Ken Corder’s Collection
Collecting Cameras, Projectors, and Film
If you’re looking for a photographer, projectionist, camera collector or film trivia buff, Ken Corder is your man.
As supervisor of photographic services for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), Corder often can be seen on highways, under bridges, at train depots and even waterways, armed with a camera. He has been a photographer at ODOT for 37 years, but his love for cameras dates to his childhood.
“My dad was shooting home movies back in the ‘40s when I was born,” said Corder, who was intrigued with every aspect of photography and filming. When he was just 9 years old, his father bought him a darkroom kit and he learned film processing and contact printing. He also remembers his first trip to a theater in 1950. He tagged along with his older brother to the Tulsa Royal Theatre.
“Everyone else was watching the movie but I kept wondering where the light and picture were coming from. I wanted to see the projector and projection room,” he said.
The light remained a mystery for many years. Corder had the opportunity to join the audiovisual department at Putnam City High School in the 1960s, operating movie projectors and sound equipment. During his freshman year at Central State College, now known as the University of Central Oklahoma, he started working as campus photographer. In 1968, he began filming Broncho football and continued until 2002. It was during his early years at Central State that Corder finally made it into his first projection booth at the old Broncho theater in downtown Edmond.
“From that moment on I wanted my own theater projector,” Corder said. “Now I have a barn full.”
Through the years, Corder has maintained his love of anything remotely connected to cameras. He began collecting “still” cameras in the mid-1960s, picking them up at junk stores for 50 cents to a couple of dollars, cleaning them up and getting them in operating condition. He bought his first projector, a Kodascope Model A, for $10. He still has it and its value has increased dramatically.
In the mid-1970s, Corder began working evenings for Southwestern Film Service, filming high school and college football and basketball games. It was during this time that he started more serious collecting. He and his boss, Buddy Morris, bought the estate of an old projectionist in Oklahoma City, securing lots of movie and camera equipment. Through the years Corder has traded equipment for film, as well as printed material such as old technical books, and even for more equipment.
His prize piece is a 1911 Edison Projecting Kinetoscope, Improved Exhibition Model, which sits in his family room. He also has Vitaphone records from three motion pictures. In films from the 1920s, the picture and sound were separate. Vitaphone records, which look much like old 33 records, except larger, were often used for soundtracks.
Corder has storage barns filled with equipment, including a 1917 Universal Military Camera that shoots 35mm film. To date, his collection includes 250 cameras and 50-70 projectors (8mm, 16mm and 35mm).
But cameras and projectors are only part of Corder’s collection. He also collects old theater film. In fact, he has 2 million feet of 16mm and 35mm film. But one 35mm reel, labeled “Screen test for Leonard Sly,” is extremely special. It is Roy Rogers’ first screen test for Universal Pictures and was filmed in March 1937. Corder loaned the film to OETA, which ran it on TV after Roy Rogers’ death.
In 1984, Corder began to learn film restoration, leading him to Ramsey Pictures, a film company located in Oklahoma City from 1929-1942. He played a vital role in restoring Ramsey Pictures’ film from the 1930s. The Department of Libraries contracted with Southwestern Film to restore the Ramsey collection. Corder took the old 35mm nitrate negatives and transferred them to16mm safety film. In 1942, Arthur Ramsey, owner of Ramsey Pictures, closed down the company and went into the service, where he did training films. All the camera equipment, lights and gear were sold to the government. However, no one knew what happened to the two Ramsey projectors.
Recently, that puzzle was solved when Corder was contracted to clean out the old Ortman Theatre in Hennessey. To his surprise, he found the Ramsey projectors, probably purchased from Ramsey because, at the time, the war effort shut down the manufacture of new equipment. Corder was ecstatic.
“I got to make a call to the Historical Society to say, ‘I know where the Ramsey projectors are!’”
Some years ago, Corder also contracted with Eldorado, a small town in the southwestern part of the state, to restore its projection equipment because it was remodeling its theater. Corder surprised local residents by agreeing to trade a host of old equipment they didn’t need or want for his service. For more than a year, Corder made the three-hour drive, once a month, to restore the theater equipment.
Often the Historical Society will call Corder when it has donations of old theater equipment in hopes that he can restore it to its original purpose.
“When they are finished they are displayed behind glass or Lucite to keep people from touching and playing with the equipment,” Corder said. He hopes one day to have his own collection preserved or displayed.
Corder also transfers old home movie film to videotape or DVD for individuals when he has time, which is sparse these days.
“Right now I’m working with OSU, transferring sports film collections from the late ‘30s to video tape,” Corder said. However, he welcomes any calls for film transfer or questions about old equipment, restoration, collectibles or film. He also is available to do presentations concerning his collection to groups, including schools. Ken Corder can be contacted at [email protected]