Monday, 8 February 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Oliver Sturdy

Oliver “Ollie” Sturdy (1911-1997) was a well-respected machinist, highly-recognized for his ability and quality workmanship, who served as the manufacturing arm of a budding Craftool Company.

Oliver "Ollie" Sturdy of the Craftool Co.

Oliver Sturdy moved to Los Angeles in his early teens and was self-taught when it came to creating metal tools.  He was running a small machine shop out of his garage when he first met Dick McGahen, who approached Sturdy with a hand full of saddle stamps and inquired if he would be interested in making some.  Sturdy told McGahen, “I don’t want to get involved with a lot of experimental work.  How many of these do you think we want to make?” to which McGahen replied, “Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but we might make 5,000 of them.”  Sturdy laughed, “There aren’t 5,000 people in the country who would buy those things!”

At the time, McGahen’s Craftool Company had employed Ellis Barnes, Ken Griffin, and a number of others who had been hand-making tools and could not keep up with the high volume being purchased by the Tandy Leather Company.  Sturdy enjoyed a challenge, so he took the job and subcontracted for Craftool as the  Sturdy Die & Machine Company.  He put his heart and soul in to machining stamps for the Craftool Company and managed the production end for McGahen.

Sturdy was also a hobbyist pilot and would occasionally fly to Hemet, California to visit Al Stohlman, who was designing many of the stamps for Craftool.  Stohlman did not have a phone, so Sturdy would fly over Stohlman’s house to let him know that he’d like to meet with him.  If Stohlman wanted to talk to Sturdy, he’d lay out two logs parallel to one another and Sturdy would land.  If not, Stohlman would lay the logs out in an X, and Sturdy would return another time.

The collection of Oliver Sturdy's original Craftool stamps is on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery

The collection of Oliver Sturdy’s original Craftool master stamps is on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery

In May of 1958, Sturdy was approached with a business proposition yet again; however this time by Charles Tandy, Jim West, and Luther Henderson of the Tandy Leather Company.  Sturdy sold his business to Tandy Leather and the Sturdy Die & Machine Company became Craftool Manufacturing in March of 1961, and Sturdy moved to Fort Worth in August of 1962 to serve as the General Manager of the new manufacturing division.

The Craftool Company continued under his management until 1967, when Ollie developed and began managing Tandy Machine Tooling Company.  With this company, Ollie was able to create and manufacture special tools and equipment for various divisions of the Tandy Corporation, including the Tandy Factory, Craftool, and Textan.

Oliver "Ollie" Sturdy of the Craftool Co.

Leaving Craftool in the able hands of Fred Absher, Sturdy retired in 1972.  His retirement allowed him the opportunity to fly his private plane with family and friends as well as to travel the Pacific Northwest extensively with his wife, Juanita.

 

Fun Fact: Although rare, tool collectors may come across a stamping tool marked “Sturdy” accompanied by a rusty mark that reads “Craftool”.  The very first run of stamping tools Oliver Sturdy produced had “Sturdy” printed on them rather than Craftool.  McGahen insisted that future tools not be identified by maker, but rather simply read “Craftool” instead.  He had Sturdy add “Craftool” to the first run of “Sturdy” stamps, however it was added after they had already been chrome plated, so the Craftool mark was never sealed. 

Oliver Sturdy original leathercraft stamp