Stihl in America Blog 11 – He honored the family legacy and then some…
On possibly the same day a Pan American Lockheed Super Constellation night-flight from New York to Stuttgart, Germany, carrying Gordon Williams and Harding Smith on their quest to secure the famous one page contract, a young, driven and clever Dorsey Glover was possibly sitting in an afternoon class on the sultry campus of the University of Arkansas, wishing he had drank more coffee before attending class to suffer through a monotonous law professor drone on about torts. It’s not likely that the lanky soon-to-be lawyer was sitting in class and obsessing about torts the way Gordon and Harding were obsessing about chainsaws, some eight thousand miles away. It would be nearly eight years before their paths would cross.
The only thing bred more deeply into the DNA of a southern boy than respect for one’s elders is pride. So, while one may choose the path of their elders, it’s important that choosing to do so is their decision. For Dorsey, the path of least resistance, or so he thought, was the pursuit of a law degree. A law degree, Dorsey claims, can be useful no matter one’s vocation. He’d entered Arkansas’ prestigious law school the previous semester so full of muster that he didn’t bother to begin attending classes until mid-term, confident that it’d be a breeze, just as undergrad school had been. His new year’s surprise was a grade card full of D’s, a letter unfamiliar to him. It was a needed wake-up call to a gifted student for which good grades had come easy. He realized law school was different, and so were the students–the classrooms were packed with eager, equally gifted, passionate students, serious about their education and future. The first semester professors knew what they were doing and shocked Dorsey into a routine of long hours of study. The path of least resistance turned out to require hard work and focus, but once Dorsey assessed the landscape he rose to meet the challenge.
The more sparsely populated the place of rearing, the more difficult it is for one to gain their own identity. By the time a boy growing up in rural Arkansas reaches his teens he’s heard thousands of times, “ain’t you so and sos boy?” And, “you gonna be a such and such just like your daddy when you grow up?” The more prominent one’s lineage, the more likely this is to occur. Dorsey’s grandfather was a two-term Arkansas congressman, two-term US congressman, and a prominent local attorney. Dorsey’s father was an equally successful attorney but better known for his entrepreneurial spirit. Dorsey had two large shadows from which to emerge.
Dorsey came of age in Malvern, Arkansas, the county seat of Hot Springs County, Arkansas, adjacent to a chain of lakes abundant with crystal clear water flowing from the Ouachita Mountains, and near the well-known city of Hot Springs, which oddly enough, is not in Hot Springs County. Andy Griffith’s Mayberry could very easily have been Malvern. Malvern and Mayberry shared many characteristics, which was the case for most small towns in post WWII America; autonomous, everyone knows everyone, the crooks are few but known to all, and while citizens are sometimes hateful to each other they’re quick to defend even the staunchest opponent against outsiders. And just as in Mayberry, the Sheriff in Malvern didn’t carry a weapon.
There’s a plethora of jokes circulating about Arkansans, such as why a tooth brush isn’t called a teeth brush, and many more, but the peculiar fact is that most jokes about Arkansans are created by Arkansans. In Arkansas, you either tell the joke or you’re the feature of one.
Even though surrounded by heavily timbered forests and pulp mills, Malvern was better known as the brick capital of the world. But in spite of being home to three Acme Brick plants, Weyerhaeuser, Georgia Pacific, International Paper, and other manufacturing facilities–during the 1950s Malvern’s school district fell so miserably short of funds that the school year was shortened. Dorsey’s parents, relatively affluent, and wishing to make sure their son be the one telling the jokes and not the one about which the jokes were told, and in consideration of the fear of Russian mental superiority soon thought to be confirmed with Sputnik, enrolled him in Columbia Military Academy, in Columbia, TN. It was at Columbia that Dorsey began to emerge from the unspoken but ever present grand paternal shroud. The future was his to choose, and he chose albeit respectful of his father and grandfather that which made the most sense for him. And somewhere along the line he perfected the art of being the one telling the jokes.
