Bamboo Bonzai

Bob Summers: (Part 2)
fly rods and realities

By Greg Frey

It would seem that Summers was about to enter some rocky times, but the transition to building rods under his own name was incredibly smooth. "A lot of notable people had come into the store, one of them being Ernie Schweibert," Summers said. "He was always poking his nose in the shop and seeing I was the one working [building the rods.] He gave me tremendous mention (in the magazine Trout) and it told about me being with the Young Company.

"Well, my phone hardly stopped ringing because there were a lot of people who knew the Young rod. There were a lot of people who also knew the story because they had seen me in the back room. They spread the word."

One thing that Summers brought with him from the Young rod was the action.

"They all have a different style that was unique to the person who built them. The Young was a more parabolic action that flexes into the handle. Dickerson had a little more swelled butt. Payne's were a little in-between. Mine are closer to the Young actions," Summers said. One of the major differences between a Young rod and a Summers rod is that Summers builds all the components to his rods, including the tube and rod sack, which is sewn by his wife, Evie. He makes about 50 rods a year now and his customers wait up two years for their rods to be completed. The cost of Summers rods range from $1,200 to $1,400. Most of the cost is for labor - each rod takes about 50 hours to build.

"In my case, it's mostly labor because I make all the parts. The reel seats start out as a piece of aluminum or nickle-silver bar stock. I prefer woods locally grown such as maple, black walnut or cherry. Ferrules start out as nickle-silver tubing. Most of the builders are buying their own material," he said.

When you enter Summers' workshop, it's plain to see that he is a fan of the late Henry Ford who was known for getting the most out of his workspace. Older machines and components fill every nook and cranny, with small pathways leading through the maze. Summers answered my astonishment with a smile. "A fat guy wouldn't work here," he said.

The shop itself is a shrine to Summers' ingenuity and problem-solving abilities. The lathes, mills and presses are mostly all vintage 1940s or 1950s machines. Almost all of them have been rebuilt or modified with inventions by Summers to build betters rods and components. A clever system of ducts designed by Summeers sucks dust and metal shavings from each work station. Entering the rod-building business out of high school and never attending a college or trade school, Summers has been naturally gifted with his problem-solving and engineering skills.

"I think we're getting a society in which everybody thinks they need to be told how to do it and they have to read a book on it," Summers said. "By the time I was 17, I was putting a crankshaft in my Ford V-8 car. Nobody ever showed me. Take it apart and as you take it apart you look at it. If I had my way, we would have been making all the parts before I was 20 years old. But they thought you had to farm that out." ~ Greg Frey

Next time the conclusion!

This article is excerpted from the July/August issue of Midwest Fly Fishing. We thank them for use permission.

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