I REMEMBER PAPA BEAR
Chapter ONE – THE CREATION OF “FRED BEAR”
A lot of people over the years have thought that Fred Bear was at least part Native American because of his name. Not so. The Bears were English, Swiss and German. His mother’s Drawbaugh family was English and Dutch.
His mother’s uncle, Daniel Drawbaugh, invented the telephone in 1867, but lost out on the final court decision by just one vote on whether he or Alexander Graham Bell should be given credit for having done so. Obviously, creativity and inventiveness ran deep in Fred Bear’s genes. And Bear family tradition claims that the judge that cast the deciding vote was found to hold a large amount of Bell stock upon his death.
How this shy Pennsylvania farmboy from the Cumberland Valley ended up becoming a revered outdoor legend is due almost entirely to his determination to make something of himself doing that which he loved best—hunting and fishing. Today’s young people can learn a very important lesson from Fred Bear’s life.
Fred very easily could have spent his entire life in his home area of Pennsylvania working at the Carlisle Frog & Switch Manufacturing Company, or even in the Detroit area working in pattern-making or some other creative trade. But that he did not is a fascinating story of how he was able to use his unique and memorable name, his talents, his interests, and his attention to detail to build a household name among sportsmen and women around the world in the 20th century. And he began it on a shoestring budget using only his ingenuity and persistence to finally accomplish his goal.
Now anyone who accomplishes something like that must have a healthy dose of self-awareness and drive. And this can be a tricky thing to handle, balancing the ego with the need to build the name recognition. I’ve never known anyone who did it better than Fred, or who was more humble about his accomplishments. Proud of what he accomplished, of course, but never egotistical. Naturally, building an image was what the game was all about, but he never let that overshadow his basic down-home farmboy personality. He was always cognizant that his public persona should not get in the way of his private life.
BEAR FAMILY ROLE MODELS
Researchers tell us that for most of us, our basic beliefs and value systems are set by the time we’re 10 years old. They’re hardwired into our internal operating systems. And Fred had several immediate family members to look up to as far as style and creative salesmanship were concerned. His grandfather, Abner Bear, was a salesman for the Henry Diston Company, manufacturers of sawmill equipment. He was a tall, well-built, imposing figure with a handlebar moustache and was usually sporting a Stetson hat. I suppose it was from Grandpa Bear’s example that Fred got his idea of wearing a Borsalino hat for quick photo identity in his early hunting years. I never thought to ask him about it. Abner Bear also sold farm machinery and used some very creative demonstrations at state fairs and the like in doing so. Fred undoubtedly got his innate salesmanship and promotional smarts from Grandpa Bear.
Uncle Charley Bear, his father’s younger brother, on the other hand, left the farm and went to New York City where he was a skilled penman and illustrator for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He was an impeccable dresser, self-assured and respected by people around the country and, indeed, around the world. Fred visited him several times in New York as a boy and was very impressed with how sophisticated his uncle was and how well he seemed to get along with everyone from doormen to cab drivers to waiters. Another valuable lesson that Fred would never forget. Fred always seemed to be completely at ease, whether on Fifth Avenue in New York City or in a tar-paper hunting shack on the Alaskan Peninsula. I spent quality time with him in both places.
Then there was his real boyhood idol —- his father, Harry Bear -— a skilled machinist. From his dad he learned to shoot, to appreciate the outdoor life and to respect both the animals he hunted as well as all wildlife and nature. His conservation ethic and sense of sportsmanship came from Harry. He was one of the finest rifle shots in all of Pennsylvania in those days, as well as a skilled trapshooter. And when Fred was 8 years old, his father gave him a .22 rifle—a single-shot, swing-bolt Quakenbush. When Fred later got hooked on archery, Harry also took up the sport and got very good at it. Matter of fact, while we were all still living in Grayling, Michigan, Fred gave me his father’s archery tackle box since he knew that I would care for it as if it were my own father’s. After Fred died, I gave it to Frank Scott to put on display in the Fred Bear Museum.
Fred knew of my deep feeling for history. After all, I had been documenting his life for decades in photos and print, but he also knew of my passion for the space program and my documenting a part of that in my book “All We Did Was Fly To The Moon.”
So it really was no surprise one day when he walked into my office carrying a couple of treasures from his service in 1922 with the 104th Cavalry of the Carlisle National Guard during an ugly strike in the state’s western coal mines. Fred had joined the Guard when he was just 16. He dropped his old cavalry saddlebags on my desk that day saying, “I thought you might like to have these.” Needless to say, I was thrilled to death. He had converted one side of the saddlebags to hold his camera equipment during his early filming days on horseback.
Another day he dropped off the canteen that he had used during his Guard service. And a third day I found the oil can he had used in the Guard sitting on my desk when I returned to my office from a meeting. He had signed both of them. He did keep his footlocker at home in the Gator Room in Gainesville, and following his death it was passed on in the family.
All of the interesting details of Fred’s life in Detroit after leaving Pennsylvania as soon as he hit the age of 21 are in Fred’s biography written by Charlie Kroll. I produced the book and contributed a small portion of the manuscript. I won’t repeat that part of this interesting story here, other than to say that Fred got hooked on archery and the idea of bowhunting in 1927 while in Detroit. There, he and his friend, Ray Stannard, went to the Adams Theatre and saw Art Young’s “Alaskan Adventures” bowhunting film. Then, to further cement the attraction, he later met Art Young at a Rotary Club meeting in Detroit, and the two became friends. Matter of fact, they worked on archery equipment together in Fred’s basement. Art Young eventually showed Fred how to make double loop Flemish bowstrings. I’m sorry to say that one day Fred stopped in my office in Gainesville, showed me photos of this same type of bowstring and asked me if I thought I could learn to make them. Like a dummy I was all wrapped up in writing catalog copy and never took him up on his challenge. An opportunity missed.
FRED ON FILM
Art Young died the year I was born, 1935. It was the same year that Fred killed his first white-tailed deer with a bow and arrow in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Fred and I had an interesting experience in the 1980s when Art Young’s nephew came to Gainesville and we videotaped he and Fred talking about Art Young’s “Alaskan Adventures” silent film. Our intention was to sandwich their reminiscences around the actual film and offer it as part of our Fred Bear library of videos and films. I wanted to add a soundtrack to perk up the film, but Fred wanted it to remain in its original “silent movie” configuration. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong to ask the management of Bear Archery at the time for funding to do so, and somewhere this footage is collecting dust in the Bear Archery company vault. Or, it might have been passed on to Bass Pro Shops when they recently purchased the contents of the Fred Bear Museum. That is, unless it was accidentally disposed of by someone not appreciating its historical importance to our sport.
In 1975 Fred and I drove to Detroit to shoot part of the film we were working on at the time—“Rural Route One, Grayling, Michigan.” I had suggested to Fred and Bob Kelly that it would make a good addition to our Fred Bear film library. They readily agreed, and a filming budget and script were subsequently approved. Dick Shanahan, producer in Detroit, and his assistant, Selda Gibbons, tackled the production for us. I supervised the project. If you’ve never seen it, it showed how we made recurve bows and other archery accessories in those days.
We needed to have Fred do an introduction on camera; however, unlike the manufacturing end of the film where extraneous noise didn’t matter, we did not want outside noise interfering with Fred’s message. And that would’ve been almost impossible since Fred’s office sat right next to the machine shop in the Grayling plant, and the noise from the adjacent office area could also have interfered with the sound track. So we loaded up enough stuff from his office in Grayling and took it all down to Detroit with us.
There we reassembled everything on a sound stage and shot the scenes. As always, when working with Dick Shanahan and Selda Gibbons, the filming went very well and was a “happy set.” Dick was always loose and a true professional, and Selda had a tremendous knack for keeping everything on track, including matches between shots. When one makes a film, they are not always shot with more than one camera, and after one angle is filmed, the camera is then moved to another viewpoint. Everything must remain the same or the two different views won’t match up in the final editing. And Selda was a master at making sure this happened.
MOTOR CITY MEMORIES
After the filming, Fred wanted to drive around Detroit and show me some of his old haunts. As always I had his old Nikon F2 camera and lenses along and was able to capture photos of him at two of his three Bear Archery locations in Detroit. The third location had burned down in the 1960s, shortly after I had started working for him.
The first place we drove by was the first house that he had lived in during 1923 on Lothrop Avenue when he first went to Detroit and worked at Packard Motor Car Company. He regaled me with the story about the friend of his who had come to Detroit with him from their home area in Pennsylvania. It seems this fellow had been courting the sheriff’s sister back home and got her in a family way before he left town, without knowing that he had done so. One day the sheriff showed up at the house in Detroit. When Fred’s friend answered the door, the sheriff simply asked, “How’d you like to be my brother-in-law?”
“Well, I think that would be a fine idea,” the embarrassed fellow quickly answered, and the two left town that day for the long drive back home. Fred hunched up his shoulders and laughed when he told me that story.
BEAR ARCHERY IS BORN
The first Bear Archery manufacturing location was an old commercial garage building on Tierman Avenue and Begole in Detroit. When the Jansen tire cover plant that Fred and his friend, Charles Piper, worked at burned down, putting them out of work, the two decided to pool their savings of $600 and go into business. They bought a couple of second-hand sewing machines and some other equipment and rented this small garage building on Tierman. When I left Bear Archery in 1989, not long after Fred died, one of those original sewing machines was still sitting in the back of the plant. Fred not only used it a great deal over the years, but he also kept it for sentimental reasons. Fred and Piper set up business as the Bear Products Company. Their main business was making silk screen advertising banners for the Chrysler Corporation. But off in a corner of the building Fred started making archery equipment. Bear Archery was born, although not yet officially.