Dorsey has always had and will likely always have mischief-suggestive boyish facial features. During his experience at Columbia, he ceased being anybody’s boy and since he’s much taller than average it’s obvious that he’s not a boy, but he sports a perpetual expression that can be a smirk, a smile, or a grimace, and no matter the circumstance, the expression doesn’t change to any noticeable degree. I’ve observed Dorsey shaking hands and greeting those he admires and on rare occasions, those he despises. The southern bred courtesy gene necessitates Dorsey to disguise his true feelings and make everyone feel special, even though in his mind he’s conjuring up all sorts of humorous and undignified thoughts toward those whom he’s looking down upon, both physically and virtually, but that’s rare. A careful observer realizes, at a glance, that Dorsey has a well-developed, clever, thoughtful, occasionally critical, but always humorous reply ready to spring forth. And based on the quip, tightly laced with fact, one can sense if he’s sporting a smile or a smirk, most of the time.
To meet Dorsey is to appreciate the influence that his wife, Elaine, has had on him. She’s a grand host, eager to entertain and share, and a superb conversationalist, versed on a wide variety of subjects, in spite of being an Arkansan. Dorsey occasionally gets a ‘look’ from Elaine and he realizes he’s broken some arcane (in his mind) rule of etiquette. Elaine knew what she’d bargained for when she met Dorsey, sometimes flashy, occasionally fancy, but always funny. Elaine is Dorsey’s emotional anchor and compass. He still owns a ’53 Ford Crown Victoria the same color as the one in which he and Elaine had their first date while both were attending the University of Arkansas.
After graduating from the University of Arkansas School of Law, Dorsey easily passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, and intended on returning to Malvern to join his father’s one-man law firm and practice law until he figured out what he wanted to do, other than law. As a third generation attorney, law was supposed to come natural, and it did, but he had an itch to do something more. Gaining a law degree was being true to his heritage, but being true to himself would take him beyond law.
In spite of following his own chosen path, his style and inclination differed little from that of his father, who while practicing law, also had holdings in two brick plants in Mississippi, two construction companies—one focused on bridges and highways and the other on buildings—hospitals, colleges, and large institutional structures. Dorsey’s path was rich with opportunity; his father was essentially keeping the one-man practice open until Dorsey could take over. But the value of an opportunity depends on the enthusiasm and capacity of the one for which the opportunity is provided. Dorsey had heaping helpings of both but his path would necessarily take a short detour.
On the day of graduation Dorsey received a letter. Rather than return to Malvern immediately after graduation and having passed the bar, Dorsey respected an invitation from Uncle Sam, and was inducted into the US Army Reserve as a 2nd Lieutenant. He completed basic training at Ft. Knox, and then spent four months training with the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Hood before finally returning home to Malvern and beginning to put to good use the many years of education. At last he opened his one-man law practice. Thanks to the Russians, he’d later be called upon once more to serve America.
Right away he was asked to serve on the board of directors for the brick companies in which his father owned an interest, both located far away in Mississippi. Monthly trips to the brick plants were time consuming so Dorsey purchased his first of several planes, a Cessna 210, shortening the travel time from eight hours of driving to two hours of flying. Since there wasn’t an airport near either of the plants Dorsey would set the plane down on a nearby dirt strip. Not only did the plane save them travel time, but also allowed them the convenience of low flights over their competition’s brick yards to check out their operations and inventory levels.
Dorsey assumed the role of lead counsel for The Bank of Malvern, the oldest state chartered bank in Arkansas, and soon thereafter began serving on the board of directors.
As if practicing law and serving on the boards of multiple companies weren’t enough, Dorsey began dabbling in real-estate. One of his law practice clients, Robert Ward, of Ward Brothers Chainsaw Supply, a Stihl dealer/distributer and also pulp wood suppler for International Paper, was buying and selling timber and timberland. Dorsey and Robert became timber buying partners and best of friends. They purchased timber to sell to International Paper and/or Georgia Pacific. In some cases they purchased the timber only, and in other instances acquired the land, harvested the timber, and then sold or developed the land. Together they owned over 20,000 acres of timberland at one time or another.
