Coleman products have been illuminating the wilderness for a century

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- Many an American has hit the road for a camping trip with a Coleman lantern and stove packed in with the sleeping bags and marshmallows.

The Kansas-based company, which has sold more than 100 million products to lovers of the outdoors, is celebrating its centennial this year. Over the course of that century, Coleman stoves and lanterns have become part of camping lore.

One such tale, told by Pete Staks of Salt Lake City, is typical.

Staks and nine friends owned a creaky deer hunting cabin in northern Wisconsin. The place had no running water and was heated by a potbelly stove. The hunters used an ancient Coleman gas stove to cook.

''The cabin finally collapsed one winter,'' recalled Staks. ''The next spring, looking through all the walls, dead flies and mouse feces, we raked through everything. The only thing that stuck out was the Coleman stove. It still worked.''

The piece of camping equipment continues to serve as the main stove at a relocated camp.

Over the years, longtime Coleman public-relations executive Jim Reid has heard similar stories, including the ones about shipwreck survivors who clung to the company's coolers for floatation.

Several Coleman Arc Lamps, the precursor to the classic lantern that uses silk mantles, illuminated one of the first night football games in 1905. Adm. Richard E. Byrd took one of the original lanterns on his journey to the South Pole. Moonshiners used the lanterns during Prohibition because there was no telltale smoke to tip off authorities.

Seven years ago, a California family found an original 1923 gas stove in the attic. The stove, complete with a built-in oven, contained its original owner's manual. Reid traded modern gear for the antique.

That stove and the original gas lantern, developed in 1914, were on display at the recent Outdoor Writers Association of America conference in St. George. Reid said the basic technology of those originals and the liquid gas models used today is the same. The principle is using pressurized gas.

''The materials and design are better (now),'' he said. ''There is better performance. But the look is similar. It's like a Jeep. It is supposed to look a certain way.''

Coleman products have been compared to Jeeps more than once.

''The Coleman stove, along with the Jeep and the Bailey bridge, are winning the war,'' wrote World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle in one of his classic dispatches.

The pocket model stove, which could operate for two hours on a cup of Jeep or plane fuel, was a precursor to the modern backpacking stove. Soldiers used it to stay warm, heat rations, brew coffee and boil water for shaving and washing clothes.

The Coleman Company has Utah connections beyond the fact that many of its customers live here.

A plant in Cedar City produced Coleman sleeping bags until it was closed, and its 111 workers fired, in May 1998, two weeks after the company was acquired by Sunbeam Corp. Sleeping-bag production moved to an automated plant in South Carolina.

In the years since acquiring Coleman, Sunbeam has hit tough times. A month after closing the Utah plant, the small-appliance maker fired more than 6,000 other employees, or 40 percent of its work force, in an effort to lower costs in the wake of an unexpected drop in earnings.

Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Sunbeam's former chairman, Albert Dunlap, of inflating the company's earnings in a civil fraud complaint. And Sunbeam has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Despite Sunbeam's problems, the cachet of the Coleman brand continues. The name is synonymous with bringing home comfort to the great outdoors. Reid said the company will reach the 60 million mark in lantern sales next year. But propane-powered outdoor appliances have surpassed the traditional gas models in sales, largely because they are easier to use.

Jack Kirkham Sr., who opened Kirkham's AAA Tent and Awning in downtown Salt Lake City in 1944, has sold thousands of Coleman stoves, coolers and lanterns. He also sold the patents of some of his Springbar tent designs to Coleman. He worked as an adviser to the company from 1965 until 1980.

''One of our favorite things was that if somebody else was selling (Coleman stoves and lanterns) for a dollar cheaper, we used to ask: 'Will they tell you how they work?'''

Though the traditional green Coleman trademark distinguishes much of its traditional line of products, the diversity in its outdoor gear is a far cry from the early days. The current product catalog has 96 pages of outdoor gear, from tiny backpacking stoves to canoes.

Those products range in price from $3 imitation lantern flashlights to $250 tents. The relatively low prices for coolers, tents, sleeping bags, heaters, lanterns, stoves and the like continue to make them staples for middle America's campers.

(Distributed by the Associated Press) -

Wilderness therapy schools win Legislative approval

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon's largely unregulated wilderness schools would have to be licensed by the state under a bill that won final Legislative approval this week.

HB3330 is aimed at residential outdoor programs tailored to provide therapy to youths with discipline, emotional or drug problems.

It would require the schools to be licensed by the Office of Services to Children and Families by March 1, 2002, or show proof of license application and bonding. The bill would establish an advisory board on the schools.

The proposal was approved unanimously in the state Senate. It was introduced after the death of 15-year-old William Eddie Lee, of Scappoose, who stopped breathing while being restrained last September during a Lake County outing run by the Obsidian Trails outdoor school.

The previous December, two runaways from the outdoor program took a vehicle at knifepoint from a Lake County ranching couple.

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