The World's Baddest Barbell ~ Beginnings: Part II

(Here's a link to Part I in case you missed it.)

Great equipment always has an interesting story behind it. Our good friend Jim Sutherland has been kind enough to write down a few of his his many experiences in his 50+ years in strength training and the equipment business for us.   Here's a little more background behind "The World's Baddest Barbell."

"In the spring of 1988, I was working in the R & D Department at Universal Gym Equipment, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. One morning, my phone rang and on the other end was someone from the sales department who said he was just about to bring a major university strength coach in to see me. The strength coach in question had spent the last few hours examining the product line that was then offered, and came to the conclusion that Universal’s Chrome line wouldn’t fit his needs.

This particular strength and conditioning coach was Dave Pasanella from Georgia Tech University.

As it was lunchtime, I invited Dave to take a ride with me to a sports-bar restaurant on the west side of town and before we even made it to the truck, we began a serious discussion that was to last for the next seven hours.

As I recall, Dave was wearing a white dress shirt and slacks, (which never look right on guys built that thick.) Well-spoken and low-key, Dave began to tell me what he was looking for and being very sure of exactly what he wanted, he went through his wish list with me.

When he finished an hour later and had eaten enough to feed an army, I said, “We don’t currently have anything like that, but I can certainly draw it up and build it for you.”

After we requested some materials, the waitress provided us with paper, pens, pencils, (and I think a few crayons.)

We sat at the table all afternoon and evening, drawing sketches of his concepts on the back of menus and napkins and compiling lists. As Dave was a world-class power lifter, we shared the same ideas about heavy-duty equipment for big, strong athletes.

Describing the utility squat rack and the electric rack platform I had done back in Michigan, Dave was convinced he wanted to add those two products to his weight room.

These were the days before cell phones and nobody seemed to miss us, so we went back to the factory around seven o’clock, after our second meal at the west side. From my office I phoned my immediate boss Jay Guut and proposed I put together a small team of guys to work after normal hours and custom build this list of equipment for Georgia Tech University. Jay made some phone calls and Dave and I met with Gus Klinge (CEO), Wes Merryman  (head of production), and the director of sales.

After much discussion, we put an estimated value on the job at $182,000. Rather surprisingly, the management trusted my ability to do it, and after Dave returned to Atlanta, our sales department took the order. Not realizing that this was the start of a totally new welded and powder-coated product line, our band of volunteers began three months of hard labor. Working evenings and Saturdays, we finished the list with great cooperation from the second-shift chrome-plating and powder-coating departments. All 180 production people on three shifts were rooting for us, but had their own main-line products to produce.

When it was finished and everything was installed, Bobby Ross, at that time the head football coach at Georgia Tech, called it “a world-class facility” ~ and it was.

Additionally, the Peach Bowl was held in Atlanta each year and the visiting football teams would use the Georgia Tech facility for a week before the game. As a result, the college football world became aware of this new custom-made painted equipment, including two Olympic-size platforms with electric racks for squatting and bench pressing. Dave used them for record-breaking lifts by the players and to train on himself.

Thus was born the Heavy Metal line of custom equipment marketed by Universal Gym. Special model shop space was allocated, with the best machinists and welders working two shifts for the next several years.

Incidentally, Wes Merryman came into my office a month after the installation and informed me that after counting all the beans, the company had lost $5,000. Not meaning to laugh at this, I reminded him that Universal now had fifty-four new products, plus the best promotion possible from all the people at
Georgia Tech. Dave wrote a great letter to Universal’s CEO, praising the quality of the product, the fair price, and the timely delivery. That letter is in my possession and will go in the casket with me.

A short time later, Dave wanted to talk to me about something that he had just begun training for...

To be continued.

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Author: John Wood

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