During a providential visit by Gordon Williams to Ward Brothers Chainsaw Supply, Robert introduced Dorsey and Gordon. Over dinner, Gordon shared his vision of Stihl in America. Dorsey’s inherited entrepreneurial gene and his favorable impression of Gordon and the vision of STIHL in America combined to inspire Dorsey to strike a deal with Robert. Ward Brothers Chainsaw Supply had been selling Stihls for several years but primarily to saw mills with which Robert was familiar when Gordon Williams convinced Dorsey of the limitless opportunity of being a Stihl wholesale distributor. While Ward Brothers Chainsaw Supply had been a good paying customer, they’d only been averaging about one saw per week, nearly the same as a good dealer at the time. Meanwhile, the two Missouri distributors to the north, Crader Equipment and Ozark Equipment, already covering the northern part of the state, were ready and willing to take on the responsibility for the southern parts of Arkansas. Not so fast, Dorsey likely thought. Representing saw mills other than Ward, Dorsey had heard many good reports about Stihl saws, pre-confirming what he’d heard from Gordon. Dorsey and Robert pooled their talents and resources and incorporated Ward Chain Saw Supply, April 1, 1966. Knowing Dorsey, I have to believe the date of incorporation not an accidental coincidence.
Rainer, the whiz kid always dreaded the Ozark Airline flight from St. Louis to Malvern aboard a well-used DC-3 with their noisy, oil slinging, vibrating, radial engines. Robert Ward’s mechanic, with whom Rainer was familiar always met him at the airport and drove him directly to Ward Brothers, only forty miles away. Rainer and Gordon had been concerned that Ward Brothers had not been experiencing sales increases equal to that of surrounding distributors but Gordon was convinced that Dorsey would change that. Rainer’s next trip was different from previous, rather than deal with technical issues, Rainer was to meet Robert’s partner in the newly formed company.
Rainer and Dorsey met at a dinner hosted by Dorsey on the banks of Arkansas’ Lake Catherine were the vittles included fish that had been aged in the lake and liquid that had been aged in barrels, the staves of which had been made from Arkansas hard wood. Dorsey eyed Rainer suspiciously at first, but the combination of the aged drink and Rainer’s Bavarian charm turned the smirk into a southern smile and the two became close friends.
The following day Rainer and Dorsey met at length in Dorsey’s law office. Rainer shared what he knew about Stihl and the operations of other distributors. Dorsey told Rainer of the decision to hire a salesman, and “Do it right.” Rainer eventually moved to Malvern from California, a testimony to his impression of Dorsey and the Malvern area, and remained there until his return to Germany, several years later.
Their first salesman, an ordained Baptist preacher, was from Hope, Arkansas, possibly Bill Clinton’s childhood minister. Thankfully, he was good at selling saws. “Thunderball,” starring Sean Connery and “Doctor Zhivago,” starring Omar Sharif were in their first showing that week.
Considering Dorsey’s financial backing and visionary addition to the Ward Brothers established reputation and enterprise, Gordon offered Dorsey and Robert the entire states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and eventually Texas.
During the early 1960s Dorsey had made several flights betw
een Arkansas and the Dallas area. During those flights he noticed that the dense timber forests of Arkansas and Louisiana stopped about one county deep into Texas. And it was with that knowledge that when offered the entire state of Texas, he agreed to taking responsibility for the thirteen eastern most counties in Texas, those with abundant timber, and let someone else worry about the other 241 cactus and rattle snake infested counties. Dorsey now says that had he known then what he knows now he’d have taken the entire state of Texas and would now be richer than three feet up a bull’s butt. But, as Dorsey says, “Hindsight and bull-shit are of equal value.” Dorsey is full of quotable quotes and sensible sayings, typical of Arkansans.
After learning that a new distributor had been established in Arkansas, Don Crader and his son flew down to pay the new guy a visit. Don, a recently licensed and inexperienced pilot, penetrated a rain storm that turned out to be more than anticipated and since the aerial map warned of rapidly rising terrain in the area, he had the good sense not to try and descend below the rain. Don and his son landed at the first airport they found after popping out on the back side of the storm, which turned out to be Arkadelphia, not far from their intended destination. After peeing their initials onto the chat ramp of the unattended airport, and looking at a map, they made the short uneventful hop over to Malvern. Don confirmed for Dorsey what he’d heard and learned about Stihl, Gordon Williams, and Rainer.
