GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - To say Zach Scifres enjoys books is a bit of an understatement.
Just inside the entryway to his Gillette home, visitors are greeted by an eight-foot-tall wooden cabinet full of sports books. Those with wandering eyes will notice another, equally packed set of shelves, through the open doorway of a nearby guest bedroom.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Scifres' enthusiasm for the bound version of literature.
Zach Scifres sits in his Gillette, Wyo., home among his books in this undated photo. Scifres supposes that there are between 8,000 and 9,000 books in his collection, although he’s never counted them. It has taken decades and a lot of ambition to amass the gargantuan collection, something that Scifres has trouble explaining to people who don’t collect books.
After a brief greeting, Scifres leads the way down a stairway toward a closed door. As he reached the basement entryway, the retired librarian cracked a little smile and pushed open the door.
"Here is the collection," he said, waiting for the all-too-familiar reaction of his guests.
The light-brown door gave way to a cavernous basement full of books, literally full.
A ribbon of floor-to-ceiling-shelves lines the walls of the massive main room. There isn't a bare wall in sight. Scifres supposes that there are between 8,000 and 9,000 books in his collection, although he's never counted them.
It has taken decades and a lot of ambition to amass the gargantuan collection, something that Scifres has trouble explaining to people who don't collect books.
"If I have to explain it, you can't understand," he said. "I have nothing against the Kindle, it gets people reading. The feel, the touch of the print, the smell, it is important to people like me."
But for Scifres, reading wasn't love at first sight.
If you could ask Scifres' second-grade teacher if she thought he'd grow up to be a librarian and a voracious reader with a massive book collection, she probably would say no.
"He may never be a reader," she told Scifres' mother at the end of his second-grade year.
"I can see it like it is today," he said. "She told my mother that she could buy a copy of the text book and read it with me throughout the summer. Sometime in the summer, it clicked and I could read."
He still has the book, "Our New Friends," one of the first Dick and Jane books.
That isn't the first book that Scifres collected, but it is one that he keeps around as more of a keepsake than anything else.
It was 1952, when the 69-year-old retired librarian's collection began. At that time it wasn't really a collection, it was a single book given to him by his aunt. His copy of "Custer's Last Stand" still is in decent condition, save a signature that he scrawled on the inside of the front cover in the fourth grade.
"I was dumb and I didn't know you shouldn't sign your name in them," he said.
Looking back at the book having read three bookcases worth of volumes on Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Scifres now says that the book belongs in the fiction section of the library instead of where it is often kept in the non-fiction section.
Nonetheless, the book's dust jacket is wrapped with protective plastic library film and filed away among his rows upon rows of Custer literature.
And like many of his books, that first book led the young Western history enthusiast to buy other books.
In the early years, most of his books were about American Indians and military history. In the sixth grade, during a family trip across the country from their home in California, Scifres' family stopped at the Little Big Horn battlefield.
Ups and downs couldn't, however, deter the young man from continuing to amass a book collection.
When he got older, Scifres began to frequent a used book store in Long Beach, Calif., near where he grew up.
He had saved his allowance and ridden a city bus downtown to buy 10- and 15-cent books at the vast store.
Scifres estimates that he probably bought five books each year for a while, building a modest collection over time that he eventually had to move with him, first to college and then to his first jobs.
But none of those moves prepared him for the last move he made.
A few years ago, Scifres and his wife, Linda Stewart, bought a new house.
They chose the new abode, in part, because it had space both for them and the collection.
He had moved the volumes at least 10 times, but the last move was the hardest.
"This last time, which will be the final time for sure, was tough," Scifres said. "The most difficult part about moving the books is finding boxes for them."
He spent weeks getting stacks of 15 used liquor boxes at a time and filling them with books. In all, he thinks it was between 200 and 300 boxes that had to be moved to the garage of the new house, then down the stairs and eventually to the shelves that Stewart spent almost a year building.
When the couple bought the house, the basement was nice, but bare walls and an imposing stack of boxes in the middle of the great room simply would not do.
Stewart spent 44 weekends building one shelving unit each while Scifres took his time unloading books onto the new shelves a few boxes at a time. The effort slowly chipped away at the stack of boxes until the basement was lined with row after row of books.
His modified alphabetical order system begins in a cove on the north side of the room with nonfiction books on entertainment, then religion, then literature. The sections by subject continue in a lap of the room.
There are a few shelves about the Titanic, two shelves about the Watergate scandal, three shelves on Lincoln, an entire bookcase of books on outlaws and three bookcases of books about Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Fiction books are a smaller part of the collection, with the exception of a case full of "Sherlock Holmes" books and others related to "Holmes."
Some of the books are newer, but many of them are pretty old. In recent decades, Scifres began looking for first editions and unique copies of many of his books. Some of them he even has a reading copy and another copy that is for collecting.
To Scifres, the collecting and reading are equally important.
Scifres doesn't think that he'll ever quit collecting, although he is pretty selective about what he looks for these days to add to the collection.
Most of the ones he seeks now are a little more obscure and collectable. And others are simply enjoyable reading. Although he doesn't read hastily, Scifres still reads stacks of books each year.
When asked why the library's collection of books is not sufficient for him, Scifres has a quick and almost rehearsed answer.
"I've got books that they don't have," he said with a proud grin.
And despite the fact that his basement looks like a library, and he is a retired librarian, none of Scifres' books are available for loan.
There is simply too great a chance that someone wouldn't bring the book back. That's something that doesn't sit well with a man who has, for more than 60 years, gathered together words in a myriad of fonts on printed pages of different weights held together by capable bindings.
The books have found a safe haven and now surround Scifres like family.