A letter from Hal Cooper to Bob Dunn February 1993 reads:
Thank you for your letter dated 25th of Jan 93 and cheque for $80 to cover the cost of the Halco 5 ½’’ drum reel.
I believe you are writing a book on early Australian Reels, and request some info on the reels I made back in the dark ages, and a brief history on Halco. While I am only too happy to oblige I must mention and apologize that I hate writing letters, and my typewriter can not spell correctly. (I can but it cannot!!) Also, it will be very brief, but I feel sure you can fill in the gaps.
HALCO is my name, Hal Cooper. I started business in Oct 1950 with £5, a 2 ¼ HP motor bike, and a small Hercus lathe. I left school just before my 15th birthday, so had no great amount of education, but I was inventive, very mechanically minded, and had a great desire to please! Served an apprenticeship with F & R Tough Instrument Makers, after which I had various jobs as a Fitter and a few weeks at sea as a Marine Engineer.
Around 1950, Korean War was on and jobs were scarce, I was 23 years old, my brother was a very keen fisherman using a 10ft Rangoon cane rod that most beach fisherman used in those days, You bought the blank runners, winch fitting and mate it up yourself. He sued a REGAL 5 ½ or 6’’ (Can not remember) and Graeme chrome plated lures.
As I had the mass of aforementioned equipment, I started to make a few lures, but improving the finish to a quality item, whereas the Graeme was a rough as guts. Then came the 5 ½’’ drum reel, which in the early stages was very primitive! But after a cpuple of years I was making a quality reels as per reel enclosed. Keep in mind these reels were designed for beach fishing, and if dropped in the sane could be dunked in the salt water to wash out the sand.
The Graeme lures came in # 1..2..3 that was his entire range sold in W.A, so I based mine on his but mine were buffed all over, plated and stamped with their weights 1 ½ oz 1 ¾ oz & 2 ½ oz. All had two swing limerick holes. No one used trebles, I think it was considered “Sissy”.
During this time, in order to eat I called on the local garages for small jobs, skimming commutators of the old generators. That included picking up and delivering for 4/6 pence (45c). This is how I met my wife. I was too shy to talk to girls but Pam worked on the counter in a local garage, she looked nice, so when delivering jobs, I would ask got tail light globes for the motor bike, just for something to say. Finished up with a lot of bulbs!
Was developing a nice little engineering business while making more and more reels and lures. Nearly all the production machinery used during my 31 years in business was designed and made by me. Some automatic the others semi auto. Made all my own press tools for stamping out the lures and also did a lot of Plastic Injection Dies for a local company. All this was getting too much for me so quit outside work and devoted my time solely to Halco.
I then started to import Hooks..Split Rings.. Nylon Covered Wire for my own use and also to pre-pack for retail outlets. All work on the lures was done in the factory, including elect-oplating. This last item was an “in line unit” and considered by my supplier of chemicals as the best small example in W.A. Towards the end, the business was getting too big for me personally to handle and eventually it was sold to Mr Niel Patrick. Sold out in 10980 at age 54 years. Halco was the largest manufacture, of it’s kind, in Australia.
Now the Halco 5 ½ ‘’ aluminium drum reel is the next question in your letter. The drum was anodised, most parts were plated brass, hardened and ground spindle, cast alum back with was sprayed in Hammer Tone Paint. Your reel was made up from spare parts but sprayed with ordinary green enamel.
They were always sold in the plastic bag, but I seem to recall that towards the finish of production I did have boxes made for them.
Those fishermen who could master the art of “over ryn” with this reel were a pleasure to watch, with their ease of movement distance obtained. Those people would use nothing else. I suppose I sold a few hundred. I originally took the pattern from the REGAL which I believe was made by a mane who lived in Midland Junction and working in the Railway Workshops??? He did not isre a hardened and groundspindle but used a ¼’’ whitwor round head screw. He turned the head of the screw down to form a taper and had a cone with ¼’’ W taped hole screwed to the alum back. On the outside of the back he had a lock nut which held the cone spindle firm and allowed for adjustment. This reel was popular, simple, strong but ROUGH. I have no idea on how many were made, but I recall the Regal disappeared from the market sometime before I finished production. I feel he worked part time so that might give you some idea. In the early 60’s I had valued customer in Launceston, Michaelis Bailey Pty Ltd. They were buying a lot of Halco Lures, and they kindly sent me a sample of an English Thread Line Reel. I have forgotten the name, but it was made almost entirely of die cast zine parts. It sold around £2, looked good, worked well, and they asked me could I make it. Stupid me said yes and they gave me an assurance they would place an order for 300-400?
I had all injection dies made, cost around £1000, does not sound much today but please consider that a brand new Holden cost a few pounds over £1000!!!! Also, please consider I had no money to spare. I eventually made a monstrosity, rough as bags, stiff. I sent the order, but a few weeks later I had a note from a shipping Co saying there was a box for me from Tasmania. It turned out that they returned the whole shipment. I never did blame them as the reel was horrible. I did in the end turn out a much better model, but in the same week of me travelling around Perth showing the new model, I noticed that Coles or Woolworths were selling a far superior reel made in Japan for 23 shillings. Mine would have sold for 42 shillings. Needless to say I hardly sold any thread line reels. Production stopped. Given time I may have been able to turn out a quality reel. Now its just an amusing memory.
The main problem I had was the gears. The English model had die cast gears, which is very easy to cast and obtain a perfect shape. Smarty pants me decided to go one better and had the gears cast in aluminium bronze!!! This material is extremely strong and hard wearing but at the time was the worst material possible being difficult to cast precision parts. Especially in W.A! Also the “pick up bail” was made from spring stainless wire, bent and formed in one piece. Looking back over the years I spent in business, I now consider that the making of that spring is perhaps the most difficult job I have ever undertaken.
I must have given you to understand that I sold a few hundred reel but now having to think deep on what did happen I realise that very few thread line reels were sold. Yes I made a few hundred but!
I trust this letter will prove of some help to you, and suggest that if you require any further info please phone me, and I will give you the facts over the phone. I will not promise to write again, as typing these few words have been agony.
Kind regards & best wishes to you and your book.