe. Other books on the list came from friends of friends or other connections. “I tend to back authors over ideas. If I find an author I believe in and want to work with, I’ll go that way.”
The Press does a brisk mail-order business, and while the standard is media mail, those looking for a great last-minute gift for a race car, motorcycle or even tractor fan (we know you’re out there!), offers overnight shipping. Klancher suggests calling the office to get something overnight. He keeps some items in stock and will be happy to find a way to get them to local customers.
Because no one should have to start 2013 without a Farmall calendar.