Dorsey sports a facial feature other than the smirk that is immediately noticeably. Everyone wonders, nosey northerners ask. June 21, 1961, well before becoming Arkansas’s two-time state skeet shoot champion, Dorsey had gained a reputation for owning guns and knowing how to use them. And it was on an otherwise normal afternoon in Malvern when he found himself with a trigger pulling decision. While crossing Malvern’s main street on the way from his office to the courthouse, he heard shots fired. Dorsey looked up the street and saw a man holding a rifle and shooting through the doorway of the local unemployment office. The shooter turned out to be a disgruntled man, well known for being ornery, but not necessarily a killer, until then. He’d just shot and killed two and injured a third at the unemployment office. Dorsey ran to his office and retrieved a .38 revolver. By the time he returned to the courthouse lawn the shooter had run past a Chevy/Olds dealer and shot a mechanic who’d innocently stepped outside to see what was going on, and had then headed toward a junk yard, shooting the spotlight off of a Malvern police car while on the run.
The Sheriff, unarmed but brave, and the only weapon at his disposal a machine gun with no clip, worth more as a display item in his office than as a weapon was literally outgunned, for the moment. Knowing that Dorsey had guns, the Sheriff sent Dorsey home to retrieve firearms as quickly as possible. Dorsey’s car happened to be in the shop for repair so the Sheriff loaned him a patrol car. Dorsey handed the Sheriff the .38 revolver before racing home in the patrol car. Meanwhile, the sheriff and his deputies rushed into a nearby hardware store and requisitioned several rifles. By the time Dorsey returned with several weapons, including a legal 20 gauge double barrel pistol with 10” barrels, a Winchester 88 .308 caliber rifle, and another pistol, the shooter had escaped and hidden in a nearby junk yard.
Dorsey and a Deputy slipped down an alleyway separating the junk yard from the backyards of a row of occupied homes. The Sheriff headed to the entrance of the junkyard. By then, deputies from surrounding counties and several highway patrol were arriving on the scene. The shooter, seeing the large crowd moving in from the entrance moved toward the alley, unbeknownst to Dorsey and the Deputy. When the shooter spotted Dorsey and the Deputy he took a shot—the bullet shattered when it struck a 12” Box Elder, wide enough to shield Dorsey from the full impact of the round, but not wide enough to completely conceal his 6’3” 240 pound frame. While the thin tree likely saved Dorsey’s life, a small fragment of the bullet struck his eye. Bleeding and with eye fragments on his suite sleeve, Dorsey moved out from the tree, drew down on the shooter, and gave him a choice, surrender or be shot. The shooter, still armed, chose wisely, moved cautiously in Dorsey’s direction and surrendered. A southern boy rarely steps fully from his father’s shadow until well after the elder’s funeral, but on that day Dorsey began casting a shadow of his own.
Dorsey could have easily and justifiably shot the killer on the spot, but chose to let justice, his chosen profession at the time, take its due course. The killer was tried, found guilty, sentenced, and provided three meals and a place to live at the tax payer’s expense for the rest of his life. Two other families in Malvern had to deal with the loss of a loved one for the rest of theirs. Dorsey learned to shoot with one eye, not as good as before, but better than most Texans with two.
Soon after losing an eye to the rampaging murderer, the Russians decided to build a wall dividing Germany’s communist controlled sector from the free world. Their wall was very effective, by the way. Dorsey received notice from Uncle Sam that America needed more of him than serving in the reserve; he was to report to Ft. Polk for active service duty in the US Army to join a medium duty tank outfit from his high school alma matter, Columbia, Tennessee—they were headed for Germany. Through a rare stroke of common sense, the US Army decided they could do better than an optically challenged lanky lawyer from Arkansas and granted him a full discharge on the same day that he was to report for duty at Ft. Polk.
