Be Amazed by Listening

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By Stan Crader

I’m a novelist working on a non-fiction-it’s a stretch. The facts, once known, are easy to report. It’s the finding of facts, also called research, that’s painstaking, time consuming, and hard work; two of the three are okay. I’m working on the history of Stihl in America. Stihl, for those few who don’t know, is the largest selling brand of outdoor power tool in America. It wasn’t always that way.

Andreas Stihl invented the chainsaw. Stihl saws began selling in the America in 1958 after a couple of business men from New Jersey got the bright idea to fly to Germany and strike a deal with the Stihl family for the exclusive selling rights for America. They returned a few days later with a one-page contract and a business deal that lasted until 1974. I repeat, a one-page contract. At the time, Stihl was producing one primary model of chainsaw, the Super Lightening, a 28 pound saw known for being light weight.

My goal with the book is to reveal more about the characters that built the brand rather than a business book about best practices. In that effort I’ve had the privilege to interview some very interesting people and learn extraordinary and thought provoking details of their life.

One such character now lives on Cape Cod but was once the warehouse manager for Stihl in New Jersey. While asking Joe about his life I inquired about his parents and grandparents. “I never knew my grandparents,” Joe said. I inquired why and Joe explained. “None of us knew our grandparents,” he said. Joe’s parents had emigrated from Slovakia and settled in a neighborhood with other immigrants from several southern European countries. Joe learned bits and pieces of Italian, Greek, and Slovakia while growing up, as did his friends. But few of them could read or write in their grandparents tongue. There was no skype or email, letters and photos were few. Letters had to be translated by the parents, if they could read. Joe was one of many whose family was only one generation deep. “The neighborhood was our family,” he finished. Joe didn’t hold a grudge for never knowing his grandparents. That’s just the way it was. “And there wasn’t any government program to bail us out,” he made sure I knew. “We worked our tails off.”

Joe’s father dug graves. Joe became a cabinet maker and managed to save enough money to purchase a dilapidated building and fixed it up. He subsequently rented the building to Stihl, and eventually became the warehouse manager of the warehouse he owned. When Stihl outgrew his warehouse he sold it and moved with Stihl to a larger facility and retired several years later after a fulfilling career.

I asked Joe where in Slovakia his family had lived. “There isn’t a Slovakia,” he said, and gave me a look like I should have known that. He then went on to describe the name changing that had occurred to his homeland and then finally told me the name of the town. Joe’s country no longer exists. Few Americans can imagine such a thing.

It will be an interesting book; I hope to include a little about Stihl. In my next blog I’ll tell how I learned that Stihl is a Swiss name, not German. This was learned in wee hours while standing on a street in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Stan Crader PortraitStan Crader and his wife, Debbie, live in Missouri, sell Stihl power tools for a living and his hobbies include flying and writing. Learn more about Stan at

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