Leo C. Pachner was born in 1908 - one of seven children. At age 11 he suffered an accident while riding a horse and had three operations to repair the damage caused. The family lived in Michigan during this period and sharecropped sugar beets. As he recuperated, he spent many hours in the outdoors learning to fish, hunt and trap. Four years later, the family returned to its native Chicago and Leo vowed he would help others discover the values to be learned in the outdoors. Leo’s formal education ended at the sixth grade, but he learned much by traveling and as a young man spent several years on the road with his brother Louie hobo’ing on freight trains from Kansas to Canada.
In 1928 he settled back in Chicago and became a barber, eventually opening a shop in Chicago. A group of locals began to gather at the shop, sometimes to use the horseshoe diamond on the side, and other times just to chat, often about fishing. During his spare time in between giving haircuts to his barber shop customers, Pachner began to assemble his hooks at his barber shop and sold them to local fishermen who visited his barber shop. Pachner's handcrafted “Minnow Saver” hooks quickly proved highly successful among the local fishermen who tried fishing with them. As word, the demand for Pachner's hooks soon exceeded the limited number Pachner had time to assemble on his own while still operating his barber shop business.
The increasing demand caused Pachner to hire a helper, Fred Koehler, to help with promotion. By 1934 they formed a business partnership and continued to expand their joint lure making activities. Their quality made fishing items became widely known among fishermen as P & K. Fred traveled for the next two years from coast to coast and by 1935, they were selling directly to dealers and jobbers. Unfortunately, the travel didn't agree with Fred, and he also seemed to lack basic salesmanship skills. It was apparent that to succeed, Leo Pachner would have to take over promotion and sales. In 1936 he rounded up 6 or 8 investors and they bought out Fred Koehler who then left the company.
Leo sold his barbershop and invested the proceeds in an 18’ trailer and hit the road with his wife Mae (Maizie) and daughter. They wandered across country selling at sports shows and business gradually improved as sales were made to bait shops, gas stations and dealers. In 1938 the trailer was replaced by new offices in Chicago and the name changed to P & K Incorporated.
The spread of hostilities in Europe rapidly choked off the flow of hooks from Norway and England. Unable to obtain the required sizes from Europe, but needing hooks to keep lure production going, P & K began manufacturing their own hooks in 1939/1940 - first single, then double and by 1941 treble hooks.
During the war, P & K not only provided other manufacturers with treble hooks but also supplied them to the government for survival kits. The company again outgrew its facilities, and the Momence plant was built in 1941. In order to better staff the growing company, Max Shannon (his father, Jamison invented the Shannon Twin Spin) was asked to join the organization as Sales Manager. In 1942 the company introduced its first plastic lure, Whirl-A-Way and constructed another plant. 'Pop' Adams was hired and his influence was felt during the period 1943-1947 as several Tenite baits were introduced which were derived from his Ponca City background: the Walkie Talkie, Bright Eyes, Deep Running Bright Eyes and Amazin' Maizie (named after Leo Pachner’s wife).
P & K experienced rapid growth and an expanding product line from 1937 to 1950 including producing a line of wood baits using previously marketed designs. These baits served to quench a thirst by the market for wood lures. In the November 10, 1950, edition of the Momence Progress Reporter, the move of P&K to their executive offices to Momence was reported and Leo loved the proximity to the Kankakee River.
Unfortunately, after World War II, Japan began manufacturing hooks and P & K profit margins were severely eroded (hook sales alone dropped from $600,000 to $200,000 in the two years after the war). By the late 1950's they were losing money and unable to compete. In 1959 the company sold one plant and consolidated all production at its Momence facility. In 1966, the company was liquidated and Leo retired to Florida.
Eight months later in 1967, Leo Pachner returned to Chicago and began a third career: publishing a quarterly magazine for "successful farm pond planning, construction, management, fishing and harvesting", named Farm Pond Harvest . Leo passed away in 1987 and in 2003 he was inducted to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Leo’s daughters, Joan and Judy, continued his efforts – Joan Pachner Munyon became editor of Farm Pond Harvest and Judy Pachner (also a Hall of Famer!) married renowned professional bass fisherman Roland Martin. Leo’s influence can be felt in Chicago and Momence today – it was Leo who was responsible for opening the Chicago Park Lagoons for fishing and he was the founder of the Momence Conservancy District.
“I grew up down the road from the P&K plant where there were making Lures...Leo taught all us kids in the neighborhood to fly fish on a pond across the road from our house.” Tom Zebron-Gero
“My dad, Joe Sharps, was vice president of P&K. I remember him perfecting the Walkie Talkie bait in our bathtub at home until the bait made the right plop in the water. He also invented the stringer with the safety pin clasp and some other baits. The hooks for P&K were made by him in our garage on a machine built by him.” Becky Sharps Peterson
"Leo took me down to the river and demonstrated how a lure worked. He even demonstrated how to remove a hook from a catfish so I wouldn't get spears from the catfish.. He was a neat guy...He and my dad would have a few beers together at Norm & Claire's on 114 on Saturday afternoon while (sic) I played pool in the back room. Miss those days.." Patrick Zugg
Credits: Momence Progress Reporter, the Herald's County Market, Cheryl J. Smith Hess
The "Spinning Minnie" - one of the over 127 fishing tackle products developed by P&K
P & K Factory in Chicago - 1946
Leo Pachner, Frank Koranda, Jamison Shannon, & 'Pop" Adams
Courtesy of Lorraine Hunte, granddaughter of Leo Pachner
Momence History Museum
PO Box 221, Momence, Illinois 60954, United States
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