Wesley Jordan, legendary rod builder, takes over Orvis rod production.
The construction of a properly balanced split bamboo rod for fly casting is a work of art and the art maker should be an expert fly fisher and a man of mechanical accuracy. ---
Charles Orvis, 1900
Wesley D. Jordon was born in Massachusetts in 1894. As a young boy, Wes fished the streams and ponds around Lynn, initially using a safety pin and linen thread. Soon, however, he bought his first cane pole and was catching brook trout.
Wes caught his first brook trout when he was 10 years old, in a brook that was a 12 mile walk from home on the old gravel toll road traveled by horse and wagon. Wes was fishing a worm when he caught his first brookie, but it was good enough to land a 13" trout. "He was the most beautiful fish I ever caught," Wes said. "I half ran and half walked all the way back with that one fish."
After short stints at GE and as a carpenter, Wes joined the army in 1917, where he was a dispatch rider on motorcycle.
1919 saw him home again and returning to his love of fishing. That year, he won a Field and Stream prize for landing a seven pound, 25 3/4" trout on a lancewood rod. Soon after, he went to work for the Cross Rod Company
During a successful career at Cross, Wes invented a milling machine and a gluing machine for bamboo rods, some rods consisting of up to 12 strips. He received a patent for a reel seat he constructed. He also built a custom eight foot, three inch, three piece rod for George LaBranche, author of The Dry Fly and Fast Water. Personally, Wes continued to improve his fishing technique. At one point he cast 132 feet to win a tournament. He also discovered for himself the double haul cast, long before he'd heard of it.
In the 1930s, South Bend Bait Company bought out Cross Rod Company with the condition that Wes would remain at least long enough to train new rod makers. Wes relocated to Indiana, but soon found that South Bend had no interest in quality rods, but were interested in mass manufacturing. "I made a machine that would split thousands of segments [of bamboo] a day," Wes said, "I made rods for $.83 for Sears and Roebuck. After ten years at South Bend, Wes left for his hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts.
Shortly afterward, Duckie Corkran easily convinced Wes to work for Orvis in Manchester, VT, where he took over rod production. Within a year, Wes had created a screw-locking reel seat that was used in various models for many years. Most importantly, Wes rejuvenated the rod shop by rebuilding the milling machine, shopping for quality cane, and starting a plan to improve the finish and durability of fly rods.
Though other manufacturers had explored the process of impregnating bamboo rods with resin to make them more durable than the current varnished rods, Wes developed the process. At first he worked with the Bakelite Company, who impregnated strips of bamboo in their test labs. However, when Wes glued and assembled the strips into a rod, the bamboo performed poorly. It was clear this process was a failure.
Wes pushed on, as determined as ever to pursue his passion of manufacturing quality rods. Eventually, through experimentation and a few years of inspired hard work, Wes discovered a process that worked to achieve his end. Through trial and error, Wes settled on a process that slit bamboo cane in half. These halves were dried and tempered over an open gas flame, then split into several strips which Wes glued back together with a phenolic resin-based cement. The reconstructed cane was then impregnated under controlled heat with a Bakelite phenolic resin. Following this stage, the stick was then cured in a temperature-controlled oven which allowed the pores of the wood to be filled completely with resin, rendering the wood moisture proof, color fast and unaffected by extreme cold and heat. This entire process also darkened the bamboo cane to a handsome mahogany color. To further this distinctive look a series of sanding and buffing produced a beautiful luster.
The result was just what Duckie Corkran and Wes had wanted. A better fly rod was born. For his rigorous research and inventive experiments, Wes Jordan had Patent Application No. 2,532,814, Serial No. 662,086, dated April 13, 1946, named after him. The patent itself, dated December 15, 1950, was assigned to the Orvis Company. By 1954 all Orvis rods were impregnated.
For years, Orvis rods were put to the test and commonly applauded by the likes of Joe Brooks, who used them for bonefish in the South; and Lee Wulff, who landed many large Atlantic salmon with a six and a half foot Deluxe model.
Ever the purist and perfectionist, Wes knew that impregnation was not the sole characteristic of a quality fly rod and continued to work to better the Orvis rod. He conceived and built a two-ton milling machine capable of holding tolerances of a thousandth of an inch and to slice hair-thin slivers of bamboo. Twice, Wes redesigned the Orvis ferrule until it lived up to his and Orvis standards.
Wes Jordan possessed one of the most creative, visionary minds in Orvis history. When the rod named after him debuted in the 1966 Orvis catalog, Wes Jordan was one of the elder statesmen of fly fishing. By the 1970s, most of the rod makers of his time were gone. In 1975, at the age of eighty-one, Wes Jordan died. In a local paper's tribute to Wes, it was said that, when Wes Jordan was asked not long before his death to name the last of the old rod makers, he reflected for a moment, then said: "I guess I'm it."