Frank Addington Interviews Camouflage Innovator Jim Crumley
Frank Addington: Tell us a brief description of your life growing up…
Jim Crumley: I grew up in Bristol, VA, with small game hunting, fishing, and sports my main interests. Like most boys, my Dad was my hunting and fishing mentor. I graduated from Virginia High School in Bristol in 1965.
FA: When did you first take up hunting?
JC: Dad started taking me on rabbit, quail and dove hunts when I was five, squirrels when I was eight (could sit still by then). Began carrying a single shot .410 when I was ten, with Dad along, of course. Dad passed away my senior year of high school so I regret that I never got to “take him hunting”.
FA: What about archery? Who inspired you to get involved in the sport?
JC: I played with a bow some while growing up but only shot rabbits and carp. I did not deer hunt (and that was with a shotgun) until 1965, my freshman year at VA Tech. When I graduated from Tech in 1969 I took a job teaching Marketing at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. (My second year there was the year “Remember The Titans” actually happened. I knew those students and was friends with the coaches.) I went to work in Alexandria on July 1, 1969. A couple of weeks later I needed a haircut and asked where the closest barbershop was. I was directed a couple of blocks from the school to a barbershop with deer skulls and “robin hood” arrows mounted all over the walls. From the back room came wonderful bluegrass music. I peeked in and for the first time saw the Puckett Brothers. Not only were Riley, Carlos, and Stanley great barbers, they were the Puckett Brothers Bluegrass Band, bowhunters, and first class competitive archers. Years later Riley introduced the Puckett Bloodtrailer Broadhead. A week later I bought my first compound bow from Tink Nathan’s Archery Shop in McClean, VA. I joined the Puckett’s archery club NORVA and began competing in archery shoots. I shot my first deer, a doe, with that bow that fall. By then I had shot a few deer with a gun, but when this doe came to ten yards it was the closest I had ever been to a live deer. I shook, hyper-ventilated, and evidently subconsciously blacked out for a few seconds because I remember drawing, aiming and releasing behind her left front shoulder. When I recovered her, the arrow was in her right rear ham and had severed the femoral. To this day I can’t explain that. However, the experience was life-changing for me. Because of that doe I became obsessed. I have not shot a deer, or elk, with a gun since.
FA: Name some of your earliest “hunting” heroes or role models?
JC: Just Fred Bear.
FA: Where did you grow up?
JC: Bristol, Virginia
FA: Prior to Trebark, how did you make a living?
JC: I taught Marketing at T. C. Williams High School from 1969-74, finished my Masters Degree and was an administrator from 1974-81. I began the Trebark Company in 1980, and retired from the school system in 1981.
FA: Tell me the story about the overalls and a permanent marker… (the original Trebark design).
JC: Most folks who got into archery enjoyed making their own arrows or bows and/ or just constantly tinkering with them to make them better. I liked doing that but for some reason kept wondering how I could be less detectable in the woods, so I started making my own clothes. At first I only wanted clothes that were gray and brown because all we had were military patterns that were green and tan.
I bought gray Dickies shirt and pants and tye dyed them in brown dye. They looked really bad, until you got into the woods. I finally decided that it would be easier for me to look like something that belongs in the woods instead of trying to completely disappear, so how about a tree trunk. So over the gray/brown base I used odorless markers to create segments that would resemble tree bark.
The basis of a camo pattern, just for hunters, was born.
FA: A lot of people may not realize that you were the first to think outside the box and create a “new” camo. Am I right? What other camo was available when you created Trebark?
JC: You are right. The only patterns available before Trebark® were all military and included what became to be known as: the WW II pattern (brown & tan); the Woodland Green pattern (dark & light greens); the Vietnam Tiger Stripe pattern (green & black); and of course military snow patterns. These patterns were available by mail order at the time in neat bowhunting clothing from Robert Hoague at CAMO CLAN.
FA: Where did you go to get this idea financed and off the ground?
