Evidently, the sloppy paint was A) oil based and B) had over 30 years to really get into the grain of the wood. Also, there are traces of adhesive that were not apparent to the eye that has also gotten down into the wood. You could spend a million years sanding these boards and they still wouldn't turn out right.
I used a hand sander, a palm sander, two detail sanders and a belt sander at various times on these stairs. It's not the lack of sanding that caused problems.
I did two steps and then stopped due to these results:
It makes me sick to my stomach that they turned out this way. They're polka dotted for heaven's sake! They look worse in person, trust me on this one. I abandoned the project, left all my tools and crap in the foyer and walked away to try and come up with a solution.
So, on to Plan B. Paint! Well, first primer, then paint. I went today and picked out a lovely dark brown paint from Behr called Expresso Bean that will be really nice on these stairs. The next complication will be to get the paint on the stairs and not have foot and paw prints all in it. I see some late nights in my future.
This was not the only disaster last night/ today, oh no it wasn't, but I'll tell you about that one tomorrow. I need to calm down a little. :)