Thursday, January 3, 2008

Voices from the Past: Jim Cook

Jim Cook wrote for the Chicago Daily Herald for a number of years in the 1970s through the 1980s. Here is a nifty piece dating from 1982 that deals with the history of Plano, the great tackle box manufacturer.

Putting Plano on the Map

by Jim Cook

Fifty years ago, a little plastics molding plant in Plano, 60 miles southwest of Chicago, was content with making housings for appliances such as electric mixers, vacuum cleaner accessories and a variety of war products. It was an intimate, family-type operation with a dozen or so employees.

Today, Pete Henning represents the third generation of Hennings to work at the Plano Molding Company, the largest manufacturer of plastic fishing tackle boxes in the world.

"I remember my grandfather (Warren, the company's founder) as an avid fisherman," Pete, the vice president of manufacturing recalled at a recent fishing outing on Lake Michigan. "He'd go down to Florida every winter to fish. He was quite good.

"The thing that bothered him, though, was that his metal tackle box would bake in the Florida sun and rust in the Florida rain. He decided to try to make a plastic tackle box that would stand up to rain, sun and punishment."

In 1952, Piano began molding tackle boxes. Today, the plant employs over 200 people manufacturing 32 main-line tackle boxes and 15 utility boxes. Tackle box production now accounts for about 75 percent of Plano's total sales.

"The industry really took off," Pete says. "Initially we had trouble convincing people that plastic was tough enough to protect their fishing gear. They knew it wouldn't rust, but they were a little skeptical about its strength."

Playing a vital role in the infancy of a revolutionary injection rather than a compression plastic molding process in 1938, Piano's custom, high-impact tackle box soon began drawing the raves of anglers who were eager to trade heavy metal for the compact, lightweight containers.

Improved materials and chemicals have enhanced the product tremendously during the past 10 years. The tackle boxes coming out of the Plano warehouse today resemble stylish briefcases or suitcases and are as attractive on the outside as they are organized on the inside.

The new Sportster 1000, for example, is a combination fishing tackle box and cooler with room for sandwiches, a six-pack of drinks, camera, rain gear or even transporting live bait in the cooling capacity compartment. The Sportster, when closed, is just 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 8 inches high.

Plano tackle boxes have changed a bit in the quarter century since this article came out.

The new 1162 Magnum tackle box is two-sided with up to 62 storage compartments. A deep well on one side provides space for reel storage and for hanging spinner baits and other artificials. The box is compact and easily stored when closed, but the best feature is that the Amble Acrylite see-through lids allow you to find baits and other tackle instantly, before opening the box.

The list goes on and on — tackle boxes designed specifically for worm fishermen, spinner baiters, muskie anglers, salmon hunters — and even boxes with accessories that cater to anglers carrying pork rind jars.

On some models, Stay-Dri ribs in trays help dissipate moisture from lures to prevent rust, mildew and sticky plastic worms from becoming glued together. Drawers can become customize with moveable dividers to accommodate combinations of worms, spinnerbaits, big plugs, jig heads, reels, stringers and more.

The variety of boxes, requiring different tooling, affects the rate at which they can be produced in the Plano plant. The typical procedure is for a plastic pellet to be melted, injected into a steel mold under tremendous pressure, dipped into cold water to cool, and finally popped out of the mold to await assembly. Rivet machines help attach brass tray risers, latches and handles.

"The trick is the production schedule," Henning said. "Having the right boxes at the right time. Our natural prime production times are spring and Christmas. Fishermen keep us busy in spring, but you'd be surprised how many wives and girlfriends buy tackle boxes at Christmas. It's a prety safe gift to buy."

-- Dr. Todd

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