JC: I was 30 years old, single, bullet proof, and dumb, a perfect combination for starting a company when every one said I was crazy. I had owned a townhouse for five years by then and got a second mortgage on it for the startup capital.
FA: Did people buy into the idea or was it a hard sell at first?
JC: I wouldn’t really call it an overnight success. It had a lot of people scratching their heads but when a guy bought a suit, and his buddies saw him in the woods, or in a tree, it sold more suits. I guess you could say it kinda’ grew on folks.
FA: I remember my family first met you at the Bowhunter Jamboree in Union Grove, North Carolina. This was circa 1980-1981. You had a single table at the event with a few options, I think it was a pair of pants, some T Shirts, a light weight jacket, a floppy hat and a baseball hat. That was it. Am I right?
You’re right again. That was one of my first, and best, shows. It was PSE Rep Larry Boring who suggested I go, and it was he that introduced me to you and your family.
FA: When did Trebark really take off?
JC: I’ll always credit Pat Snyder at Cabela’s for really putting Trebark® on the map. In 1983, he was a new, and the only camo buyer for Cabela’s. We met at the Shot Show and he introduced Trebark® in the Fall 1983 Catalog. I think he took a big chance, but happily for both us it worked. From that point on we simply could not catch up with the demand.
FA: What was it like to see “your baby” prosper and do so well?
JC: At the time I was busy just dealing with each day as it came. I didn’t realize what we were creating. Looking back now, I wouldn’t trade a second of it.
FA: Where was your factory located?
JC: We were, and still are, located in Roanoke, VA. Back then we contracted our manufacturing, all Made in the USA, and shipped it from our warehouse.
FA: What camo patterns came after the original gray Trebark®?
JC: Trebark® Khaki (dove fields), Trebark® Sage, Trebark® with Leaves, Trebark II, Trebark® Universal Gray and Green, Trebark® TrailCover, Trebark® Sniper, Trebark® Superflauge®, Trebark® Bigwoods®, and new this season,
FA: I know ALOT of famous folks wore your clothing. Give us some examples of how you knew you’d made it by celebrities or well known folks wearing your clothes?
JC: I have seen, or have pictures of, many too many to list for this article. Twenty six years gives celebrities a long time to choose. There were very well known actors, singers, athletes, and politicians, including one President. A few that stand out now, because of their support back in the ’80s when we were a young and growing company include the Colt’s Bert Jones, the Bears Walter Payton, and actor Ben Johnson.
FA: Tell me about the pretty lady that wears a watch with your photo on the face of the watch…
JC: Well, my face eventually broke Sherry’s watch, but she is still around here somewhere. Over the years she has come to enjoy hunting almost as much as I and is my favorite hunting partner. Although spring gobbler has become her favorite, she hunts deer hard and got her first bull elk last season. She served on the board of the National Wild Turkey Federation for six years, is a committee member for the National Rifle Association and Hunters for the Hungry. She currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, after being elected and serving as the first woman chairman in the 89 year history of our Game Department. Other than that she doesn’t do much!
FA: I remember being booked to do exhibitions for your Virginia headquarters a long time ago,maybe 1990 or so. It was a great place–lots of your products and also a pro archery shop. Tell us about that operation…
We had a great time with our retail operation for 15 years. Some other folks took it over in 2000, and eventually closed it in 2004. Our new operation now operates at that location.
FA: Ok, you’re really the first guy to lead this camo craze. How did it feel to see others enter the market following your footsteps?
JC: It was a compliment. It gave my vision credibility, and still does today.
FA: What bow companies used your patterns on their bows or accessories?
JC: PSE was first, then Hoyt, Martin, Mountaineer, Golden Eagle, Alpine, High Country, Mathews,
FA: Do you think that camo went from being concealment to a fashion business?
JC: Camo certainly has become an accepted addition to casual wear, and in some special cases even formal wear, and I think that is good, but hunting is its business.
FA: In your opinion, what is the best all around concealment for all terrains?
JC: Being completely still, at the right times.
