October 5, 2023
Once in a while we need to take a break from the “honey do” list and start becoming familiar with our community. A trip to a nearby state park that commemorates the beginnings of the oil industry got me thinking about “origin stories” again. I’ve posted before about some of the interesting tales surrounding a few of the gear companies I have been associated with. Only a few began with the intention of making gears. The account of the man associated with drilling in what is now the park is similarly indirect. In his case, it was a dream of romancing a Native American beauty and being chased by her kinfolk through the forest. Someone fired an arrow at the fleeing suitor and it struck the ground causing a spurt of oil. Sometime later, the young man was visiting his brother’s homestead, “recognized” the scenery, and the brothers quickly found their “gusher.” The account reminded me of the preamble to The Beverly Hillbillies — there it was, immortalized at taxpayer expense on plaques in a state park. It was widely known in the 1850s that oil bubbled from the ground in Western Pennsylvania, so a family patriarch can be forgiven for making the story a bit more interesting. I certainly had no idea of getting into the gear trade back in 1971. I needed a job, had drafting skills, and applied for apprenticeships at several Milwaukee (WI) area companies. No doubt a different “me” would exist today if the mining shovel, crane, or motorcycle folks had called me in for an interview. Looking back, my hometown had more than its share of wonderful, world-class manufacturers where a kid could build a career. The new hometown celebrates its history, but seems to lack a plan for the future. Politicians talk a lot about job creation “strategies.” Unfortunately, many of those strategies seem as fanciful as a miss-fired arrow making the ground erupt in oil. What will be the spark that animates the next generation of gear manufacturers?