I wrote a few weeks ago about a guy named Tom Bailey, an old-time catskill rodmaker who used to work at Leonard when I was there. In addition to Bailey recounting the “window shopping” that had gone on at the shop from time to time I had also alluded to a second story about him and so here it is.
While I was working at Leonard in the late 1970’s to entertain myself there was a discovery auction once a month in the next town over from Central Valley, NY where our shop was located. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot going on in the area in those days and so I used to go over to the auction just for something to do. It was a lot of fun and I really liked going to it, especially since old fishing tackle would often turn up.
Anyway one of the things that I bought at the auction was a Uslan 500 spinning reel for about $5. Essentially the manufacturer had created the reel by taking off a very simple and workable bail system and substituted it with a very complicated system that relied on a triangular and hemispherical plate with a pickup finger mounted on the nose of the reel (one that had surely cost them a lot more to make than a simple bail). When you turned the handle the plate would spin around and the finger would pick the line up, and then you’d have to push a button in order to cast it (you also had to slide the plate back up to a center position, and when you cranked the handle again the finger would pick up the line). If that all sounds a bit complicated it’s because it was, but hopefully these pictures will give you a basic sense of what I mean.
Anyhow, after the auction I brought the reel into the shop one day at Leonard, and I showed it to Tom Bailey. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of acknowledgement, maybe a nod or something to that effect, but then he said:
“Aw, Nat Uslan. Last time I saw him he made up about batch of those. Then he went south somewhere to try and sell them. I never saw him again.”
I thought to myself, Jesus, he knew Nat Uslan? It was one of those moments where you really remembered that the old guy sitting in the corner knew a whole lot more, and had seen a whole lot more, than he was letting on even if he didn’t say much.
Looking back now I wish that I had been able to get Bailey to talk a lot more about what he had witnessed over the years. It’s too late now of course, but I still have that Uslan sitting on a shelf at home and when I see it I often think of him and those early days in Central Valley.