The building that housed the original R.L. Winston Rod Company in Twin Bridges burned down early Sunday morning May 7, 2017. The fire department was called at 3:30 a.m., and the building was totally engulfed when emergency crews arrived. Firefighters were still cleaning up the scene at 8 a.m.
“ Winston fly rods suffered a great loss in history, tradition and the best bamboo rods on the market Sunday morning when the Winston Bamboo shop caught fire,” said Winston General Manager Jeff Wagner. “It is suspected the fire resulted in a total loss of property and equipment, valued at over $1 million. Fortunately no one was harmed and no damage to surrounding property occurred. More than the money, for Winston, the fire feels like the passing of a family member. Countless hours through many hands have shaped the fine bamboo rods that have passed through the now charred doors. It is not surprising the emotion Winston rods is feeling, and the healing process will take time. But, as we grieve we also look to the future.
“The Winston rod company has been in business for almost 90 years. A fire will not impede that history and growth forward. Every situation has two sides. We will choose to look at the opportunity this creates and drive toward the future. Winston will be rebuilding over the coming months, we hope to be back in operation by the end of the year. It wont be easy but it is a great opportunity to reinforce this storied tradition and reinforce who we are. Getting back to our roots, and learning from even this.
“To our customers we apologize for any inconvenience. But know that by 2018 we will be back up and running. Don’t hesitate to place your orders now, knowing that the same quality with a heightened sense of place will be available again soon. We hope that you will follow us through this journey as we build the next chapter of the company’s history!”
There is a newer R.L. Winston Rod Co. facility located several blocks away at 500 South Main St. in Twin Bridges. The new building produces all of Winston’s graphite rods and house the corporate offices. The building that burned May 7 was used exclusively to store bamboo and to manufacture Winston’s cherished and valuable bamboo rods.
Robert Winther and Lew Stoner started what is known today as the R.L. Winston Rod Company in 1929 in San Francisco, combining their names into the new brand. The company’s bamboo rods soon became famous for their design and workmanship. In 1975, owner Tom Morgan and partner Glenn Brackett moved the business from California to Twin Bridges to take advantage of the local trout fishing on the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Ruby, and Jefferson rivers. Twin Bridges has been the home of Winston rods ever since.
Tom Morgan sold Winston in 1991 and in in 1992 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). In 1995 he married Gerri Carson, and in 1996 he started Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a company which he and Gerri have operated in Manhattan, Montana, until the recent sale in 2017 to Joel Doub and Matt Barber.
Glenn Brackett also famously left Winston Rods and with former Winston employee Jerry Kustich started Sweetgrass Rods, located at 501 N Main Street in Twin Bridges. Sweetgrass recently moved to Butte, Montana, and none of their bamboo or assets were affected by the fire in Twin Bridges.
All of these important icons in Montana’s bamboo rod tradition got started in this one little shop on Main Street, Twin Bridges. And now it’s gone.