Part 6 in our Historical Rodmakers Series
Omar Needham - Rodmaker from Maine
Our thanks to Cententenial Publications for use permission.
October 26th, 1998
Omar H. Needham was a fine craftsman with his
traditions in rod making deeply rooted in the
Maine tradition of hard work and ingenuity
that produced many of America's finest rodmakers.
He was only 14 years old when
he built his first split cane rod, with direction
and encouragement of an itinerant Scotsman visiting
Summit Springs around 1920.
He spent the next ten to fifteen
years experimenting with his own tapers, learning
the intricacies of rod construction through trial and error
experimentation, and constantly striving to improve
his rods and his workmanship.
Needham was married in 1934 and
settled into a small food store business in Norway,
Maine, with a shop in the rear of the building,
outfitted with tools and equipment of his own design
and construction for building bamboo rods. All of
his spare time was devoted to building rods. He was
an avid outdoorsman and soon expanded into fly
tying and guiding.
Then fate intervened when he and
his wife Ruth went to Albany, New York, to investigate
the possibility of buying another food store. They
spent the night in Manchester, Vermont, and Omar became
intrigued with the rod making operation of the Charles
F. Orvis Co.
Within a week he went to work for
Orvis for the magnificent sum of $10 per week. The
company at the time was being managed by Charles' two
sons, Bert and Robbie, but had fallen on hard times.
In 1939 the Orvis Co. was purchased
by Bart Arkell and D. C. "Duckie" Corcoran and the
company prospered. Wes Jordan was brought in to manage
the rod building operation and Needham stayed on
working with Wes and doing most of the varnish work
on the Orvis rods.
A technical representative from
Valspar Co. spent time with Omar and wrote a
letter to the company stating Needham was one of the
best he had ever seen with a brush and varnish.
Pinky Gillum also worked briefly
for Orvis during this time and he and Omar and
Jordan became lifelong friends. Needham and Ruth
bought and operated a tourist home in
Manchester just a short distance from Orvis.
By 1946 Omar decided to
leave the company, partly because
of the new Orvis impregnation process
and partly because he wanted to build his own rods.
For the next three years
he built rods in an attic workshop at the
tourist home and became active guiding
throughout New England.
Rods from this era, of
which there were relatively few,
are marked "Omar H. Needham, Maker,
In 1949 Omar sold the tourist home,
bought the Quimby Pond Camps in Rangeley and moved
back to Maine. For the next 25 years he ran the camps,
tied flies, built rods and served as a fishing guide.
He was one of very few U. S. citizens who ever held
a New Brunswick guide license.