Iron Fist

1:31 AM Tue 16 Dec 2008 GMT
'Offshore action showing some of the Kiekhaefer engines in race-winning mode - top right is four-time world champion throttleman Richie Powers. - Iron Fist' Bob Wonders Click Here to view large photo
Every once in a while one comes across a book with the 'cannot put it down' factor.

For me it happened this week when I had the pleasure of reading 'Iron Fist', sub titled 'The Lives of Carl Kiekhaefer, Industrial Caesar of a Marine Industry Empire'.

Written by best-selling US author Jeffrey L.Rodengen, 'Iron Fist' could easily be termed a history of the marine industry as we know it today.

As a journalist I am left in absolute awe of the incredible research Rodengen, his executive assistant Amy Major and their team have devoted to this 640-page, hard-covered volume.

Consider this; 'Iron Fist' was six-years in the making, involved more than 300 one-on-one interviews and the meticulous study of nearly a million relevant documents!

Rodengen is rightly (and accurately!) regarded as the 'historian laureate' of the recreational marine industry.

'Iron Fist' really paints an almost lifelike portrait of Elmer Carl Kiekhaefer, so much so that after reading this fabulous tome one feels as though one knew the man personally.

I discovered some quite remarkable facts that I did not know, none more remarkable than the fact that Kiekhaefer once worked for Evinrude!

Many icronic photographs appear in ’Iron Fist’ including this historic illustration (below left) of Charles D.Strang’s depiction of what would become the stern drive unit. On the right, James Wynne with Carl Kiekhaefer. - Iron Fist - Bob Wonders Click Here to view large photo

This is a man who in later years would suspend Johnson and Evinrude outboard motors over a bonfire, watching with glee as they melted in the heat and exhorting his 'troops' to 'kill the enemy', the enemy being Outboard Marine Corporation as it had become.

It was 1927 when Carl Kiekhaefer was hired as a draftsman by Evinrude Motors; within three months he was fired by the company's chief engineer for 'frequent, disquieting and brazenly insubordinate arguments concerning design and product development.'

Perhaps this was the foundation of Kiekhaefer's labelling of Johnson and Evinrude as 'the enemy'?

Jeffrey Rodengen even gives readers what has been acknowledged as a dying Carl Kiekhaefer's last words; 'Tell Charlie to forgive me.'

'Charlie' is Charles D.Strang, whom I had the privilege of meeting some years ago, another marine industry legend who was later to become chairman of the board of Outboard Marine Corporation.

Whatever else he may have been, Carl Kiekhaefer was a complete 'workaholic.'

He worked evenings, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, even Christmas day; for him action was everything; his view of obstacles was simple - press on, work around or over or simply crash through the problem with prodigious stamina.

As Rodengen writes, Kiekhaefer's senior management team members would cringe when their telephone rang at all hours of the day or night, even while on vacation; 'I pay my people twice what they're worth, and them I make 'em earn it!' he declared.

The cigar-smoking (hand-rolled Cubans, of course!) Kiekhaefer was often described as 'the ultimate sportsman', inscribing his name on 13 United States and World championships in NASCAR stock car and offshore powerboat racing.

'Iron Fist' is also blessed with numerous photographs, many I'm sure never previously published.

One illustration in particular is an iconic piece of recreational marine industry history; it is a rough drawing made by Charles Strang in 1948 and clearly shows the first ever depiction of what we now know as the stern drive unit.

It became the basis for a patent awarded later to another 'Kiekhaefer man' (whom I also had the privilege of meeting, back in 1989), the late James Wynne.

Basically, Strang, Wynn and Kiekhaefer were responsible for the unveiling in 1959 at the New York Motor Boat Show of the new propulsion system that would change the course of the marine industry..
’Iron Fist’, it may be the Kiekhaefer story, but it’s also the story of the modern day marine industry. - Iron Fist - Bob Wonders Click Here to view large photo

For those with a keen interest in history, particularly of the recreational marine industry, 'Iron Fist' is an absolute must in any library.

Chances are it's a volume of facts ands figures than only Jeffrey L.Rodengen could have undertaken.

As stated earlier, Rodengen can be regarded as the official chronicler of the industry, his other works including such valuable industry insights as 'The Legend of Chris-Craft', 'Evinrude-Johnson and The Legend of OMC', 'The Legend of Mercury Marine' and 'The Legend of Bertram' (with David A. Patten).

His latest effort, which I wrote a brief review of in Powerboat-World two weeks ago, is 'Commanding the Waterways, the Story of Sea Ray.'

It's doubtful these publications will be easily found in a local bookstore, but 'Iron Fist' and 'The Story of Sea Ray' can be ordered through the Melbourne headquarters of Brunswick.

Quite simply this is a book that qualifies in every sense as a 'must have.'

For information, contact Ms Donna Sturt, telephone (03) 9791-5822.

Back cover showing comments on ’Iron Fist’ reviews; even Carl’s son Fred admitted to being ’awestruck.’ - Iron Fist - Bob Wonders Click Here to view large photo

by Bob Wonders

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