FEATURE REPORT BY ROARK V. MOUDY
Carl W. Newell passed away December 24, 2008 near his home in Glendale, California. He was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1923. Carl was highly regarded and recognized as an icon for his work within the fishing and medical plastics molding industries. Carl was a self-made and highly successful businessman. Mr. Newell had a natural ability to be successful in business which became evident during his early years while yet in high school.
Anyone, within a short time of being with Mr. Newell, would quickly learn that he enjoyed the challenge of learning. One of his personal mottos was to “learn something new every day” and he truly practiced that throughout his career. He enjoyed the challenge and had a special knack for solving difficult mechanical problems within a relative short period of time and then developing a workable and practical solution to the problem. He became an accomplished machinist, tool maker, master tool repairman, and a highly skilled injection plastics molder.
Even before his direct business endeavors, Carl sold newspapers on the street; while still a freshman in high school he got a job as a clerk in a grocery store buying and selling vegetables and fruit for his employer where he was given the responsible for taking the day’s cash to the bank for deposit; worked on a chicken farm cleaning pens and working to isolate the hatch that wasn’t going to mature. His employers learned he was a responsible young man and they could trust him at this early age.
At the age of sixteen, he opened his own business, a hobby and model shop, in downtown Glendale, California. His keen sense of design, engineering, and building free-flying model gliders and powered airplanes contributed greatly to his practical knowledge of how to become successful later in life. He always believed that building these models was not successful if the model didn’t climb and soar into the wind currents and disappear over the horizon or as far as he could see. He used the high desert country near Palmdale as his testing laboratory.
In the late 1930’s, this knowledge and experience became an important chapter in his life when he was employed to work on real gliders for the US Army Air Corp at what is presently known as Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, California. In those days, the aircraft skin was made of cloth and had to be sown or glued which is a skill he had learned making models. Carl’s thin body build also permitted him to crawl inside the fuselages and parts of aircraft wings to make repairs where other employees couldn’t fit.
The United States was shocked when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Carl felt compelled to fight for his country and in 1942 he joined the US Navy. At the time, Carl did not know how to swim and almost didn’t complete his basic training because of his inability. However, he was determined to learn to swim, float, and dive into water in order to survive just in case his ship went down. He spent his spare time and off-duty hours in the base pool until he had completed the Navy requisite satisfactorily. As luck would smile on him during the four years he spent in the South Pacific fighting the Japanese, he never had to worry about survival in the water. Carl attended the Navy’s technical training center for ordinance with his specialty being the repair of the metal skin of Navy fighters that had been shot up by enemy fire. He also repaired the machineguns and cannons of these aircraft. Often, he had to improvise these repairs when materials were not available on the war front. Near the end of the War, he was stationed on the Island of Tinian. It was here that he was one of 17 men selected for special training believed to be related to the delivery of the Atomic Bombs on Japan. Carl would breathe a sigh of relief when he talked about this four year chapter in his life because, the War ended before his select group could complete their training. He was then given permission to “get home the best way you can” when released by his commanding officer. With Carl’s ingenuity, he hitched on as part of the flight crew on a Navy transport and made his way back to Glendale in short order.
Carl’s sweetheart was waiting for him and he married Sylvia within a short time thereafter. They were inseparable lifetime mates. In 1952 Carl began the business that would encompass his success and create his legacies. He had very small cash reserves to assist with his efforts, which became very beneficial to him…he had to make everything himself or wait until he could afford to pay someone to provide a service that he couldn’t do or learn to do himself. He had enough money to buy a small drill press and lathe from Sears & Roebuck. This was the equipment that he used in his garage to make his first plastic injection mold. He could not afford to buy a molding machine at this time so he rented machine time. The product unbelievably is still in production today! It was the ‘Tangle Free Pocket Pouch’ to keep fishing hooks from becoming tangled. The product was a success and really got him moving with great energy and drive. It was Sylvia, who really supported Carl in the early stages of his business career when she served as his ‘business partner’ as well as his salesman for his first product.
Molders all know, if a tool (mold) isn’t properly taken care of it will rust and become damaged. As with most all entrepreneurs, Carl felt the hand of disappointment reach out to him when the owner of the machine, from whom Carl had rented time, told him that the rust on his tool was an Act of God. Needless to say, that irritated Carl and caused him to expedite his efforts to own his own molding machine. He purchased a manually operated Van Dorn molding machine which he lovingly named ‘Penelope.’ He had made his move into the plastic injection molding business. Carl’s first product was a proprietary product.
As time passed, however, he became a highly recognized custom injection molder, making products for others as well as the related tooling. As his efforts continued and his business grew, he bought more machines and related equipment and expanded his operating base to a wider range of customers. He wanted to try molding almost every new resin that the chemical companies could develop. In 1963, Carl incorporated his business in California and it carried his name, Carl W. Newell Manufacturing, Inc. In 1974, he built his own state-of-the-art molding facility on Allen Avenue in Glendale. He was a firm believer in quality products and focused on medical components, which was to bode well for him in later years. Because of this focus, his business became the largest molder on the West Coast running three shifts daily seven days each week. The business continues today operating three shifts and five days each week.
Carl became the first molder to mold drip chambers. The company has molded products for most of the major pharmaceutical firms in the United States at some time during the last four decades including components related to medication applications delivered though intravenous feeding systems, dialysis components, breathing masks, and operating room lighting among many other products. Although it cannot be accurately determined, these products have literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives throughout the world spanning four decades. That is a legacy that cannot be taken lightly.
