A Razorhead To The Moon.
For many years sporting goods manufacturers gathered in Chicago each winter to introduce their new products to dealers from around the country. They exhibited under the auspices of the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), a Chicago-based organization. First the exhibits were in a downtown hotel, the Palmer House, but they soon outgrew that and had to move to the old Navy Pier that jutted out into Lake Michigan. This was a huge barn of a building, cold and drafty in winter from the fierce winds that came off the lake to give the city its nickname of “The Windy City.”
When I first joined Bear Archery in 1966 Navy Pier was still the site of this annual trade show, and the following frigid January I got my first taste of the NSGA Show. That year we introduced the new Super Kodiak bow. Fred had designed and tested this new bow, and we featured it on the cover and as the lead offering in our 1967 mid-year Bear Hunting Bow catalog as Fred’s “New Personal Hunting Bow.” For years the Kodiak model had been Fred’s personal choice in hunting bows. Now with the Super Kodiak, featuring high-compression materials, the bow had greater solidity, balance and smoother power. Fred field-tested this new model on African lion, Cape buffalo, polar bear, grizzly bear, mule deer and white-tailed deer. While Fred appeared on the cover of this mid-year catalog, my old friend and mentor, Tom Blee, was featured with the bow at full draw on the inside spread. For those of you who wonder about things like this, the bow was priced at $99.95, including a carrying case.
A few years earlier a new facility opened on the southern edge of Chicago, also along the lake, and it was called McCormick Place. The NSGA Show intended to move there; however, suddenly in mid-January 1967, a huge fire engulfed the facility, and it burned to the ground. One security guard was killed in the fire that started in one of the booths at 2 a.m.
Normally trade shows are scheduled in facilities many years ahead of time. When I helped run the AMO trade show after Fred died, we’d work three and four years out into the future on booking an exhibit hall. So the NSGA was in a real bind for the following year’s trade show. They soon discovered, to everyone’s relief, that Astrohall and the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, had those dates open. So, in 1969 the trade show moved to Houston.
I was especially thrilled to be going to Houston. Following World War II my Uncle “Mutchie,” on my mother’s Hungarian side of the family, had returned from Europe where he had worked on the secret weapon America had developed known as “radar.” He filled my head with stories of how German scientists had developed the V-2 rockets and fired them into London. He and his unit had helped track them. And now that the war was over, he said, these same German scientists could figure out a way to use rockets to fly men to the moon.
Prior to the war, Uncle “Mutchie” (Mathew Besyner) had built his own telescope, and once had taken me out next to the Old Hungarian’s grape arbor where my widowed immigrant grandmother, Kata Lovrencic Horvath Besynei, rented a small house, and let me look at the moon through his telescope. “Little Grandma,” as we kids called her, and my grandfather Frank Horvath had come to America from the small village of Uljanik, Croatia, in what was then part of Hungary early in the century. Unfortunately, he died in the 1918 flu epidemic, so I never knew him.
I think I was about 5 years old at the time I first really looked at the moon that night. It fascinated me, as did those post-war stories about how men could someday fly to the moon. People laughed at my uncle, both before the war and after because he was so adamant about this possibility.
An Eye on the Sky
So it was that I got hooked on the idea of space travel. In 1955, while still in college at Indiana University, I saved my first newspaper when President Eisenhower announced to the world that the United States would put up a satellite around the Earth in 1957. In essence, America gave the Soviet Union a date to shoot at to beat us in what would later be called the “race in space.” Before my collection was completed 45 years later, I had saved nearly 5,000 similar space program newspapers, books, official NASA flight transcripts, magazines, congressional reports and tapes. In 2001 I donated this extensive collection, believed to be the only private collection of its kind in the world, to the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. It had been valued at $145,000 by a respected appraiser of historical documents. It will be used by historians, writers and students to learn more about the early days of our space program, as well as about how it fit into the context of what was going on in the world at the time.