I could only imagine the memories that were going through Fred’s mind that morning we visited as he peered through the window of his old building. What a struggle that must have been, to start a company on a shoestring with all the unknowns that go with that sort of venture, and especially to do it in the depths of the Great Depression. Most small businesses fail, and it takes one heck of a lot of stubbornness and grit to make a go of it. And luck.
After a year or two, the business was moved into a larger building on Burlingame and Broad Street in Detroit. So on our sentimental trip that day, Fred guided me to that location, where I took a second photo of him. By the time of our visit, this second Bear Archery location had been turned into a Baptist church.
As I mentioned, Fred couldn’t show me his third plant in Detroit that they had moved to in 1939. It had been destroyed in the racial riots of the 1960s when much of Detroit was burned. However, it was an old Maxwell automobile garage and was located at 2611 Philadelphia Avenue and Linwood. It was 60 feet by 100 feet in size. From there Fred moved the business up to the tiny town of Grayling, Michigan in 1947.
But how did Fred get to the point in the development of Bear Archery that he eventually would see his annual sales reaching into the tens of millions of dollars? The following is a letter he wrote in the spring of 1938 from the Burlingame Avenue plant site in Detroit. He, of course, was making bows for himself and his friends prior to this, but now he was thinking of going into bow production as a business.
BOWHUNTING GRABS HOLD
In 1937 Fred organized the first Michigan bowhunting season near his old stomping grounds in St. Helens, Michigan. He had an old log cabin and a sign for it that read “Pope Hall” in honor of Dr. Saxton Pope, who had inspired him to try bowhunting. Fred named the area Camp Sherwood in honor of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest.
Fred had become active in promoting bowhunting and also had a hand in helping get the first Wisconsin bowhunting season established in 1934 and the first Michigan season started in 1936. Naturally, the primary person who made this happen in Wisconsin was Roy Case, who was the first white man to kill a deer in Wisconsin with the bow and arrow. He downed a buck in 1930 in Vilas County, Wisconsin, and our sport was off and running.
In 1941 Wisconsin established a nonresident deer license for a fee of $5, and 182 out-of-state people bought such a license—eight of them harvesting a deer. Fred was one of those eight successful bowhunters and in that year he also joined the fledgling Wisconsin Bowhunters. Incidentally, Fred’s deer was a nice 7-point buck. Membership at that time in the WBA was $1 a year. Among the Wisconsin Bowhunters board of governors at that time were Larry Whiffen of Milwaukee and Roy Case of Racine.
Larry and Fred had become friends, and, as a matter of fact, in 1939 Fred, his first wife, Marie, and Larry made a cross-country automobile trip out to San Francisco to shoot in the NAA Tournament at Golden State Park. And when the archery manufacturers first set up their trade association in 1953, Larry was our first volunteer president. The organization was actually founded in Wisconsin at the Three Rivers Archery Tournament, and Fred was one of its charter founders. The archery manufacturers and dealers had originally conceived the idea in 1947 at the National Archery Tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. When it was founded, the organization was known as the Archery Manufacturers and Dealers Association (AMADA).
I had the honor of becoming the first full-time president/CEO of the same organization (by then called AMO and now ATA) in 1991 after Fred died and I had retired from Bear Archery. I served in that capacity until I retired near the end of 2000. And during that 10-year period I always tried to do things the way Fred and Bob Kelly had drilled into my being. Always trying to think of the good of the sport first and trying to bring as many people around the table as possible so that all opinions and sides of an issue could be heard. My old sidekick, Pat Wiseman-Snider helped me run the organization during that time, and about halfway through our service to AMO, Doug Engh joined our staff. But back to Fred’s story.
TARGET ARCHERY GAINS POPULARITY
Fred had also made a name for himself as a target archer in Michigan and knew most of the archers in the state. Here is a list of the ribbons he won, taken from his old scrapbook. Although it is Fred’s printing in his scrapbook, I would bet that his first wife, Marie, was the one who originally started it. It would have been out of character for Fred to have done so. Here, then, are Fred’s target archery accomplishments:
You’ll notice in Fred’s target archery records that there is a gap between 1939 and 1945. At that time Fred became deeply involved in building bows and arrows and his leather products, as well as doing war production work. As a result, he did not take time to participate in organized target archery as such. However, he did continue to go bowhunting so that he could gain publicity for his small archery company in Detroit. Toward the end of the war he did do a small amount of target archery, but his avid days as a target archer were over.