Carl had a second love which was fishing. Perhaps he was highly passionate about fishing because it was his lifetime hobby and ultimately became a business endeavor. Carl credits his strong interest in fishing to Harry Sheets, a neighbor of the family. As a young boy, Carl repeatedly watched Leonard load up his car with rods and fishing gear and leave for an outing. It appeared to Carl that such activity could be fun so he became acquainted with Mr. Sheets. As Carl had suspected, Harry asked him to go fishing and this began his love affair with fishing. When he couldn’t go withHarry, Carl would get a few friends together and they would hike to local lakes and reservoirs to go fishing as teenagers.
Early in his marriage, he and his wife Sylvia would spend at least a week camping annually in the high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, California fishing for trout. On other occasions they would travel to northern California and Oregon to fish for steelhead in the rivers and lakes of that region. A strong suit of Carl’s was his effort to understand fishing and the habitat of many species. One main reason for his commitment was simply that Sylvia was a better fisherman than he and he wanted to know and relate to why she was so outstanding at hooking fish.
This keen interest ultimately caused him to want to make reels perform with better performance than when they were originally manufactured. As a result, he began making upgrade kits for Penn Reels in the 1960s and early 1970s. He had found a nitch market that was to propel him directly into manufacturing his own fishing reel. He believed that if he could make significant improvements in other brand reels, it would be possible to make his own reel with a little more effort. By this time in his life, he had found another challenge which he immensely enjoyed…saltwater fishing. It was in this saltwater environment that he knew there was a lot more to learn and understand about fishing that had not really been explored in depth in terms of reels, line, and rods.
In the 1960s, big game fish were generally caught with large bulky and heavy fishing reels. Carl reasoned that a reel could be made that was strong, light weight, and durable in a saltwater environment that could catch big game fish in a stand-up fishing mode. This venture became an obsession for Carl. He worked in his spare time on making a simple mechanical reel with the fewest parts and that a fisherman could generally service himself. The simplicity of servicing included changing brakes discs and bearings.
By the late 1970s, Carl, with his creative skills and ingenuity, had designed, engineered, and manufactured Newell Reels to exacting standards and tolerances. He actually built 18 prototype reels spending countless hours, in fact thousands of hours, before he was ready to attach his brand name to the reels he had created! During the development of the Newell Reels, Carl introduced many ‘firsts’ in reel design. His creative efforts included advances such as stainless steel brake discs, unitized bridge plates for strength and stability, the use of engineered resin materials for weight reduction that were impregnated with graphite fibers for added tensile and impact strength, and high-speed retrieve stainless steel gears. These combination of factors of design resulted in the first virtually corrosion-free fishing reel for the saltwater fishing industry at that time. Carl performed many tests personally because he wanted to experience the results of his efforts. For example, while working on the braking system for Newell Reels, he personally made over 1,100 pull tests on various configurations of brake design. As a result, performance wise, Newell Reels became known for their super smooth drag system, fast retrieves, good balance, light weight, easy handling, and mechanical simplicity. Carl had accomplished his goal of making a high performance light weight reel and came up with the slogan, “Fight the fish not the equipment!” These developments and contributions are perhaps the hallmark and legacy of what Carl Newell brought to the fishing industry.
Another important factor was his belief in America. Newell Reels are made and assembled and labeled “Made in America.’ Newell Reels are all produced in Glendale, California even today. All components are made in his factory. The only parts that are purchased are the fasteners (screws), ball bearings, and the small springs that hold the dogs in place. All other components are made and assembled in-house.
It was not enough to have a reel with unmatched performance. From his own long range fishing experiences with big fish and broken lines, which were very disconcerting to all fishermen when a big fish was lost, Carl began working with Dr. Paul Johnson of Berkeley to improve their Trilene monofilament fishing line. Carl tested line on numerous long range fishing trips and brought Paul along so observations could be made first hand. It was through numerous efforts like this that Trilene monofilament line became the fishing line of choice in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Carl was relentless in his pursuit of perfection regardless of the challenge at hand. That was his personality and make-up.
In the 1980s, Carl began to work to revise the standard fishing rods of the period to make them easier for a fisherman to land a fish. He thought back to his days in school and his study of physics. With the long fishing rods in use, he reasoned that the big game fish had the leverage advantage because of the ‘rubber band effect’ of the rod. If a shorter rod was used, the advantage became that of the fisherman! He began to shorten his rods. Instead of seven foot rods, they became six feet and then five feet. This accomplishment did exactly what Carl had theorized, the fisherman could wear down the big fish much faster. Initially, Carl was met with skepticism by other fishermen who didn’t understand what he saw as an advantage. It didn’t seem to fit together, a man 6’-2” fishing with a 42” rod…but it worked effectively and is now used throughout the industry.
Every fisherman has a “fish story” to tell. Perhaps the one outstanding long range fishing trip Carl ever made was a twelve day trip to Revilla Gegados Islands in n1991. This trip concentrated with particular success fishing the waters of Clarion Island several hundred miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This excursion was aboard the Qualifier Excel, a Newell Reel chartered trip out of San Diego with skipper, Randy Touissaint. There twenty-seven fishermen on board with an outstanding crew. Although there were record setting fish pulled on board, Carl liked the fish count: 24 tons of fish including 405 yellowfin tuna, 405 wahoo, and 3 striped marlin. This catch, at the time, was believed to be to the largest on record for a twelve day trip for any sport fishing trip out of San Diego! Carl enjoyed talking about the trip having the write-up from Western Outdoor News framed and displayed in the lobby of his business.
Carl W. Newell has given significantly to the medical and fishing industries with his genius, ingenuity, creativeness, and uncompromising spirit. We will miss his pioneering contributions with his absence. He will be sorely missed by family friend, business associates, and customers. Mr. Newell is survived by his daughter, Judith Schnelle, son Jim, five grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren.