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History of the Stratospool

by Russ

If you look on the brake, there are script initials that are RwJ ----- that'd be me. I built about 1000 of them before low profits (wholesale being half of retail) and shipping hassles brought the party to an end....., 2/3 were sold through Into The Wind.

A quick history --- Way back in the late 70's, I dated a woman who had a couple of one-line lites and a primitive diamond stunt kite. She had her line on one of those flat winders with handles on opposite corners, and I found it really tedious to wind line in with that device.

I'm a carpenter and cabinetmaker, and an inventive sort of person, and soon built a spool reel that looked real nice, but didn't have any way to stop the line from pulling out, and nearly lost a kite first flight.

I started musing on the problem, and within a month or so had designed what became the strato-spool. My first prototype, which I still have, is the same general size as what turned to be my smallest production model, but otherwise very similar in shape and operation. I built a few more, still for my own use, and tested them to destruction, modifying them as I went. After 4 or 5, I built a larger one with heavier materials.

At this point, I was a regular customer of a mail-order kite shop called 'Into The Wind' (this was back when one still sent a check and an order, and got a package 2 weeks later....), and wrote them a note and enclosed a photograph, describing my reels, and asked if they knew of anyone building such a thing. In due time, they asked if they could perhaps buy one, they wanted to try it out themselves. All that led to a commitment to produce them in quantity and the smaller (No.8) and medium (No.16) being put in their catalog. During this time, I built a set of jigs and fixtures that allowed production runs of the components and standardized their sizes, so they could be small-scale mass-produced.

Some early protoypes and production models

After a few years, I developed and began producing the larger No. 24 reel, and they included that one in their catalog, too.

At each order, I would make a large batch of one or two of the components (there are 7 in each size reel) and take from stock the others needed to assemble and complete the reels. In the end, as I said above, the financial reality of the wholesale pricing system caught up with me, I tried to raise my price, but they thought the increase would kill sales, and in the end, needed to put my time into things more profitable. Also, after nearly 1000 of them, I was a bit tired of looking at kite reels.... and barely flew one-line lites for years afterward, having myself, as did many others, switched to stunt kites.

I still have all the jigs, and a dim memory of how the setups worked, and indeed some parts still in their boxes, though some supplies need to be re-sourced, and nowadays with the internet available as a sales medium and paypal available to allow customer purchases, and my getting closer to retirement age, and still needing something less demanding than home construction and restoration to do to keep groceries on the table, the idea has come back to me to 'test the waters' and see if there is indeed an online market for the reels.

And there you go, probably the first time I have written the whole story down....

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November 2013