SHOW ON THE ROAD
Fred also became very active in the 1930s and 40s shooting archery exhibitions on the sportsmen’s show circuit in the Midwest. These were generally weeklong events, or even longer, and took time out of his work schedule at his small plant in Detroit. But he justified the time away since he not only shot the archery exhibitions in front of packed audiences to help build an interest in archery, but he also traded his shooting exhibitions for free booth space. There he could display his archery equipment and provide attendees with the opportunity to try shooting the bow and arrow. Here is a list of the sportsmen’s shows he took part in during 1942, as well as a list of some of the other acts. Fred was billed as the “World’s Greatest Archer!” They generally did two performances a day, one at 3:30 p.m., another at 9:30 p.m.
February 21 to March 1, 1942 March 7 to 15, 1942 International Sportsmen’s Show Southwest Sportsmen’s Show International Amphitheater Municipal Auditorium Chicago, Illinois St. Louis, Missouri
March 21 to 29, 1942 April 4 to 12, 1942 American/Canadian Northwest Sportsmen’s Show Sportsmen’s Show Municipal Auditorium Public Auditorium Minneapolis, Minnesota Cleveland, Ohio
The List of Acts
- Hal Totten – NBC Ace Sports Announcer, Ray Dean – Dean of Sports Show Announcers
- Sons of Legionnaires – Square Post No. 232, Squadron National Champions
- Chief Chibiaboos – Chippewa Indian from Minnesota-Indian Songs
- Chief Evergreen Tree – Pueblo Indian from Mexico City – Bird and Animal Imitator
- Log Rolling – Watson Peck, Bear River, Nova Scotia; Willard Jack, Bear River, Nova Scotia; Leo Wagner, Barss Corner, Nova Scotia; Warren Rhodenizer, Barss Corner, Nova Scotia.
- “Playboy” – Diamond D. Dewey and the only trained Buffalo drive.
- World’s Champion Professional Caster – Tony Accetta, Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Lan Tech, Crack Drill Team – Cadet 1st Lt. Leonard Stelk, Chicago; Cadet 1st Lt. Walter Miller, Chicago
- Tub Racing and Log Sawing – Watson Peck, Willard Jack, Leo Wagner, Warren Rhodenizer
- Dog Retrieving Exhibition – Nelson Rodelius and George Brown, Chicago. Exhibition of Amateur Dog Handling.
- Northwest Mounties – Glenn Morning, Warren Foster and Carl Sandberg-Canada
- Exhibition Table Tennis – Bill Holzrichter, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio Champion, Bob Anderson, Chicago
- World’s Greatest Archer – Fred Bear, Detroit, Michigan
- Parachute Jump -Carl Rupert, Wheeling, Ill. The only free-fall indoor parachute jump in the world.
Fred’s act consisted of shooting aerial targets thrown up by an assistant, shooting blunts through wood to show the hitting power of an arrow, and shots at targets while leaning over backward. Not an easy feat! He also did long distance shots at targets high above the audience, as well as skip shots off the floor into targets.
In his archery booth he and his first wife, Marie, blew up balloons and invited people to shoot at them with bow and arrow. That’s how he met Frank Scott in 1939. Scotty, as those of us close to him always called him, was also working the show circuit with his family, “The Shooting Mansfields.” They were a touring Vaudeville act skilled in rifle-shooting and knife-throwing. Fred met Scotty, asked his father if he could hire him to work in his booth blowing up balloons, and permission was granted. The two hit it off so well that at the end of the show season Fred went to Scotty’s father again and said that he’d like to take the lad back to Detroit with him to work in his small archery operation. Again, permission was given, and the remainder of Frank Scott’s life in archery was set.
His last 25 years or so were spent as curator of The Fred Bear Museum, first in Grayling when he retired as a field sales manager and later in Florida after we moved the museum down there. During that move Scotty coordinated things in Grayling packing up everything, and I coordinated their arrival and storage in Ocala, Florida. We later moved the things into a display area in Gainesville at our plant. As I mentioned earlier, the Fred Bear Museum was sold to Bass Pro Shops and has become part of their incredible complex in Springfield, Missouri.
Scotty’s earlier years were out on the road selling archery equipment to sporting goods dealers and “mom and pop” archery shops and doing all of those things an archery salesman does to help build his sport and territory. These hard-working fellows put in thousands of hours each year at not only their Monday-Friday jobs calling on archery dealers, but then on weekends they work archery tournaments, sportsmen’s outings and just about anywhere that there are groups of people who might be talked into shooting a bow and arrow. I have always had the greatest admiration and respect for our cadre of professional archery salesmen and their wives who put up with this craziness in their marriages.
Next: Chapter 1b