Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Visit to the Chubb Factory in 1883

I love vintage accounts of tackle factories, but they are so very, very rare. The following account by American Angler editor William C. Harris was run in the October 6, 1883 issue and was called “A Representative Factory: Rods, Mountings, Etc.” It gives an outstanding overview of the Vermont tackle factory of William C. Chubb, the legendary rod maker. It is one of the most detailed looks we have of an early American tackle factory.


The village of Post Mills, in Vermont, is beautifully located in the county of Orange. Passing through the village is the Ompompanoosuc River, wherein we found black bass, pickerel (up to six pounds,) sun perch ("kivers") yellow perch (pounders,) and a fish called locally the rock dace, growing to the heft of one and a-half pounds. On this river is located the fishing rod manufactory of Thomas H. Chubb, Esq., who now runs the largest factory devoted to this specialty in the United States, and equal if not superior in extent to any similar establishment in Europe.

A recent visit to Post Mills gave us an opportunity to call on Mr. Chubb, with whom our readers have been long acquainted through our advertising columns. A brief summary of what we saw, and a hint or two of the points in the manufacture of anglers' goods given us by Mr. C., will doubtless interest every angling reader of our paper.

The factory is situated at the south end of the village, and occupies an area of three acres. The main factory is one hundred and twenty feet long, by thirty-two feet in breadth, and four stories in height, including the basement. In addition thereto is a board or sawmill, used in sawing lumber for the factory, which is about two acres in extent. The factory is run by water through a fifty-two inch turbine wheel, giving eighty horse-power; in addition thereto, is a thirty horse-power steam boiler, which is mainly used for heating and drying. The saw mill is at the south of Fairlee Lake, a lovely sheet of water three miles in length by one in width; this lake furnishes the water power for the saw mill and is used as a reservoir (an inexhaustible water power) for running the main factory. In the basement of the factory, an area of one hundred and twenty by thirty-two feet, are found the large turbine wheel and the
lumber storage room. In the L adjacent it is the boiler room.

On the first floor is the mill room, where the sawing and turning of every description, from the largest butt of a bass rod to the smallest lance fly-tip is done. On this floor there are five turning gauge lathes, saws, boring machines, planes, etc. Adjoining is the machine room, which contains engine lathes, shaper, drill press, hand lathes, a large seven foot iron planer, and one of Blake & Johnson's (Waterbury, Conn.) largest presses for striking up reel caps, plates and ferrules. A tool room for dies, pattents, etc. adjoins the machine room.

In this connection we note that Mr. Ohubb has in his permanent employ a competent draftsman and pattern maker, and that every tool, machine or pattern used in the factory has been made therein. In the L on the first floor is the drying room, where the lumber is placed to season for use in the factory.

On the second floor front is the office, twenty by seventeen feet in size, where, by the bye, we saw one of the finest elk heads in the country. It is fifty-four inches between prongs, of which there are fourteen. Several extraordinarily fine chromos of black bass and brook trout are on the walls; a five foot alligator from Texas (the native State of Mr. Chubb) adorns the large sample case, while a mounted but life-like horned owl sits over the desk of the proprietor. Adjoining the office is the winding room, where the rings are put on and the rods silk-wrapped. The next room opposite the office is the dressing or cloak room of the female employees. Then comes the braizing room, in which girls are employed in the manufacture of guides, ring tips, tops, and all the small braizing required in the making of trimmings for rods. Adjoining this is the room used for storage of completed work. The next apartment, sixty by thirty-two feet in size, on the second floor, is tile brass finishing and fitting room, which is the working room for ferrule fitting, general brass work and jointing of rods. Nineteen men are employed in this room. The room for reel making comes next, where special reels are only made for first-class retail trade. We were shown in this room, a nickel-plated click reel of sixty yards capacity, of perfect and substantial workmanship, which Mr. Chubb sells at retail for $1. He also supplies reel-makers with castings, blanks, screws, etc., for making reels. In the L on the second floor is the polishing room, in which all the brass work is buffed and polished preparatory to nickeling. The next room adjoining is devoted to the nickel-plating, in which we found Mr. Geo. R. Huson, whose father was an old gun-repairer and rod-maker from New York City. The brass foundry is next, where the brass castings are made. There is also a room used for the manufacture of cloth cases for rods, and bottoms for camp chairs.

On the third floor comes consecutively: 1st. The store room; in which is stored ferrules, finished wood stock, etc., etc. 2nd. The varnish room, which is used for varnishing the cheaper grades of rods by machinery. 3rd. The room for the manufacture of paper boxes and bags for the special use of the business and for sale to the trade. The machines used in this room were made to order especially for Mr. Chubb. 4th. The staining and filling room. 5th. The rubbing-down room, in which the rods are rubbed down and polished preparatory to a flowing coat of varnish,. 6th. The shellac room.

The factory is heated throughout by steam, and one hundred gas-burners are supplied by a generator located some thirty feet distant from the front end of the building. Mr. Chubb employs between sixty and seventy workmen, and supplies the leading tackle jobbing houses with rods, rod mountings, landing net frames, camp chairs, etc., etc. When passing through the first floor we were much interested in the machine for making split bamboo rods. It was invented by the proprietor, and is the perfection of fine automatic machinery. We saw the rough strips placed in the machine, and in a moment held in our hand a symmetrically shaped strip, six of which were wound with thread, and fitted without a break or irregularity into each other, thus forming a complete and perfect section of split bamboo rod, made almost in the twinkling of an eye. It is this wonderful machine that enables the amateur rod-maker to get his materials at a trifling cost. We learn that Mr. Chubb finishes a complete mounted split bamboo rod, either three-joint bass or fly-rod, ready for ringing and varnishing, for $7.50.

The proprietor of this celebrated establishment came to Vermont after the civil war, having lost hiss health during active service therein, and naturally drifted into a line of business congenial to his tastes. Being a life-long angler, he became perforce a rod-maker, and from a comparatively small beginning, Mr. Chubb has now the most complete rod-factory known to us, wherefrom the amateur angler can get everything he wants, from a minute piece of pinning wire to the heaviest piece of stock or fitting used in making a rod; but be it remembered that Mr. Chubb does not furnish finished rods for the retail trade.

Mr. Chubb is aided in his management by his brother, Mr. Wm. B. Chubb, of Texas, who has charge of the financial and correspondence departments of the business, which is growing rapidly in minutiae of detail and commercial value.

-- Dr. Todd

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