Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

The Whiz Kid

Response to full-page ads running every month in Chainsaw Age, starting in 1959 by Tull-Williams and subsequently Stihl America continued to pay rich dividends. The single warehouse phone virtually rang off the wall with calls from established Stihl distributors placing orders and those wishing to become distributors for Stihl. Joe Minarik, Mock, by then working part-time for Stihl America took the initiative to have a second phone line installed. Gordon, then being held accountable to a budget with the Stihl’s, a 40% partner, fired Joe for what he thought an extravagant expense. The following day a container of saws arrived from Germany. Gordon, short-handed without Mock, had to help unload the saws. Mock, knowing when the container was scheduled to arrive came to warehouse and feigned working on a custom cabinet project; recall the warehouse was owned by Mock and also housed his cabinet making shop. Mock was amused watching Gordon, dressed in formal business attire—tailored suit, tie, and leather soled shoes, carry one saw at a time from the container in between answering the phone, which was located at the other end of the warehouse from the dock door. Given time, cooler heads typical prevail and in this case Gordon realized the logic in Mock’s decision to have a phone line installed adjacent to the dock door and with most of the saws still needing to be unloaded, Gordon motioned Mock over. The two had a good laugh and Mock was once again employed by Stihl America. Mock would be temporarily fired once more for purchasing a fork truck without permission. By then containers coming in and orders being shipped out had reached a volume that fully justified a fork truck. Once Gordon realized the gain in efficiencies provided by the fork truck, Mock was reinstated. Distributors would eventually experience similar growing pains where the increase in order size is simple at the clerical and book keeping point, but an immediate and daunting challenge for the shipping department. Interesting to note, the tight bond between the two men and their families never wavered during the heated exchanges. That’s New Jersey.

With new distributors being established monthly and distributors establishing new dealers daily, sales exceeded all expectations. Everyone in the logging industry was clamoring for a Stihl, or so it seemed to those working the warehouse at Bushes Lane. The addition of a phone line and acquisition of a fork truck helped increase warehouse efficiencies, but another issue was brewing that would require help from Germany—technical failures. While the Stihl quickly gained a reputation for the being light, powerful, and the most dependable saw in the woods, the Stihl wasn’t trouble free. Few engines that run at high RPM in dusty conditions are. Help was on the way from Germany via Sweden.

Users of other brands had grown to expect mechanical failure and generally replaced a failing unit with a new one. A typical dealer’s back lot included a growing mound of discarded saws, theoretically to be used as spare parts. The problem with this logic was that the part that failed most frequently was the same on all units, so the mounding chainsaw boneyards were piles of parts seldom used.

The expectations of a Stihl user have always been much higher than that of other brands. Consequently, technical problems must be addressed aggressively by Stihl, Stihl America, the distributors, and the dealers. One of the reasons for financial failure of Tull-Williams and the eventual financial partnership with the Stihl family and establishment of Stihl America was the short-term and expensive strategy to tackle technical failures of Stihl units in the field. Realizing that technical challenges would be a mainstay and that identifying the problem and implementation of a solution would require factory participation, Gordon and the Stihl’s began the development of a long-term technical strategy —identifying the precise problem in the field and testing design change features to eliminate reasons for failure. The strategy would require Stihl to be a channel participant from manufacture to end-user, a unique proposition that, years later, would be studied and written about by business school professors. Success of the new strategy depended heavily on the person chosen to go into the field with a specific focus on technical problems. This person would need to be able to understand the problem and the culture of the people experiencing the problem.

Reinhold Guhl had been keeping his eye on an industrial business administrator apprentice who earned impeccable grades and had an affinity for technical matters and verbal communication, a rare combination. Rainer Glockle’s grades qualified him for early completion of his formal studies and Reinhold quickly added him to the Stihl team offering Rainer an extended technical apprenticeship followed by a stint with the German forestry division. After working in the forests surrounding Germany’s Lake of Constance, Rainer passed the forestry exam with high scores and became a certified German Forest Ranger. Reinhold was preparing Rainer for the life-long world-wide diverse career he’d have with Stihl. Reinhold knew the task would require a multi-talented, quick learning, and diverse individual.