And my passionate interest in space travel led me to pile my wife, Alice, and our three small children, Beth, Mike and Scotty, into our red 1965 Pontiac Tempest convertible in July 1969, and drive down to the Kennedy Space Center to see the historic launch of Apollo 11, our first manned landing on the moon. We did not even have room reservations, but lucked out when we arrived by all cramming into a small rental travel trailer on the parking lot of one of the local motels. We watched the launch from a bank parking lot in Titusville across the Indian River from the launch pad. It was on this trip that the idea of writing a book about the space program first crept into my mind.
Before we climbed onto the plane to Houston for that first relocated NSGA trade show in 1969, I remember talking to Fred, Kelly, Shirley Bonamie, Pat Wiseman, Donna Patton and some of the other people in the office about how neat it would be if we could actually meet an astronaut. Little did I know what was in store for us.
The Astronauts Arrive
Men who fly high-performance jet aircraft, especially those who are combat fighter pilots in war, like some of our early astronauts were, can admire someone who also takes risks and hunts dangerous big game animals armed only with a bow and arrow. They know what it is to live on the “edge.” These young astronauts, many of whom were also hunters and fishermen, grew up reading stories and watching television shows of Fred Bear’s daring bowhunting adventures. And, so, once the trade show opened there in Houston, our Bear Archery booth was awash in young astronauts, the very men who were in training to fly to the moon and make history. They all wanted to meet Fred Bear.
At that trade show, and subsequent visits to Houston, we met almost all of the Apollo astronauts and most of them who’d done the earlier Mercury and Gemini flights. The list included Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Gordon Cooper, Pete Conrad, Al Bean, Vance Brand, Jerry Carr, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke, Joe Engle, Ron Evans, Jim Irwin, Jack Lousma, Jim Lovell, Ed Mitchell, Stu Roosa, and Al Worden. And, as it turned out, Jack Lousma, a Michigan native, had often spent his summers as a youth vacationing in Grayling. I would later meet many others, including Dick Scobee, El Onizuka and Ron McNair. The last three died aboard Challenger when it exploded high above the Kennedy Space Center.
The morning after our first day at the trade show that year, Bob Kelly and I and a couple of other Bear guys met Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper for breakfast in the Hotel America where we were staying. After reading of his exploits on his Mercury Faith 7 flight in May 1963, and on his Gemini V flight with Pete Conrad in August 1965, I was struck with how down-to-earth this nice guy was. Easy to talk to, he listened as much as he talked, if not more, and he was genuinely interested in us and in our sport. At that time, he was also embroiled in a political fight in NASA and in the astronaut office on who would command Apollo 14 to the moon. He lost that flight to Alan Shepard and would never make his own flight to the moon. Shepard had been grounded due to an inner ear injury, but had a secret operation to correct the problem and won the political scrap to command the third flight to actually land on the lunar surface.
Two of these astronauts whom we met that year in Houston, were particularly hooked on archery: Joe Henry Engle of Chapman, Kansas and Walt Cunningham of Creston, Iowa. Engle and Neil Armstrong were the only two American astronauts who came out of the pioneering X-15 rocket plane program. Joe had flown 16 X-15 flights, three of them into what was considered “outer space.” Of course, Neil became the first man to walk on the moon. And the Apollo 11 flight was in its final training stages when we made that first visit to Houston. Sad to say, I never did meet Neil Armstrong, but sat within five feet of him on a VIP bus at one of the Apollo launches. Of all the astronauts, other than Joe Engle and Jim Adamson, though, I would have to say that Neil has been the most helpful to me in my research over the years, always answering my letters to him and even providing me with things out of his file to use. He is a quiet, gentle giant of a man, much in the mold of Charles Lindberg, who also shunned the spotlight.
Joe Engle was bumped off the last lunar flight by NASA so that a Harvard University trained geologist, Dr. Harrison Schmidt, could give a scientist’s view of moon exploration. Joe had been scheduled to be the lunar module pilot on Apollo 17 and would have walked on the moon with Gene Cernan. Joe gallantly hid his disappointment and stayed around NASA for the next 10 years helping develop the space shuttle, test piloting the non-orbital Enterprise shuttle mockup, then commanding the second shuttle flight aboard Columbia, and another later one in command of Discovery before retiring as an astronaut. Twenty years later, he was still involved with the U.S. space program in an advisory capacity.
