Bamboo Bonzai

Bob Summers: (Part 3 - concluded)
fly rods and realities

By Greg Frey

One of the most recent additions to his workshop is an old lathe he bought for the sole purpose of making his rod-tube caps. He didn't know how to use it, but he knew that it would do the type of cutting he needed. So he brought it home, figured it out and then invented a cutting piece that would hollow out a recessed grove to fit the grip of the thumb and index finger of the caster on the rod-tube cap. Just another extra mile that Summers went to make a unique and quality product.

Summer says if it wasn't for all the inventing and problem-solving, rod building would become a production process and he would lose interest. But besides his creative energies, he also has the self-decipline to make his business work. Most mornings, Summers is in his workshop by 6 a.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. in the winter. He tries to get the majority of his rod building done before noon, but he often will spend 15 minutes or so as 10:30 p.m. at night gluing up a rod so it is ready for the next moring.

"You've got to have willpower. That's the biggest factor why most people don't succeed. It's so easy to say, 'Well, I don't have to do this today.' " Summers said.

"I guess I'm a workaholic, but let's put it this way: I know many people who are all excited about some football game. There's no way in hell I would ever sit and watch that or drive to Lansing to watch that. That would be the most stupid thing I could think of doing. I would rather go walk in the woods, but more likely I'd be in the shop." This is all part of the life Summers has created for himself. He has avoided expansion because he has found such a comfortable blend of enjoyment and income without having to answer to anyone other than his customers and his own sense of intergrity. Summer's world has room for only a quality product and enough money to live comfortably. He said too many rod builders focus on making more and more money, and rod building becomes an assembly-line production. When they do that, they begin for farm out parts and sacrifice the intrinsic rewards of rod building - creativity and problem-solving.

"My motive in life has not been to just have a pile of money. You've got to have enough money to take a trip and do things. I'm not going to live like a pauper. But there are other ways to make the money right along with rod building." Summers motions to his computer and explains how he and his wife use it to follow the stock market.

It's an interesting and elemental concept: nuture the thing that you love and build a lifestyle around it; make a comfortable living around an honest business and use your problem-solving abilities to get more without ever damaging the integrity of the thing you love. It is a philosophy that has inspired the creation of beautiful fly rods over the last 43 years and brought contentment to a man of great energy and commitment.

Summers can be contacted at (231) 946-7923 or by email and at his website. ~ Greg Frey

This article is excerpted from the July/August issue of Midwest Fly Fishing. We thank them for use permission.

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