STIHL in America Blog 14 – He Could Have Played Baseball
His father was employed with the civil service at Wright-Patterson Air base; he grew up just down the street, a few blocks, from the garage where the Wright Brothers designed the first airplane. One would assume that during his formative years he’d dreamed of strapping on a leather helmet, wrapping his neck with a silk scarf, becoming an airborne swashbuckler, and barnstorming across America. Rather than using a vacant field to fly kites and balsam model airplanes and idolize Ohio’s Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy migrated to the field where America’s favorite sport was being played—baseball. His idol was a different Ohio hero, Cy Young. Jimmy’s dream was pitching in the majors. Like a few, he almost made it, but like many, he didn’t.
Baseball took him to Miami of Ohio, where met his wife, but Stihl took him to New Hampshire, where he and Barb raised a family. After living there for over fifty years, he and Barb call the White Mountains of New Hampshire home. They can see the tallest peak of the presidential range, Mt. Washington, from their kitchen window.
He was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. During the War his family moved temporarily to lower Alabama, near Mobile. It was there, at age 12, while participating in a baseball clinic, that baseball’s legendary Eddy Stanky recognized Jimmy’s extraordinary left handed pitching ability and told him to check back when he turned 17. Stanky’s encouragement boosted Jimmy’s passion for the majors and the notion that his dream might become reality.
When reflecting on missed opportunities, Jimmy beckons back and regrets having not made contact with Eddy. It would have been so easy, since after reaching the age of accountability he came within baseball spitting distance of Stanky while attending a Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinal’s game–he and a buddy had field-side seats, compliments of a friend of Red’s outfielder, Guss Bell… When asked why he didn’t say something to Stanky, Jimmy shrugs and recalls being momentarily without the ability to breath or think after speaking to and getting an autograph from the great Stan Musial. It’s possible that out of respect for Guss, who’d treated them to the game, that Jimmy didn’t reach out to Stanky, just a few feet away in the Cards dugout. Jimmy’s eyes take on a distant look, he shrugs, lets go a chuckle, and says it wasn’t meant to be.
Even though he came of age in the state known as the birthplace for aviation, Jimmy was never interested in flying. He recalls attending school primarily to play baseball. Looking back he says baseball was the most important thing in his life during the formative years. Stanky’s observation was confirmed when the Detroit Tigers offered Jimmy a minor league contract which included college courses at the University of Wisconsin. After visiting Wisconsin Jimmy decided to stay in Ohio and take advantage of a baseball scholarship offer by Miami of Ohio. His primary reason for going to college was to play baseball, but his time at Miami resulted in much more.
It’s possible that had he reached out to Stanky and got under the tutelage of a major league coach things would have been different. As it turned out, Jimmy injured his pitching arm while at Miami, ending his professional prospects and aspirational baseball dream.
All wasn’t lost by going to Miami instead of going pro out of high school. Between baseball meetings, workouts, and practices, and studies, Jimmy had a job working at the ‘girl’s’ dorm. It was there that he met Barb, the girl from Cincinnati–and the two married.
Finished with college, no hopes for playing pro baseball, and married; it was time to begin a family and career. He first went with what he knew, the printing business, and joined the McCall Corporation, printer of thirty five magazines with headquarters in New York. While working in McCall’s personnel department, Jimmy was in charge of several personnel based functions including activities and McCall’s suggestion program, also known as grievances.
After a year of dealing with twelve different employee unions, Jimmy decided to expanded his horizons and began life as a salesman, working for a large international company, selling a product he’d never used–saw chain and chainsaw related items. The company was Omark–they had a division in Cincinnati.
Omark took them to Raytown, Missouri, located just outside Kansas City and adjacent to Independence, the home of Missouri’s President Harry S Truman. While on his way to the Independence hospital, where Barb first delivered a daughter and then soon thereafter a set of twin girls, Jimmy recalls seeing give-em-hell Harry Truman out for walks.
They were only in Kansas City long enough to start a family, make good neighbors, and establish raspberry bushes when Omark transferred them back to Cincinnati. Soon after making the move back to Cincinnati, Omark announced a corporate shake up. Since Jimmy had made a name for himself, a job for him was secure, but in a different capacity, and a different city. He was offered the sales manager position responsible for Minnesota to New England, requiring a move to Hackensack, NJ. where they added two boys, one at a time to the brood of girls.
One of Jimmy’s clients while in New Jersey was STIHL America, calling on Gordon Williams. By the mid-sixties STIHL’s volume was such that they were a good saw chain customer. Jimmy and Gordon became well acquainted through business meetings and logging shows.
