Frank J. Gach, a master carpenter whose expertly constructed bookcases and shelves were highly prized by bibliophiles and college libraries, died Aug. 13 of complications from dementia at Keswick Multi-Care Center.
The former longtime Randallstown resident was 94.
The son of a coal miner and a homemaker, Mr. Gach was born and raised in Glen Campbell, Pa., where he graduated from high school.
Mr. Gach's expertise in carpentry began at an early age. When he was 16, he built a barn on his family's property that stood for 50 years, family members said.
After leaving home in 1934, Mr. Gach traveled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus working as a roustabout.
"After helping erect the tent, he then worked during showtime as an usher," said a son, James E. Gach of Perry Hall.
He was living and working in New York City as a glassblower when he married Mary Amodei.
Mrs. Gach died in 1992.
With the coming of World War II, he enlisted in the Navy and served with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific, until being discharged at war's end.
Mr. Gach moved to Baltimore in 1950 and worked as a Christmas ornament decorator and then became an expert at remodeling nightclubs.
He worked on some of the most legendary Baltimore night spots of the era, including the Club Charles, Blue Mirror, Eddie Leonard's and Celebrity Lounge, and then turned to redecorating Washington restaurants.
Mr. Gach then established his own custom carpentry business, specializing in custom-designed, free-standing bookcases and shelves with exotic or plain wood and trimmed with moldings and hardware.
"They will be strong, level. Smooth and comely but not costly," according to an article in The Baltimores Sun at the time of his 1978 retirement. "Among book owners, having Gach shelving is a bit like having Irvin Paxton boxes for your first editions, or, at Barr Harris' book auctions, the same bidding number reserved for you every time."
Mr. Gach was known for working in a variety of woods.
"All this may be in mahogany, walnut, birch or pine. Plain No. 2 pine suits him on many jobs where stains [he loathes paint] assure a good finish, and it suits many customers. There are also no knotholes in the boards," said the newspaper article.
"When Mr. Gach is done, and stands back while ignorant admirers press forward, a sort of Polish twinkle appears," observed the newspaper.
One of Mr. Gach's larger jobs was constructing bookcases for the Eisenhower Library's Special Collections at the Johns Hopkins University, and for Richard A. Macksey, a noted Baltimore book collector and Hopkins professor of humanities.
It was Mr. Gach who installed all of the bookcases in Dr. Macksey's former garage, which he had converted into a library to hold his extensive collection of books.
When his son, John P. Gach, bought a used-book store in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave. in 1968 from Philip Lazarony, it was the elder Mr. Gach who put up half of the money for its purchase.
His son, an avid chess player, would convene friends who sat around playing chess all day rather than selling books, which drove his father's blood pressure off the charts.
"My father got so mad, somebody would get up and go to the bathroom, and he would take their chair away," said John P. Gach, who died in 2009, in a 1981 interview with The Evening Sun.
Mr. Gach, who moved to Keswick in 2008, was an avid collector of coins, stamps and bottles, and had an extensive collection of "church keys" that were used in the pre-poptop era to open beer cans.
"He suffered from dementia over the past 10 years, but otherwise took no medication except an aspirin," son James E. Gach said.
"He never had any surgery except to have his thumb reattached after cutting it off with a power saw. He carried it to Union Memorial Hospital where they did the surgery," his son said. "It took about five years, but he eventually got the feeling back in it."
Services were held Aug. 18.
Also surviving are another son, Robert J. Gach of Fairfield, Pa.; a brother, Philip Gach of Birmingham, Mich.; two sisters, Medeline Schwartz of Arlington, Va., and Joanne Lofrano of Punxsutawney, Pa.; 11 grandchildren; 19 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren. A daughter, Susan A. Alderton, died in 2000.