How Leatherman conquered NAMPO

  • Bruce Tretheway (wearing the black apron) in action at the NAMPO show, surrounded by loyal Leatherman customers.
  • Bruce Tretheway (wearing the black apron) in action at the NAMPO show, surrounded by loyal Leatherman customers.
  • The smashed car after the egress of its passengers, shaken and stirred. Moral: seatbelts are not there for decorative purposes.
  • The smashed car after the egress of its passengers, shaken and stirred. Moral: seatbelts are not there for decorative purposes.
Date:27 July 2009 Author: Alan Duggan Tags:, ,

Bruce Tretheway, the man behind the Leatherman brand in South Africa – and a whole bunch of other cool products – is among PM’s most loyal supporters (bless him, and all who sail with him). Together with his wife, Barbara, he lives and breathes his products with a passion that’s almost palpable.

Intent on getting up close and personal with the people who use (and occasionally abuse) his iconic tools, he makes a regular pilgrimage to the annual NAMPO Harvest Day in Bothaville, Free State, an agricultural show that must be experienced to be believed. This year, over 630 exhibitors – including Awesome Tools – attracted some 60 000 visitors. As one awed visitor tells it: “Most of them were no-nonsense farmers with legs like tree trunks and extremely good manners.”

Bruce’s participation takes a very practical form: he goes there to fix broken or otherwise less-than-perfect Leatherman tools, all of which come with a lifetime guarantee. (This means what it says, by the way. Even if Bruce suspects you damaged the tool while levering a 200 kg manhole cover from its mount, he’ll fix it for nothing.)

Rather than paraphrase Bruce’s account of his NAMPO experience, I thought it would be fun to let him tell it in his own, colourful words. It seems getting there was half the fun

“So NAMPO has come and gone. Always a bit of a blur, with some hiccoughs. I left for Bothaville on 6 May, sparrow’s fart, (4:30) and drove on the R27 through to Springbok, having breakfast at the Springbok lodge cafe, a favourite stop due to the rock collection they have built up over the years. A quick visit to George Swanson’s left my wallet much lighter but added another 20 kg to my load in the form of two pieces of Blue Lace Agate, one sample of which is well on its way to becoming a frog under the grinding hands of Jo Wicht. The other provided some polished coffee tampers for various espresso machines I know.

“Driving East from Springbok was a breath of fresh air. I thought I was in the old South Africa big open spaces, everyone driving at 150 (what’z up have the coffer-stuffing-cameras not made it this far north?!) AH!, the feel of freedom! Long flat stretches with a series of upheavals where rock pyramids and ridges have been forced up from the bowels of the earth. Must have been quite an event millions of years ago.

“On through to the famous metropolis of Pofadder. There, while stopped by the old stone works, I saw my first diamond wire saw in action. The monument business there has a selection of neat old tools for cutting and polishing granite. Westwards to Kakamas, stopping by Mineral Springs rock shop, where Jaco and Tanya rule the roost over an extensive rock collection. I came close to some more lightening of the wallet there. On to Upington, to the fairgrounds, where I set up our counters for servicing tools and displaying goodies. The next 3 days were spent supporting Walker Midas at the fair, servicing, sharpening, and polishing Leatherman tools and blinding people with a variety of lights.

“A very friendly show, but not the crowds that we like to see. Sunday was breakdown, load up and off to Bothaville, arriving about 7 pm, just in time for dinner at the “NAMPO Hilton”. For the past 3 years, we have been staying in a barn on the Farm of Hugo Hilton. The accommodation is a bit rough, but the food is good and there’s lots of hot water. There is a campsite alternative right by the showgrounds that we enjoyed during our early years going to NAMPO, but the farmers celebrating around the camp fires was more reminiscent of the first auditions of Idols.

“Fortified with brandewyn, they were convinced that they were the next singing sensation in SA, and their stamina held through the wee hours of the morning. 6 am comes quickly, so the lack of serenading is preferred at the Hilton. Driving into the parking at NAMPO on several occasions has seen an interesting phenomenon, with ice on the puddles, Freestate farmers in their rugby shorts and T-shirts, barefoot, cooking up some lamb for breakfast. Built like brick outhouses, they seem oblivious to the sub-zero temperatures, and are having a great time waiting for the fair to open. Possibly it is all the brandewyn antifreeze they inhaled last night that makes them impervious to the cold.

“First morning at NAMPO sees us supporting our old friends from Safari Centre in Bloem. We are inundated with a line-up of about 60 farmers, all dropping off their own Leatherman tools for makeovers (plus a lot more belonging to Oom, and Koos, and Boetie, and Tannie). They have been hammering on them every day for the past year, and at the very least, need sharpening, polishing and oiling. These are serious working men – and their tools look it, sometimes arriving covered with blood from the last castration or “event”.

“I never know if I should be dipping my hands in boiling water after touching them, but this is a nice bunch of customers who appreciate the help we give them. The next 4 days are a bit of a blur, just trying to keep up. This market use their hands a lot and they understand the benefits of investing in good kit, so sales are brisk.

“We had a bit of a scare on the night of the 14th. Four staff were returning from an entertaining evening telling lies, hit some washboard and soft sand, and were unlucky enough to lose a bead. The rim caught the dirt and the vehicle rolled. One of our reps was a bad boy and had not buckled up, so was appropriately punished by heading the windshield. Now with 3 staff from a company that distributes EDC “Every Day Carry” torches, you would think that one of them would have one on them. Nope.

“They could not find the cellphone or the tools to change the tyre and get mobile, so in a panic, a run to Hilton’s farm was in order to raise the alarm. There were some tense moments worrying about continued breathing, and possible back damage. About 75 minutes after the accident, the ambulance finally arrived and took him through to Klerksdorp. I must say, all were delighted to see the arrival of the professionals, and he has since recovered – save a long list of aches and pains.

“The end of the show signals the big pack-up, somehow getting all the junk back in the trucks and trailers. The rolled Citroen was drivable after the tyre was changed, so I drove it down in convoy with the other 2 trucks with trailers. By the end, we were all exhausted, all happy to get home and establish a close relationship with a pillow. We managed to repair about 500 damaged tools, and tuned up another 300 that just required a little love.”

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