Reinhold surmised that the forestry certification would endear Rainer to loggers, and the knowledge of advanced two-cycle theory would enable Rainer to diagnose problems occurring only in the field. Rainer, only twenty one years old at the time, had high expectations of a career with Stihl, but those expectations didn’t include him venturing far from home. Rainer quickly proved Reinhold right and had been credited with two design changes when Reinhold called him into his office. Rainer was taken aback, frightened, and excited, when Reinhold offered him a position beyond his wildest dreams. The only problem, the position was in America.

Rainer, born in 1943, during the height of WWII, never knew his father, a German officer killed January 6th, 1945 during the battle of the bulge. There was no funeral, as was the case in most instances in those days, just a death notice, long after the fact. It was seven years before the International Red Cross informed Rainer and his mother of the details of his father and her husband’s death and the burial site, a military cemetery in Luxemburg. Rainer, having no father, like many fatherless German war children, had a deep emotional bond with his mother. He had to confer with her before giving Reinhold an answer. Recognizing the magnitude of the opportunity, she tearfully consented. With his mother’s blessing, Rainer accepted the offer.

A week after accepting the position in America Rainer was packed and ready to go when Reinhold asked if he’d first spend some time in Sweden. Word had gotten around. Wolf Manfred von Richthofen, Stihl’s importer for Scandinavia, had heard about Rainer, and his technical expertise. Wolf Manfred was the son of Lothar von Richthofen, who was the younger brother to Manfred von Richthofen, the famed WWI German fighter pilot Ace, the Red Baron. It’s said that Lothar, scoring more kills in a shorter period of time than the Red Baron, and not getting shot down, was most likely a better pilot than his famed flamboyant older brother. At any rate, Wolf Manfred and his German pedigree had considerably more political clout than Gordon.

Sweden, while an important market for Stihl was comparatively small relative to America, and consequently their technical issues fewer. By the time Rainer’s American work visa had been transferred from the American Embassy in Germany to the Embassy in Sweden, and approved for work in America, Rainer had learned the Swedish language, and trained technicians throughout Sweden. Finished with the task assigned to him by Reinhold, and nothing further to do but court Swedish girls suitable for Stihl’s infamous calendar, Rainer headed for America, against Wolf Manfred’s wishes. Rainer would return to Sweden years later for a different challenge.

Rainer arrived in America July 1964 with a keen grasp of most things technical relating to Stihl and a fluent knowledge of numerous European languages, but not so much English, and certainly not the language spoken in New Jersey (Joysie). Gordon met Rainer at the same airport and possibly the same international gate he’d arrived after making the trip to Germany in 1958. By then, New York, in honor of President Kennedy, had changed the name from Idlewild International to JFK International.

Victor Rossler, the first German to be assigned to Stihl America from Stihl Germany, and working for Harding Smith at Stihl Parts, had been in America for over a year by then and offered Rainer a place to live. Victor and Rainer roomed together in Hackensack for several months. Rainer learned the language, which he soon realized was much different than the King’s English, which he’d studied, not necessarily learned, in school. Victor and Rainer commuted to work each day in Victor’s drab green Volkswagen until Victor returned to Germany, when Rainer purchased his first car, a 1958 Olds.

Joe Minarik, Mock, the independent thinking initiative taking cabinet maker, was offered a full-time position when Victor returned to Germany. It was an obvious and easy decision for Gordon. Joe and Evelyn invited Rainer to their home many times for home cooked meals. Rainer still speaks very highly of Joe, Evelyn and the Minarik family. Joe labeled Rainer, the Whiz Kid.

Once he’d mastered the American language, or the butchered version spoken in New Jersey, Gordon sent Rainer to Wellington, Ohio, to United Welding for his first distributor visit. It was Rainer’s first trip inside the US, and he was visiting the first US Stihl Distributor established by Gordon, and would be conducting his first technical service school, it was a first of many. Evidently all went well since Gordon then sent Rainer to several other distributors throughout the entire US to do the same. There were no frequent flyer miles in those days but Rainer was certainly a frequent flyer and logged thousands of miles by bus too.

