Reminiscing Compound Bows, Part 1

Bob Ragsdale

Reminiscing Compound Bows, Part 1

By Bob Ragsdale

Aug 10, 2007 – 9:38:50 AM


Brief Introductory Summary?.

This article was printed in the June-July issue of NFAA?s ARCHERY magazine touted as my very last article after so many years. There will be a straggler article on occasion but no longer as a regular columnist. RETIREMENT, I call it.

Noting all of the new bow models that have come on the market recently I was essentially jealous that they could put out a new product and have essentially every model working well and looking good. The point of this article was simply to point out some of the many growing pains the very few originals compound bow manufacturers had to endure. Which accounts for the most of the reason that it took so many years for archery manufacturers to start putting noticeable money into the purses. That is, for many, many years if a shooter didn?t have a sponsor covering expenses and didn?t finish in first second or third they couldn?t make a dime shooting archery tournaments. Finally, after surviving the great expense of solving the many, many, problems of making the bows reliable they are no longer merely hanging on by their fingernails and can finally use some profit money to promote the sport the way we have wanted all these years.

I hope you enjoy the few ?rest of the story? incidents I reflect herein. 

For archery, Bob Ragsdale

There Were So Many Hard Lessons To Be Learned

As a pro shop owner in the early 1970?s I had seen the VERY small ads on Allen ?Compound? bows but like everyone else I hadn?t a clue as to what it was all about, or even imagined how it would soon dramatically change the entire sport and industry. Like so many others I joked and made fun of them and never in my wildest dreams imagined how much a part of my life they would soon become.


Figure 1. This is one of the later improved rod limb models. Earlier models had less graceful handles and the limb rods were not flat on the top. Note how the Dacron string loop is attached to the cables with %u201CS%u201D hooks and the cables were not even coated with only shrink tubing added where they crossed and rubbed each other. Every part was handmade, including the round plastic eccentrics that were cable grooved on a lathe. I shot one for a long time and harvested deer with it.


I love to tell the story about the day I saw the first one in person. It was at the Texas NFAA state field tournament, just hanging among all our recurves on the bow rack in the practice area. The only one at the shoot, no one would even dare go near it and there were little groups standing all around pointing and snickering and cutting up as it just hung there as the center of attention.


I believe it was a black rod limb model belonging to Joe Butts, husband of our Texas state secretary, Nelle. Finally one guy walked up and took it off the rack. After giving it the once over he raised it and drew it back. I?m sure the noise wasn?t nearly as loud as I remember but it was loud enough to get the attention of everyone in the area, CRACK, and it collapsed in a heap with a broken limb. No telling how many years that may have set back compound bow sales in Texas.


His early little ?2 x 4? inch ads in a few magazines showed Mr. Holless Wilbur Allen kneeling behind a bear with the statement of ?knock down power no other bow can equal? and he had a long row-to-hoe before it finally took hold. As you might imagine he was on a low budget and only making a few in his backyard shop for some time.


That limb breakage was more or less no more than Phase-1 of many, many learning cycles every manufacturer had to learn the hard way in the years to come. Heaven only knows all the problems Mr. Allen had to solve just to bring it to that point. Every one of the earliest manufacturers lived through broken limbs, broken handles, broken eccentrics, broken brackets, broken cables, broken strings and everything you can imagine as they figured it out by the seat of their pants. There were and still are no college courses on compound bow technology and no one could afford spending ?millions? on stress engineering and testing so they all had to solve each situation themselves.


Legend has it that Mr. Allen came home mad from a deer hunt after one had ?jumped the string? after hearing his recurve shoot and there and then he decided there must be a better way to get a faster arrow without drawing a ?hundred? pounds. Be that as it may, I heard that one of his sons was an engineer type and that he convinced him to take a leave of absence from his work so they could put their heads together on the project, but again, legend has it.


The result was the basic compound bow principle and they carried it through to the point that on December 30, 1969 he earned patent, # 3,486,495 for ?An ARCHERY BOW WITH DRAW FORCE MULTIPLYING ATTACHMENTS.? Contrary to popular belief, the patent drawing does contain a ?2 wheel? model equipped with oblong shaped ?cam? eccentrics and adjustable flat, forked limbs. In later years almost every manufacturer building under his license applied for and received other patents for minor improvements and there is a large number of them for minor alterations. As one manufacturer reflected to me, ?The only reason you patent something is to keep anyone else from hassling you for manufacturing your own idea.?  