Walt Cunningham had flown aboard Apollo 7 with Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele in October 1968, the first flight after the fatal Apollo One fire on the pad that had killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. It took a great deal of “the right stuff” to climb aboard Apollo 7 after the Apollo 1 tragedy.
Astronauts Join Fred’s Club
The astronauts trainer, Joe Garino, was also an archery enthusiast, and so it was that in 1970 Joe Engle, Walt Cunningham and Joe Garino traveled to Detroit’s Cobo Hall to shoot in the big winter indoor archery tournament, The Bear American, held there that year and sponsored by Bear Archery. Engle, Cunningham and Garino also became three of the first members of The Fred Bear Sports Club that we announced at that tournament. They were joined at that time by television actors William Shatner and James Drury. Also, professional archers Frank Gandy, Vic Berger, John Kleman, Vince De Lorenzo and Clarence Kozlowski were invited to be among the first members of the Club. I stood off to the side when the photo of the original Fred Bear Sports Club members was taken there in Cobo Hall, just as proud as I could be that the Club was finally getting off the ground.
In the late 1960s, early ’70s, I was the northern Indiana fundraising director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. This was the childhood leukemia center founded by actor Danny Thomas. Their fundraising office was actually located in Indianapolis, Indiana, so I established a good relationship with those folks. At one time they even invited me to come to work for them. At any rate, with Fred’s help I was able to get four of the astronauts to make radio spots for St. Jude’s that we then distributed nationally to help in fundraising. The four were Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan, Al Worden and Dr. Joe Allen.
In subsequent visits to Houston for the NSGA Show and the Super Market Institute we were able to spend additional time with the astronauts, usually in their offices in Building 4 at the Manned Spacecraft Center (later renamed the Johnson Space Center after President Lyndon B. Johnson). We shared dinners with them as well as time at their local watering hole, The Golden Chariot. They always took us over to watch the training going on across the street in their lunar module and command module simulators.
During another visit to the Astrohall/Astrodome complex we introduced a packaged archery concept for family beginners called “Instant Archery.” It was during this visit that I helped teach Dr. Ed Mitchell to shoot a bow and arrow. Ed and I and some other folks also talked at that time with Art Brady of Victor Golf about how neat it would be to shoot an arrow on the moon or drive a golf ball. I’ve often wondered if Ed Mitchell then went back to the astronaut office that day and suggested the idea to his partner, Alan Shepard, who did just that on their joint Apollo 14 walk upon the moon in February 1971. I never thought to ask either one of them about that possibility.
They never did shoot an arrow on the moon for us, but they did take a Bear Razorhead to the Moon on a later Apollo flight. As a result of the hours spent with Ed Mitchell during this and other visits to Houston, he invited some of us to his Apollo 14 launch. So it was that Bob Kelly, his wife, Jeanie Kelly, Bear sales manager Bill Sparks and I flew down to Orlando and the Kennedy Space Center and attended the Apollo 14 launch as guests of the crew. We were provided with VIP passes to sit in the closest area to the launch pad near the huge Vehicle Assembly Building. In those same stands that day were Neil Armstrong, Juan Carlos (who eventually became King of Spain) and his wife, presidential advisor Henry Kissinger and many other celebrities. I stood out near the rope that cordoned off the VIP area at the moment of launch and secretly held my shirt open so I could feel the shock waves off the mighty Saturn V rocket as it lifted its 6.5 million pounds off the Earth. It was a heady experience between rain showers moving in from the west.
Another of the young astronauts we met at the Bear Archery booth that first visit was Al Worden of Jackson, Michigan. Naturally, being fellow Michiganders we struck up a friendship, which was not difficult to do with the cordial Worden. So it was that my wife, Alice, and I were invited to be guests of Al and his crew to their Apollo 15 launch in July 1971. We again drove from our home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, down to the Cape, this time with room reservations ahead of time. We enjoyed the preflight briefing for VIP’s and the tour of the launch facilities.