Missing an eye may have been a condition making him ineligible to shoot artillery from a tank, but it clearly wasn’t a handicap for shooting a .410 shotgun. He went on to be a two-time Arkansas state skeet shooting champion. As such, Dorsey received an invitation to participate in the San Antonio Gun Club’s Inaugural National Skeet Shoot Tournament. The San Antonio Gun Club boasts being the oldest gun club in America, and who’s going to argue with a bunch of armed Texans. Inviting Dorsey from Arkansas assured the legitimacy of the national claim and the likely expectation was that nobody from Arkansas could shoot better than a Texan, at least not the best of Texas. It’s a mystery that the San Antonio group thought so little of Dorsey since only a year earlier he’d posted the first ever perfect 100/100 with a .410 at the Dallas Gun Club. But that was way before online social platforms and the era of immediate sharing of all things, relevant or otherwise.
Texans believe the only good thing coming out of Arkansas is interstate 30, so they didn’t expect Dorsey to show up in San Antonio and win, but he did. In spite of showing up the Texans, Dorsey and Elaine were graciously hosted by Stihl’s local distributor, Frank Gruen, and his wife, Ann. Frank was one of the few people who could virtually fill a room with presence, personality and southern aura as quickly as Dorsey, and was equally blessed with a magnanimous wife. Perhaps Elaine and Ann quietly exchanged recipes for southern cuisine while Dorsey and Frank boisterously sipped expensive bourbon and talked Stihl and of course football. The Texas/Arkansas football rivalry had been going on since 1894. Most likely Frank reminded Dorsey that Texas had the winning record in the football rivalry. Dorsey, having just bested the best of Texas, and a gentleman, shared much with Frank, but not everything on his mind. Dorsey never tells all he knows, but you can always count on the fact that he’s thinking of something.
For example, while drinking Frank’s expensive bourbon, Dorsey didn’t mention that he’d once been offered Stihl for all of Texas. And there was another thing that Dorsey didn’t mention, probably because it had yet to occur. But he did remind Frank that he’d won the tournament with only one eye.
Dorsey and Robert Ward’s partnership at Ward Brothers lasted until 1970 when Dorsey’s vision of Stihl’s potential exceeded that of Robert’s. Robert’s vision included owning Dorsey’s 300 acre farm. So Robert and Dorsey struck a deal that resulted in Robert gaining a farm and some cash and Dorsey being the sole owner of Ward Saw Supply, renaming the enterprise Stihl Southwest. Soon thereafter Dorsey built the first building designed exclusively for the distribution of Stihl saws, followed by the purchase of an IBM System 34, reportedly the first System 34 installed in the state of Arkansas. Like many of the early distributors, Dorsey was a successful one of a kind, and not adverse to risk. The enterprise required considerable financial support. After several lean years, a dealer base was established; the Stihl line of products expanded and Stihl Southwest became profitable selling Stihl exclusively.
Nearly the entire Stihl family took the time to visit Dorsey and El
aine at least once, an event few distributors can boast. During one such visit Dorsey had the chance to share with Andreas the results of a local chainsaw cutting competition. Dorsey’s new salesman had expressed some concern at competing with a brand known for running at a very high RPM and being very loud. Dorsey told the salesman that RPMs and noise didn’t cut logs, power did. With that the salesman confidently competed and won.
Oh, the thing Dorsey didn’t tell Frank while drinking his liquor…glad you asked. While Arkansas rarely beat Texas in football, Stihl Southwest, when compared to all other US distributors, ranks first or second every year in market penetration, a feat Frank’s company never came close to matching. Some could argue that Dorsey had the advantage with Rainer the Whiz kid choosing Malvern as his home in America, followed up by the budding all-star Fred Whyte as his Stihl representative and also choosing Arkansas as his home base. Those were both advantages—however, Stihl Southwest’s stellar numbers and market penetration success continued long after the departure of both Rainer and Fred to elevated positions within the STIHL organization. And for that matter, the excellent market performance continues well into Dorsey’s semi- retirement days. Dorsey ranks high on the metrics that matter most, morally, spiritually, financially, and is an excellent, patient mentor. He honored and followed the path made by his father and grandfather, as far as it went, and then extended it with footprints of his own.
Power equipment dealers have many choices; those in the south chose Dorsey and continue to choose Stihl Southwest.
Dorsey has been serving at the helm of a Stihl Distributorship for over fifty years; probably a record, and similar to his 100/100 with a .410, may eventually be tied, but is not likely to be beaten.