Bamboo Bonzai

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, Manchester, Vermont."

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.


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