Our First 10 Years
by Jim Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman won the Academy Award for best actor in “Kramer vs. Kramer”, gas was less than a dollar a gallon, (ouch!) and a new car cost less than $10,000.00. The year was 1979. And this was our first year in business, the beginning of our company… Homestead Log Homes Inc. Now, in retrospect, sadly everyone’s hero… John Wayne had just died from lung cancer. Our buddy, the Shaw just got booted from Iran. Plus, those pesky Islamic militants went fanatical and held U.S. hostages there, and the evil Soviet Union invaded poor Afghanistan. “In other words, things were finally starting to improve in the Middle East, for Jimmy Carter.” But the worst thing of all for me was that… disco was taking over mainstream music and rap music had just hit the charts. I was musically devastated. I still loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Now in 1979, the hot selling commodity all over Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, were efficient burning woodstoves and fireplace inserts. Manufacturers were starting up all over the Willamette valley and in Washington state, with Schrader Woodstoves out of Eugene, Oregon one of the leaders. The key to Schrader’s success was their great assortment of shapes and sizes of stoves to fit every square footage of home, and their patented cast aluminum alloy doors that were light-weight and unique to the stove market. The company claimed more heat would pass through their doors into the room than with cast iron. And, although they were a little more expensive, the selling points were innovative and effective. I worked for Dennis and his wife, Donna, and they owned and operated five retail stove stores around Southern Oregon and Northern California, but our Medford store was the main office and where we all worked. We were selling woodstoves like hotcakes in 1979, each with a set of stove pads, a chimney system and complete installation. There were free standing models, units that tied into a home’s fireplace and stoves that were made specifically for mobile homes. Firewood was cheap and abundant, and everyone was trying to save money on their heating bills. Plus, everyone loved the natural warmth from wood heat and had to have one.
At the height of 1979’s wood burning season, our boss notified us of the next hot commodity… pre-cut log home kits. Too bad it wasn’t software for computers (Microsoft) or overly expensive mocha’s and latte’s (Starbuck’s). To this day, my Dad still reminds me that Bill Gates started his little company in 1978. I knew I should have paid more attention in that dreaded computer class I had in college. Dennis, on his own, had bought the dealership rights for Jackson County as an exclusive territory to sell log home kits. Homestead’s factory was near Redding, out in Anderson, California, about three hours south of Medford. He brought in co-workers Dave, Tom, Brian and me from our Schrader store and another couple from the Grants Pass store, as partners in a new start up. We each invested from one thousand to six thousand dollars. Our company was formed and Dennis put me in charge of selling pre-cut log home kits. We never talked about anything concerning building or contracting, it was just selling kits like we used to sell eight track tape decks and records to our friends. Dave had come up from Fremont, California a couple of years earlier and was one of the best salesmen and friendly guys I’d ever been around. He was a few years older, managed our store and was proud to be a Vietnam veteran. He was a key to Schrader’s dominance in the local woodstove market, was fun to work with and got me this job. Dennis had offered him a small slice of the Schrader Stove distributorships and he was full steam ahead for success. Tom was a year younger than me and had grown up in Medford. He and his family and friends knew everyone in southern Oregon. Tom was into motorcycle racing and had worked for an electrical and plumbing store, which came in handy. We got along great, and are still plugging along to this day. Brian had come up from the L.A. area with his wife and two kids to get into the home building and contracting business. Plus, to start a new life for his family here.