There were only about a dozen licenses to manufacture compound bows ever issued by Mr. Allen. Jennings, PSE and Olympus were the first three I believe and Carroll, Outers, Browning and Astro plus a couple others that I just can?t recall now were the only selections you had, until years later after the patent was no longer in effect. Licensees were all required to pay a small fee for each unit they manufactured.

As for all those other patents issued which were no more than slight improvements? to compound bows, probably very little money ever really changed hands based on their use because in many cases it was only an agreement of ?if you don?t charge me to use your idea, I won?t charge you to use mine.? Anyone can copy a patented design idea for their own personal use as long as they are not sold. Patent rights can only be enforced for 14 years I believe and after that the door is open to anyone to manufacture so now you can see why after 1983 or so there were so many new brand names of compound bows appearing on the market. During the evolution period some of what were then the leading recurve bow manufactures held out for a few years and did not adopt compounds until after it was very obvious that they were here to stay.


All of the earliest compound manufacturers paid a high price for all those oversights and growing pains. Every one of them had breakages and problems develop that they had to take care of at great expenses and most went years hanging by their fingernails to survive. The later ?johnny-come-lately? builders avoided all that and went right into business.


Allen had even more things to resolve well before the first licensed manufacturer ever went into production. The earliest ones were crude, but then that?s where he was in the scheme of things then. His earliest rod limb ?6 wheeler? (2 eccentrics and 4 little pulleys as in the photos) for example required nothing to hold crossing cables out of the way and had a homemade round fiberglass rod limb with a metal plate folded over the end to hold the eccentric pulley. Yes, that is nothing but a 3/16th inch all thread stove bolt going through an aluminum bushing simply cut from tubing in the eccentric with the threads hammered over to secure the nut.


Frankly I loved the later ?bracket mounted? eccentrics, they kept everything aligned and we never had a complaint of a ?leaning? wheel or a ?twisted? limb. We joked that we just sold them and never heard form them again. The limbs were so easy to make without a fork and nothing but two mount holes and I personally liked fact that when you leaned you bow against a tree it was the limb tip in the mud and not the wheel and string. Accuracy was great, for example at the NFAA field nationals in the early 1970?s the first ever 2800 perfect scores were posted by 2 men, one with a bracket limb bow. That was five 560 rounds on our earliest larger 3-5 face before it was made more difficult with 5-4-3 scoring as it is now.


I am confident that all of the earlier manufacturers also proceeded by the seat of their pants with small experiments and modifications exactly as Allen did. To me, compound bows are by no means high-tech or even complicated. To me, their only significant feature is the reduced holding weight while aiming and their basic principle is no more than ?temporarily making the limbs longer and therefore weaker.? Get it, that?s where the ?let-off? comes from. Before you draw, the bowstring is near the end of the limb but at full draw the bowstring has moved out several inches away from the limb tip so it is effectively longer and therefore weaker while you are holding it with your ?block and tackle.? Of course the extra arrow speed over the same peak weight with a recurve or longbow is nice but that is not as necessary for increased accuracy as being able to take all the time you need to aim precisely.


When compounds first came out they essentially all shot the same speed because they all had about the same draw force curve energy storage level from their round eccentrics with a 9 to 10 inch brace height and all used an energy wasting Dacron bowstring that continually stretched and contracted. The very earliest ones had about 33% let-off that we thought at first felt like 90%. In later years public demand was for 50% and later on to 65% for more comfortable aiming.


For a great many years no bow company even bothered to list the velocity ratings of their models in catalogs since every bow had virtually the exact same list of ?mechanical advantages? to perform virtually the same. At that time it was enough to simply know that they were all significantly faster that a recurve or longbow of the same peak weight and that?s all anyone cared about.

To Be Coninued: Tales of

limb and riser breakage, cable problems, string problems and more as the compound evolves.


© Copyright 2005 by