Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Review: Joseph H. Beelart's Oregon Bamboo

Thursday Review:
Joseph H. Beelart, Jr.'s Oregon Bamboo

With its amazing geographical diversity and location, Oregon has always been noted for its sportfishing. Articles dating back to the 1850s and 1860s talk about the various kinds of fishing available to these early pioneers, and fishing tackle was brought north from California to keep the Oregonians stocked with hooks, line, and rods and reels.

A recent book, Oregon Bamboo (Bend, OR: Maverick Publications, 2006) by Joseph Beelart, Jr., seeks to put into historical perspective the contributions of bamboo rodmakers in his home state. It is a fascinating look at an almost completely unknown (at least outside of the West Coast) aspect of fishing history.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first three cover historical Oregon rodmakers, post-WWII rodmakers, and current builders. Chapter Four deals with rod restorers, Chapter Five on original equipment makers, Chapter Six on bamboo enthusiasts, and Chapter Seven is a small selection of essays on fishing in Oregon. Oregon Bamboo also has a number of handy appendices.

The vast majority of the book was based on interviews Beelart conducted across the state, both with surviving relatives of rodmakers long since passed, and current builders, some of whom are among the best known in America (Daryll Whitehead being just one of them). As such, this book has quite a journalistic feel to it, as if the reader is being allowed to sit in on a private conversation. It can be a bit cumbersome at times, but overall the style sets the book apart from many other works written on the subject, and lends it a unique flavor and voice. The book would have been improved with professional editing (for example, both Divine and Granger are misspelled throughout the book), and it is in desperate need of an index. But these are minor quibbles; overall, the book is a solid read.

The subject matter is of real note to anyone with a passing interest in rodmaking and fishing history. Many, many builders profiled have not had much--if any--exposure to a national audience. This is particularly true of such early Oregon makers as Mark L. Sturges, Harry Hobson, and the Baird clan of Eugene. Harry Hobson, of Lyon, was the most interesting of these figures to me, having built in the 1930s a thriving rod shop in an old log cabin.

But most of Beelart's book is about recent and current rodmakers, and it is clear there is a thriving community of builders in Oregon. Ed Hartzell, Stephen Kiley, Daryll Whitehead, Chris McDowell, Bruce Howell, and Howard Schelske are just a few of the makers Beelart covers in depth. The most interesting interview has to be the section on A.J. Thramer -- who certainly did not pull punches when he talked about rodmaking, both past and present. While I didn't agree with everything Mr. Thramer said, I found it fascinating reading nonetheless.

The section on rod restorers (Dwight Lyons in particular) and original equipment manufacturers (including Bellinger) were short but interesting, and the profile of noted collectors/dealers, including Dan Brock, was also a welcome addition.

Overall, this book is a groundbreaking effort to capture the history and philosophy of a number of rodbuilders and affiliated individuals. It would be of great interest to anyone interested in fly rods, their history and manufacture, and fishing history in general.

The book can be difficult to locate--I recently bought a softcover edition for $24.95 from Shady Cove Fly Shop in Oregon--but keep in mind that you may end up paying substantially more for this work on the used book market (copies begin at $45.00 on Bookfinder and $62.99 on Amazon). But it is definitely worth owning.

-- Dr. Todd

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