Andreas Wagner started working at EDELRID over 50 years ago. He talks here about the company's history from his perspective. Andreas started out as an apprentice machine fitter, today he is an expert on rope making and development.
When did you first come into contact with EDELRID?
My older sisters used to work for EDELRID and I had a holiday job with the company when I was twelve. Karl and Maria Benk, who owned EDELRID at the time, often used to come to our house. This is where they met me and it was decided that I should come and help out during my holidays from 1962 onwards.
How did your career start?
I left school when I was fourteen, I had originally intended to become an apprentice braider at EDELRID, but it wasn't possible. Instead it was suggested that I become an apprentice machine fitter, despite the fact the company had no master machinist at the time. A machinist was appointed for the small metalworking department on the 1st April 1964. I started out by learning how to repair the machinery, i.e. welding, drilling and turning. I learnt a lot from the master machine fitter and Herr Schneider, another apprentice machine fitter, I also learnt about rope manufacturing. After I passed my machine fitter examination in 1967 I was given responsibility for setting the machines for certain products.
In 1973 the company experienced its darkest hour. The premises were completely destroyed by fire. What caused it?
EDELRID used to make large amounts of shoe laces. The stiff section at the end of the shoelace has a band or aglet wrapped around it to stop it unravelling. These were fitted by special machines using the solvent acetone, which was stored in barrels. Back then, people didn't know how dangerous acetone was. On a scorching hot afternoon in July, some point between two and three o'clock, the barrels started to heat up. Acetone boils at just over fifty degrees. One of the barrels was not properly closed; gas leaked out and made its way up into the production hall. A young, pregnant woman turned on the light and the gas ignited; the barrels exploded. The chain reaction quickly set the whole premises up in flames.
What happened after the fire? Was the machinery destroyed too?
The fire burnt everything: the production facilities, the offices were all gone. Even the design drawings were lost. All that was left was in the employees' heads. At first, we didn't know what we were going to do. Everybody put down on paper what they could remember. They were hard times; we worked for fifty to sixty hours a week pulling the braiding machines from the ruins and then repairing them. We managed to repair and start one braiding machine a week. It wasn't possible to save all the machines, but luckily we managed to salvage all the large machinery that made climbing ropes.
How did you continue production?
We set up makeshift facilities at Seltmanns, a former paper factory. And we spread production over a number of different sites. The machines were repaired in the old Schlagentweiht metalworking shop and temporary offices were organised at the Benk family's house. In the meantime Maria Benk had taken over the running of the company after her husband Karl Benk died. Her sons Axel and Claus also worked and held responsibility in the company – Claus was a climber, he really brought rope development forward. By mid-1974 normal production had resumed. The offices and production facilities that we still use to this day were built separately from one another.
Claus Benk led EDELRID with passion and dedication. What was it like working with him?
Claus was very dedicated and committed to the company and to standards development. He even got together with the competition. In 1992 Claus was involved in a riding accident and has been quadriplegic ever since. The years that followed were difficult. Claus was like a friend to me; we worked well as a team. But this era was over. Regarding rope production, I said to myself "You have to rise to the challenge, Andreas."
In 2001 EDELRID was taken over by The Rope Company. What was this like?
Up until this point EDELRID had always been a family business. Along came a new manager, who had nothing but numbers in his head. Everything was strictly monitored, short-term profits became the priority. At the end of every month, it was all about the sales results...
In 2006 EDELRID became part of the VAUDE Group run by Albrecht von Dewitz. How are things now?
Teamwork has now become more important once again. Working at EDELRID is like being part of a big family. The company is more interested in long-term development than short-term profits. I had actually planned to retire in December 2012. But it's such a great team I've decided to stay on for a while. You know, it takes a long time to get familiar with the thousands of small cogs you set to make a climbing rope. I'm happy to assist my younger colleagues.
Interview: Anke von Birckhahn, PR EDELRID. 10th January 2013.