Berkeley Backpacking Biz - Old School, New School, No School

Dan Castner - First Days in the Outdoor Industry

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Right to Left: Henry Gruchacz, Dan Castner, Kevin Smith

Right to Left: Henry Gruchacz, Dan Castner, Kevin Smith

Transcript (with modifications for clarification's sake.)

Dan Castner: Yea. For me. I was going to school at Ohio University. I had a degree in...and was majoring in Journalism for three years and then my fourth year, part of fourth year I thought, why am I in journalism? I don't even like journalism! My mother wanted me to do that. And plus it was pretty hard studying because I lived on a farm with some friends and it wasn't a good atmosphere for studying. I wasn't studying a whole lot.

Al Tabor: What year was this?

Forgot her name: In Ohio.

Dan: I started in '67. Since I wasn't doing so well in school, I decided to drop out my Senior year. So I ended up deciding to hitchhike around Europe by myself which I did. And so that year I took off and I came back for my senior year and I finally find myself on the Dean's list for all three quarters. I was on probation the whole time because all my friends were no longer around I finally hit the books.

However my senior year a friend of mine had a bike shop in Athens, Ohio called The Pedlar. So I became a bike mechanic. It was my first time I was on a ten speed. So after that I thought I want to run a retail store. That's what I wanna have my own retail store like my friend Jim did and I wanted to do it in outdoor stuff. So that's where I got enthused about the outdoor trade. So I sent out resumes to Kelty, Gerry, Sierra Designs and North Face and asked for a no response! Finally, I realised there was no real HR department at these companies. These people...there was no formal “we appreciate your interest”...this didn't happen. And so I wrote to them all and said "You know I applied for a job and I think you need to respond to me" and one day Grinlinka Wickerman at The North Face responded and said come to North Face when I was in Berkeley.

Kevin Smith: Great name!

Dan: Or...anyway, it was German and I think she had your job before you did.

Kevin: At the North Face?

Dan: Yea. She wrote to me back and said, “come on by”.

So said I ok I want to have my own retail store. I want to put together packs. I want  to make the product so that when I have my store I can talk about it. And then the idea was also to get some outdoor experience cause in Ohio we just had forest. And so I applied for Outward Bound  and was accepted in Colorado on the Continental Divide in February. I did the advanced. In the advanced you had to know how to ski. I said I knew how to ski. But I didn't. Thank God, cross-country skiing is very easy to pick up.

Henry Gruchacz: In Ohio there’s no ski...

Dan: I had never even saw those things before and so I did that but while I was there for that one month... and you did seven days out and you did all kinds of different things like ice caves and climbing, ice climbing...we had a break and we went to a place called Leadville which they had this old miner talking about you know the history of that and there was somebody from Sierra Designs that was the manager of their shipping department.  And they said, “Well, you come to Berkeley, you come by to see me and I will give you a job for 3$ an hour driving a fork lift. I didn't want to do that kind of thing. I'd done that before. I wanted to get my hands on the product.

[At this point, Dan took a break and turned the chicken wings.]

So I did the Outward Bound thing and I had a plane ticket from Denver to San Francisco or Oakland. I'm not sure which one. But first I wanted to go home and go back to Ohio. I was really psyched. That time I actually could sell the ticket and I bought a ticket for the train. Cause the train took 3 days. So I got on the train and I talked with the guy working on the train...

Henry: Train ticket was very similar to plane tickets weren't they?

Dan: Oh yes but I had to get my cash because I didn't have that much money. So I took the train in and I got befriended by all the stewards and guys who worked, you know. And I’d go back there and we’d smoke some weed and stuff and so finally I’m in Oakland.

I had no idea that Berkeley and San Francisco and Oakland were in the same area. I had no idea...they could have been 500 miles apart for all I knew and there beyond  the train tracks coming into Oakland, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and thinking that that could be the Golden Gate Bridge. But I wasn't sure.

So I got there, walked into Sierra Designs just to check it up but it was too late. It was like 5.30. They were closed. So I got a room on University Avenue at this Hotel that was across from the Wells Fargo. Down by the Wells Fargo bank. And it was a really bad place.

Kevin: That's not a good area still.

Dan: I remember the first night getting into bed and just sitting there and I started crying. Cause I was very scared. I had no job. I started to question myself, “ what am I doing!?”

Kevin: How old were you?

Dan: I was 23.

Kevin: 23, yeah.

Henry: What year was this?

Dan: It was '74. And so I went over to The North Face. They said we are going to have a job for you. We have to get rid of somebody first. Cause somebody was fired.

Kevin: At the North Face they said that or..

Dan: But then I walked by...Justus...was it Class 5. So I walked in the door and there was a counter there and he [Justus] was back there on the cutting table. I said, “Hey, I was just wondering if you guys were hiring?” And he tells “no” in the gruffest voice you can imagine and turned around and that was it. I was like...ok...

Kevin: I’ve just taken a train from the mid-west.

Dan: So then in about a week I went to work at The North Face.

Henry: the day.

Kevin: No wonder I was a step up. [Kevin was TNF’s HR Manager for quite a while. That story will be posted soon.]

Henry: You actually cared.

Kevin: My favorite story about that is Sally McCoy writing these incredible real hand-writing...letters.  Sometimes 2-3 pages and I can't remember the content but there was, but it was clever and “I’m looking for work”. And I remember I don't know how much responsibility I have in all this and I remember giving those letter personally to Gilbert and saying you know read this woman's writing. Cause I was getting you know back then in the '70s, the late '70s I was getting 10 resumes a day and 8 of them wanted to test the product. So.

Al: Right, they want free shit.

Kevin: So that was one of my favourite stories about Sally.

Dan: Ok. So I with them I got a job at North Face. I was working on the backpacks. What I wanted to do. Trim the packs and the’s called the finishing room. There were about 25 people in the finishing room. So I did that for a while. That was '74. And then.

Kevin: So how long between the time you got there and the time you got a job at the North Face.

Dan: Between 1-2 weeks. They had to get rid of somebody.

Kevin: So they did.

Dan: So I started this job and this is what I wanted to do. And then but I remember it was sort of disorganised. I remember at that time we had orange, blue and green backpacks. Regular belts and then large belts. And then they had big white boxes and they were all in the same boxes and if you’re on piece rate and if you have green and if you had a large and you had to get the green one out and look at the little tab (“Is that large or regular”). And so after about a week I asked the supervisor you mind if I put the green larges in one box and green-regulars in a box and orange and all those things? He goes that’s a good idea and I thought…”Wow!”

Kevin: Wow. I'm efficient! I'm an engineer!

Henry: It was so funny cause we were half brain dead most of the time. Whenever anything simple happened, “Oh my God!”

Al: One of my jobs at Sierra Designs...since we now had a computer is I had to get the right pick tickets to get ready and manufacturing could not tell me what they were going to deliver. But I discovered if I got into the dumpster every night and figured out what got cut, I could predict in 2-3 weeks that was going to arrive and so somehow me looking into the dumpster was, like, better than the Dennis Doyle going out there and saying, “We’re making 60-40 Parkas.” Ok.

Kevin: I remember when I was young the raw materials and we used to issue fabric and I came up with the idea of actually posting how much fabric was in the bin and then subtracting it. It was like wow look at me I'm on fire man.

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