It was during this time that Homelite introduced the XL12, kicking off a tumultuous era in the chainsaw industry. Up until that time dealers across America generally chose to sell either Homelite or McCulloch and many small towns had two dealers, one selling Homelite and the other McCulloch with one or the others selling a few Stihls. Homelite’ s introduction of the XL12 tilted the market share balance so dramatically that McCullough began demanding their distributors set up more dealers, and in many instances insisting they do so regardless of the market potential. One of McCulloch’s largest distributors valued their dealer loyalty more than that of their relationship with McCulloch.
The valiant McCulloch distributor, Bryan Equipment Sales, was also a good customer of Omark and acquainted with Jimmy. Once Jimmy notified Gordon Williams of McCulloch’s darling distributor was in the final stages of taking on another line of chainsaws, it didn’t take long for Gordon and Ernie to get to Cincinnati.
Although they’d already started taking orders for the other brand, Bryan Equipment quickly came to terms with Stihl America and began the relationship by placing the legendary order hear ‘round the world, by far the largest order in Stihl America’s history at the time. In a single day Bryan Equipment went from being a relative unknown to the Stihl’s in Germany to one of their largest customers. The orders taken for the other brand were substituted with Stihls. That’s another story.
McCulloch wasn’t the only company making changes. Gordon, impressed with Jimmy, and realizing that after calling on many distributors and seeing their operation, and gaining the knowledge of what it took to be a genuine distributor, offered him Stihl for the region of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Jimmy, realizing the potential in the heavily wooded area, pounced on the opportunity, but with a condition.
Knowing the value of personal relationships, and the need to have help getting STIHL introduced into the richly wooded but sparsely populated north woods, Jimmy agreed to become STIHL America’s New England distributor so long as the Omark representative for the area agreed to come on board. One of Jimmy’s best regional managers was then covering the area for Omark. He was well respected by the dealers and hard-working, his intensity such that he literally seldom shut off his station wagon while making dealer calls. He was known to drive the full length of Maine simply to respond to the needs of a single dealer. Jimmy was sure to hit the ground running with the assistance of this key individual.
The two of them traveled the area and chose Lancaster, NH, centrally located in the most densely forested area of the three state region. An already established distributor of non-competitive products rented office space to Jimmy and agreed to temporarily handle shipping and receiving. Once everything was in place and set to begin operations, the key person decided to stay with Omark. This left the entire traveling and dealer establishment to Jimmy–now truly a one man show, albeit the assistance of the landlord’s distributor team. With a few pieces of rudimentary literature, a demonstration saw, Jimmy hit the road while Barb tended to their new home, in a new state, new town, and five children.
Convincing dealers to take on STIHL when they were already happy with Homelite or McCulloch, and not wanting to put their exiting dealership in jeopardy, was daunting. Jimmy, used to being cordially greeted while representing Omark in other areas, found quite the opposite when attempting to pioneer STIHL in an established market. Once when returning to a dealer where he’d left literature learned the dealer had used the literature to start a stove fire each morning.
Success was slow but eventually Jimmy convinced a scant few dealers to try the STIHL and the ones who did told others. One of the techniques used was the compression demonstration developed by the Whiz Kid, demonstrating STIHL’s compression even when the piston rings had been removed. One by one STIHL began to be accepted throughout New England.
Within a year Jimmy moved the operation to a rented facility with saws and parts in the basement and a couple of offices on the main floor. One of the warehouse workers followed Jimmy and became his loan receiver/shipper/billing department in the basement and a lady answering the single phone line upstairs. Jimmy hit the road on Monday and returned on Friday, exhausted, and greeted by Barb, also exhausted, and their five young kids, not exhausted and ready to enjoy the great outdoors of New Hampshire.
While he spent as many weekends as possible coaching youth sports and participating in community activities, many weekends were spent away from home at dealer events and county fairs. One of Jimmy’s many fond memories of pioneering STIHL is of a 1965 Dodge pickup equipped with a customized camper shell that opened on both sides and functioned as a traveling display. He rolled into an event, opened the side windows, rolled out the canvas awning, and quickly gathered a curious crowd. In those days most had never heard of STIHL and nobody knew the correct enunciation, some saying style, others still, and a scant few getting it right–steel. He spent many nights away from home in an effort to raise interest in STIHL amongst the pulp and hardwood cutters in hopes they’d inquire at their local dealer about a STIHL.
Jimmy and Barb have few regrets and many fond memories of pioneering Stihl in New England. It was Stihl that took them to New Hampshire, a delightful place to raise a family. Stihl is now the #1 selling brand in all of New England—it wasn’t that way when the lefty from Ohio came to town. And that distributor from Ohio, the one Jimmy introduced to Stihl; they’re still placing record breaking orders and remain one of Stihl’s largest customers. Much of Stihl’s success is due to the Hamptons and others like them.