It was during one of those first trips that Rainer visited Crader Distributing in Marble Hill, Missouri. After a long ride and countless stops on a Continental Trailways bus from Tupelo, Mississippi, Don Crader, along with a young son and daughter met Rainer at the bus stop driving an International Scout, one of Don’s trademarks. At the time, it was Don’s routine to remove the hard top on the Scout on Memorial Day and drive topless until Labor Day. A Poncho was stuffed under each seat. It was a late summer night when Rainer arrived in Marble Hill–he was the only person to get off the bus. The bus stop was simply the cracked sidewalk in front of a Rexall Drug store. The only vehicle in site in the sleepy little town was a Scout with no top and a man smoking a cigar accompanied by two small kids. It was a very unfamiliar scene to a twenty one year old used to a densely populated and heavily regulated war-torn Germany and more recently, the fast paced environs of New Jersey.

Rainer Glockle and Don Crader hit it off very well. Rainer grew to appreciate and prefer the people and culture of rural America. He found the rural people to be very resourceful and empathetic to the plight of a typical Stihl user, often times being users of Stihl themselves. It was during one of his many trips to Crader Distributing that Rainer and Don developed the first technical bulletin, a document that provided the dealer with a schematic explaining best technical procedure for adjusting the timing on a model 07 chainsaw. In time, the two of them designed bulletins addressing other issues. Design and distribution of technical bulletins was eventually adopted by Stihl America.

Pictured is a photo of Rainer examining a model 07 saw while it is running under a load on a dyno meter rigged up by Don Crader. The dyno meter allowed the saw to be run under a load in a service shop setting. The 07 experienced a fuel vapor lock problem primarily in Missouri during the summer of 1964. The same problem eventually turned up in other southern states but by then the problem had been diagnosed and the fix engineered. Rainer was instrumental in diagnosing the problem and the design change. Don Crader’s contraption helped him do so. Rainer believes the problem surfaced first at Crader since Crader had sold more saws than any other southern distributor at the time.

Gordon helped Rainer replace his 1958 Olds with a 1960 Cadillac convertible, helped him pack his bags and saw him off on a road trip all the way across America to California. Stihl was beginning to make giant inroads in the west and northwest and along with the increase in sales was the increase in need for technical expertise. Rainer relocated to San Leandro, CA where he helped Gordon and Harding establish a warehouse and distribution point and west coast presence. Once established, he spent little time at the warehouse and continued to travel, primarily in the west but also all points in America, where he was of most value.

Rainer traveled extensively throughout the US trouble shooting isolated technical issues, training distributor technicians and making countless dealer calls. Eventually the presentations became a mix of technical and sales training. Rainer developed a number of clever presentations that demonstrated Stihl’s superiority. When asked why Stihl’s developed much more power per pound than other brands Rainer explained the close tolerances of the piston and cylinder, in some cases ten times closer than McCulloch or Homelite. He demonstrated the close tolerances by removing the rings from the piston, inserting the piston into the cylinder, placing his finger over the spark plug hole and holding the assembly out for all to see. The piston wouldn’t drop out until he removed his thumb from the spark plug hole. Another convincing demonstration was to start a saw, lay it upside down, and take bets on how long it would run inverted. Some saws ran for hours before stopping from fuel exhaustion. One of the easiest obstacles he addressed was the concern that Stihl’s were metric. Rainer simply explained that all brands, even Homelite and McCulloch, used metric threads for the spark plug. When asked why, he explained that metric threads were more dense that American standard and consequently stronger. Almost instantly, metric threads became a selling feature.

Sales across the country grew rapidly and eventually Gordon realized that Rainer, although a Whiz Kid, couldn’t do it all. Rainer was given a choice of relocating to anywhere in the US. By then he’d grown very close to Dorsey Glover, a new Stihl distributor in Arkansas. Malvern remained Rainer’s base until his transfer to Sweden in the summer of 1971. Rainer was frequently referred to as the only German cowboy in captivity. During his seven years in America Rainer created what would become Stihl’s technical services and factory liaison program in America, became an American citizen, deputy sheriff, gained his pilot license, raised Aberdeen Angus and quarter horses, owned and flew a gyrocopter powered by a three Stihl 090s and a Cherokee 140, and more. It’s possible his most enduring contribution was the training of his replacement, a gentleman fresh out of the University of Iowa, Fred Whyte.

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