FA: I remember once touring Color Works with Hoyt/Easton President Joe Johnston and sales rep Jim Wynne. It was a very impressive operation. You literally “dipped” an object into a tub and the camo adhered to the object. How exciting was it to see the Colorworks begin to put camo onto objects like bow risers, limbs, accessories, eye glass frames, etc?
JC: Their process was a huge addition to the manufacturing in our industry. It just made putting proprietary camo patterns on hard goods a relatively easy job.
Our company, CAMO Enterprises, Inc. www.camoent.com has been using the same process to decorate used guns and bows for folks since 1995.
FA: What did you do with the Trebark® name and company?
JC: All of the rights of ownership to Trebark® were sold to Haas Outdoors Inc./Mossy Oak effective July 1, 2000.
FA: Are you still involved in the business on a day to day operation? If not, what are you up to these days?
JC: On September 1, 2005, I was hired as President & CEO of a new company, Outdoor Families, Inc. DBA Outfitter Tuff® Brand Products. We will be bringing a line of outdoor garments and products including fishing, hunting, and casual wear to Outfitters and sportsman, direct. It will include bringing back garments in the Original Trebark® Camo pattern this fall. Our products are available direct from www.outfittertuff.com. We are also filming for our new TV show Jim Crumley’s Classics which is now available 24-7 on webtv by first going to the previous website then clicking outfitters.tv.
FA: One time while I doing exhibitions at the Dixie Deer Classic a bunch of us went to dinner at the upscale “Angus Barn” in Raleigh, NC It was the type of place where the wait staff wore white gloves.
Anyway, I dubbed it the President’s Dinner because Joe Johnston was there as President of Hoyt, you & Sherry, Bill Robinson founder of Scent Shield, Ben Southard from Loc On Treestands, Jim Wynne, myself and my assistant Rob Parog. Rob was well known for his animal imitations in the show and I remember Joe had Robbie make loud noises like a cricket and then as people began to look around, Joe took his cowboy boot and “SLAMMED IT” down loudly on the floor and exclaimed, “I got it.” Do you remember that dinner?
JC: I sure do, what a great time, and great memories. And there will be more!
FA: Jim, what has been the greatest achievement of your life?
JC: Hopefully I haven’t achieved it yet. Anyone has been blessed who makes a living loving what they do every day, doing it honestly, and never having any regrets. They say that growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional. I agree but if I ever do grow up I would like to be as tall as Toxey and Bill, or at least a lot taller than Rich Walton.
FA: What were some of your most memorable hunts?
JC: 1. First rabbit, with my Dad. When I picked it up, it had not yet expired and it screamed like a squallin’ baby.
2. First called in spring gobbler, opened another door to a new obsession.
3. First deer with bow, already mentioned above.
4. Sherry’s first gobbler.
5. First bull elk.
6. Biggest bull elk.
FA: Who has your position allowed you to meet that really impacted you in the sporting goods industry?
JC: Cotton Cordell, fishing lure designer. Years ago told me not to worry about being copied, just keep coming up with new ideas for them to copy.
FA: Any regrets?
FA: As a retailer, it’s often hard to guess what patterns to carry next since so many are on the market now. Where do you see the industry heading next?
JC: The big retailers have already started doing their own patterns. This should bring back the more popular patterns to the smaller retailer, and the websites.
FA: Any exciting projects on the horizon?
JC: Expanding our new Outfitter Tuff® Brand product line. Bringing back Original Trebark® after a sixteen year absence.
FA: Do you have books, DVDs or videos people can order? If so, where can they find them?
JC: One book, “Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting”, available on our website www.outfittertuff.com or 800-843-2266.
Starting Sunday July 2, 2006, TV show available 24-7 free on webtv (must have broadband to access), “Jim Crumley’s Classics”, our website above then click outfitters.tv link.
FA: Any last word of advice?
JC: Spend more time in the woods.
FA: Thanks Jim, you & Sherry will always be great friends and some of my favorite folks from the industry. God Bless you both.
JC: Same to you Frankie, y’all are great folks!