About Jack Garrett
What Would It Be Like to Wear Chain Mail?

Such an innocent question.

But that's skipping ahead a bit...

I grew up reading the Greek myths, and once I had exhausted those, the Norse myths. When I was eight years old, my family visited Yosemite. In a little gift shop there was a Prince Valiant comic book on a rack. I wanted it badly, but my parents were eager to see the park. My uncle felt sorry for me and bought it. Always had a soft spot in my heart for that small kindness.

I'll never forget the cover (much like the one at right): Valiant the Viking prince was straining at the steering board of a longship, desperately trying to avoid the rocks on both sides of his ship while crashing waves sprayed him with seafoam. His scabbard had slung around, displaying the pommel, grip and cross-guard of his sword. His masterful helmsmanship had saved the ship and crew; the bubble above him said, "By Odin's beard, safe!"

It's incredible how clearly I can remember that image from so long ago. It was just the beginning of a love for history.  Over the years, I collected historical reference books, while reading a lot of history, science-fiction and fantasy. I built a plastic Viking longship model. I built a model knight in armor (Augsberg, 1560.) I built a plastic model of The Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake's flagship. Some airplanes, ships and cars.  Viking movies, pirate movies, knight movies. My brothers and I dueled in the backyard with wooden swords. A lot.

Four years at the University of California, Berkeley (major: Computer Science) and six years in the California National Guard.  A great wife and three great children.  Fencing lessons.  SCUBA certification.

When I joined Pacific Bell in 1971, a co-worker introduced me to one of his friends who was into role-playing games. With a small group of what are now my good friends I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, then Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and then Warhammer. Still do.  Growing up is so overrated.

After a few years, several of us decided to go to the Renaissance Faire at Black Point near Novato.  It never occurred to us to go in civilian clothes. It also never occurred to us to dress in Elizabethan gear like nearly everybody else. We wore our best imitation of Dark Age finery.  After all, I had a new mail shirt to wear.  Since I had often wondered what it felt like to wear one, I had made my own, with a little help from my friends.  (Remember the question I started with?)  We went to the Faire nearly every year for over a dozen years.

Around 1997, I contacted Kim Siddorn of Regia Anglorum, the UK Viking age re-enacting group. I wanted a copy of the Valsgarde 7 helmet, a pre-Viking Age beauty. He knew Ivor Lawton, the craftsman who made the replica (and was currently creating the British Museum's replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet.) It wasn't to be; the artist disappeared into the Black Forest and I had to live without the helmet.

Sometime thereafter, Kim connected me with Douglas, who was interested in Viking age re-enactment. Douglas and I agreed to meet and drive up to Lake Camanche where a new Viking group was getting together. At that lakeside encampment, we met Kay and Tory. Douglas and I joined their group, called the Vikings of Kyrbyr, a household of an SCA spin-off called The Empire of Chivalry and Steel. Later, I invited Dan to join us; he was a friend from an Atari computer users group we both belonged to.

After a couple of years, Kyrbyr (which means "cow town") meandered away from the ECS. We did a lot of Scottish and Celtic fairs and an occasional campout by ourselves. We provided fantasy warriors for a student film production, The Epic of Wayhelm. We joined Regia Anglorum. We created a web page. In 2004, we were invited to provide Normans, Anglo-Saxons and props for a History Channel production being filmed on Mt. Diablo. It was a recreation of the battle of Hastings, fought in the year 1066 AD. We met a couple of experienced re-enactors there named Henrik and Mike (who lives in Phoenix, unfortunately for us.) A second opportunity followed in 2005 and we worked with Henrik and Mike again in Los Angeles, filming the battle of Hastings for another History Channel production.

Through Henrik, we connected with some former and continuing SCA members, including Rick, Brian, Ed, Melinda and Steve. The Vikings of Kyrbyr attracted a number of other re-enactors, including Annie.

We eventually decided to form a new group and join the Vikings North America, recently split off from Vikings UK.  We called the new group The Vikings of Bjornstad (the name was primarily Douglas's brainchild). For over a year, we were associated with both VNA and Regia Anglorum, but eventually dropped the Regia connection. Colin, Carolyn, John and others joined us.  We've displayed our increasingly authentic Viking encampment at many Scottish games, played hobgoblins in another student film, performed in Douglas's Conan the Barbarian independent film, became photo models for NASA Ames, visited a lot of schools and Scandinavian heritage organizations and now attend an ever-increasing variety of events. We even teach undergrads about Viking culture at a local college.  Our web site is amazingly popular; it's visited over 1,300 times a day with over 27,000 visitors a month.

And here we are. That may not be the way it happened, but that's how I remember it.

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.


Jack Garrett is an Information Systems consultant and founder of Garrett Business Technology. He is co-author of Managing Supply Chain Technology. He currently plays with the Vikings of Bjornstad, a dark ages re-enactment group.

  ©   For information contact Jack Garrett at info@vikingsofbjornstad.com