Fisherman, Innovator, Inventor, Leader, Legend
Lew Childre was a pioneer in the fishing tackle industry.
He was decades ahead of his time with his innovations in producing Cane Poles.
When he progressed into making Graphite Fishing Rods, he was again decades ahead of his time and was an industry leader. He set the standard for Graphite Fishing Rods (Lew’s Speed Stick).
Then, he did it again with his innovative designs for Bait Cast Fishing Reels (Lew’s Speed Spool).
Anyone who knows even a little history of the fishing industry knows the aforementioned facts. However, even the most knowledgeable scholars of the industry don’t know the story behind Lew’s success or the people and events that helped him become a leader in the industry.
His grandfather was C. T. Childre who served his community as a Judge.
Lew’s father was a performer. Although he had completed Pre-Med Studies at the University of Alabama, he developed his skills as a musician and comedian. Many performers in the 20’s and 30’s had unsuccessfully attempted to make their mark in Country Music. However, Lew Childre (the performer) had a unique style and “Down Home Alabama” personality that allowed him to relate to his audiences in a very special way. Over the years, he performed with some of the legends of Country Music, String Bean, Earnest Tubb, Hank Snow, and Red Foley (just to name a few). If you don’t recognize some of those legends from the Grand Ole Opry, you are probably not a country music fan and under the age of 50.
During the time Lew the performer was making his mark in country music, Lew Childre the legend in the fishing industry was selling cane poles in Foley, Alabama. He grew his own Bamboo and baked them in the ovens he built. His cane poles brought a premium price because his loyal customers knew they were of extremely high quality.
Here is where this story starts to give you some little known facts that can only come from family and very close friends of our Legend. I have been acquainted with Legend Lew’s son Casey. Most people familiar with the fishing industry know that Lew was killed in a plane crash in 1976. Casey Childre and his son John were also in that plane and survived. Visiting with Casey over the years, I have learned some very interesting facts about his father.
If you search the internet for “Lew Childre”, you will find the following piece of information Lew the performer (or you could just click on this link, http://www.hillbilly-music.com/artists/story/index.php?id=11994).
“On March 4, 1953 Lew Childre, Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow entertained the troops in Korea on a tour that lasted 28 days. The troupe flew into Tokyo, then the U. S. Army handled the logistics from there. According to a Cowboy Songs article, the artists received no pay for their appearances, it was done as a special service for the troops. They only received lodging and meals. During that tour, Erich Aberbach of Hill and Range Songs indicated that the entertainers would come within 200 yards of the front lines.”
During the time Lew was on this tour, he saw Bamboo growing during their stopover in Tokyo. It turns out that particular strain of Bamboo is the best Bamboo to use for making cane poles. It also happens that Japan is the only place in the world that Bamboo will grow. I will just cut to the chase here. The performer Lew borrowed $200 from Ernest Tubb and sent some of that Bamboo to his son Lew in Foley, Alabama. That helped young Lew build better cane poles. However, the more significant fact here is that made the connection for Legend Lew to have his graphite fishing rods made in Japan. Lew’s Speed Sticks and Lew’s Speed Spool were both originally made in Japan by connections made through that single contact.
I know Casey because I was introduced to him by a man named Harry Simpson. Harry lived in Pensacola, Florida and owned a service station there. My father built a house next door to Harry in the mid 60’s. Harry and my father fished together and became very good friends. Harry was also Lew’s fishing buddy and very good friend. Harry and Lew (the legend) were fishing one day. According to Harry, Lew kept complaining about not being able to cast far enough with his bait cast reel. They were both fishing with Lew’s Speed Sticks, of course. All day long, Lew kept complaining about how the eye guide not moving on the cast like it did on the retrieve causing too much friction and preventing the longer cast Lew was attempting. This went on and on and on…. Finally, Harry said, “Lew, all I can tell us is, ‘if it bothers you that bad, figure out how to fix it.’” Lew replied, “well, maybe I will.” They continued fishing, and Lew continued complaining about the eye the rest of the day. The next morning. Harry’s phone rang. All Harry heard was a voice saying, “I fixed it. I fixed it. I fixed it. I fixed it…..” Finally, Harry interrupted, “Who is this?” “What? You know this is Lew.” “Okay, Lew. Fixed what?” “You know that eye. I fixed it.” Then, Harry said, “Do you know what time it is?” “I don’t know; maybe 11:30 or 12:00.” Harry said, “NO! It’s 4:00 in the morning! Call me in about 5 hours.”
It turns out, that fishing trip happened about the same time Harry was about to get out of the service station business. Of course, that was the beginning of Lew’s Speed Spool. When Harry sold his service station, he went to work for Lew Childre and Sons, Inc. as their Sales Manager. Harry worked for the company even after Lew was killed. Over the years, Harry had a relationship with Lew’s family, but he stayed in close contact with Lew’s son Casey even after the business was sold. Of course, I had moved out of my parents’ house next door to Harry. My father passed away from cancer in 1985. Through all those years, Harry kept an eye out for my mother and kept in touch with me. When, I came back to visit my mother, Harry would always make a point to see me. We became very good friends and fishing buddy’s. While we were fishing one day, Harry asked me if I had ever met Casey Childre. I said I hadn’t, and he said he would have to introduce us. He told me about this crazy idea Casey had about eliminating the eye on the bait cast reel. I said, “Crazy like making the eye move on the cast?” Harry just smiled and said, “Yeah, something like that. I’ll have to introduce you two. He wants me to help him with it, but I’m too old to start that again.” In 2011, Harry introduced me to Casey. That introduction was one of the last things Harry did before he passed away at his home at the age of 87.
Now, Casey’s idea is about to revolutionize the fishing industry just like his father’s idea did so many years ago. I guess the point to all of this is that the Legend of Lew Childre has had many key points and key people that guided his journey. However, all of Lew’s accomplishments were due to certain key factors.
First, is his heritage. His Grandfather was committed to the people in his community. His Father was committed to his loyal fans. He was committed to the fishermen he served. He instilled that family trait of commitment in his children.
Second, is innovation. He kept coming up with “a better way”. He baked the Bamboo. He then used better Bamboo. The created a better rod. He created a better reel.
Third, is dedication to quality. Everything he did was based on giving the public a better product, and he refused to lower the quality for the sake of profit. Everything had to be “High Quality”.
Fourth, is integrity. He knew that his personal integrity, the integrity of the products he sold, the integrity of his company and the way it related to customers, suppliers, and employees must always be a top priority.
Fifth, is service. Lew realized very early that service had to be an integral part of everything. Service requires particular attention to the needs of the customer. He knew that great products, great pricing, great value, etc. would help but all these will ultimately come of short without outstanding service.
Now, Lew Childre’s legacy continues with Casey. Although the Lew’s brand was sold, Casey continues to offer a quality service through Lew’s Team, Inc. Lew’s Team offers quality control to insure your product is produced to your specifications and to a high standard of quality. In fact, Lew’s Team, if it meets the high standard required, awards products the Lew’s Team Star of Excellence. The criteria for the “Star of Excellence” is based on the five key points instilled in Casey by the legendary Lew Childre.