Visit to the Martin Archery factory in Walla Walla, Washington, USA
Jan 04: At the invitation of Gail and Eva Martin of Martin Archery, Brian and Tony of Abbey Archery visited the Martin factory complex, in the northwest of the USA, in the south east corner of Washington state, in Walla Walla, Washington, USA, on their way to the 2004 ATA Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. (If you are using Internet Explorer or Firefox as your browser, hover your cursor over each image to read the photo captions)
After the official welcome by Gail and Eva, we spent the next four days thoroughly inspecting all their various manufacturing operations, including their CNC machine where from a block of aircraft grade aluminium a riser is honed and finished; screen printing of limbs, through to the large bow shop where bows are built.
Martin use all eighteen fully rotating 36 jig fletching tables to make everything from Flu Flu arrows right through to carbon arrows. The fletching area is most impressive with all tables and clamps spotlessly clean without any adhesive build up and the absolute speed with which the fletcher works would surprise many experienced fletchers.
Their leather accessories division produces quivers, armguards, etc and their popular bow quivers. The bowstring facility is a very large undertaking, employing about 8 ladies, each working on special in-house designed string jigs.
In their heyday, Martin turned out 8,000 strings per week, supplying many of the major bow companies with their strings and cables.
The factory is spread over a large area and since 1951, when Gail fletched his first commercial arrows on his kitchen table, there have been about 30 separate extensions to the factory.
As well as the Walla Walla plant, there is a second factory known as the Howatt Plant, at 3409 Fruitvale Boulevard in Yakima, about 130 miles to the north east, where traditional bows and compound limbs are made and where the late famous bowyer, Damon Howatt made his recurves and longbows.
Howatt began making bows in his garage in 1938 as a hobby and in 1939 he organized the first archery club in town. By 1944 he started Damon Howatt Archery. As archery increased in popularity and more and more people wanted to buy his bows, he decided to build bows full time and bought land where he and his wife worked together, he building bows while his wife built arrows. Business grew rapidly where by 1957, the Howatt Plant was producing 5,000 to 6,000 bows and 30,000 arrows annually. Most of his staff were archers who became bowyers, so it is no wonder they were producing some of the finest bows in the country. The business consumed most of their time, so in 1961, Damon Howatt retired and sold his business to another local businessman, Bob Paisley, owner of the music stand factory next door. Six months later, Damon Howatt was killed in a car accident when struck by another car at an intersection while driving his Volkswagen camper. Howatt was only 57 years old at the time of his death. Gail Martin purchased the company from Bob Paisley in 1976.
Some years before his untimely death, Damon Howatt offered to sell his business to Gail Martin, but it never eventuated. After the purchase, it was intended to move the business from Yakima to Walla Walla, but the bowyers were against such a move, having upwards of 20 or 30 years service and so the Howatt Plant was retained and that is why compound limbs are fabricated at Yakima to make Yakima viable as a stand alone facility.
A second bowyer, Larry Nirk, a smaller bowyer trading as Nirk Archery in Potlatch, Idaho, was purchased by Martin in similar circumstances to the Howatt acquisition. However with the Nirk purchase, staff did move to Walla Walla and since that time, the famous Nirk Rebel recurve has been made at Yakima with Nirk nocks and Nirk bowstringers produced at the Walla Walla plant.
Some interesting facts. Martin Archery are the second biggest employer in Walla Walla after the State Penitentiary. Some Martin work is outsourced and many small machine shops in the district rely on Martin for their work.
For many years, Martin owned and operated a large retail sports store comprising a whole street block in the centre of town, retailing all manner of sporting goods including an archery section.
However Martin needed to purchase a CNC machine so that they could make their compound bow risers in house, rather than relying on fabricators in the east and invariably incurring production delays and ongoing freight costs in shipping them west. A very hard decision was taken by the family to sell the retail block to finance the purchase of the CNC machine. The reason this was a hard call was because the family knew that their employees of long standing, working in their sporting store, would be out of a job as Martin was unsuccessful in attracting a buyer for the store as a going concern.
The genuine hospitality extended by Gail and Eva, Dan and Becky and Terry and his son, Ryan and his son-in-law, Martin Lotz was a joy to experience. In fact on the morning of our departure, the Walla Walla airport was closed due to bad weather and Martin Lotz drove us to Prescott airport which had been reporting clear weather. However by the time we drove to Prescott, the weather there had turned bad and Martin Lotz thought nothing of driving us to Pasco and arranging a flight out, such is the generosity of the family.
Abbey and Martin have enjoyed a very happy relationship extending over many, many years and this visit was a highlight of our trip to the USA.