Al Riehl

Somewhere along the way, many have lost sight of honest dedication and loyalty toward those who employ us. When I started to work at Remington in 1957, I fully intended to work there until retirement. And I did, as my father before me did. The company during the years I was there had many employees with 30 to 40 years of service. One of my early bosses, Joe Callahan, retired at age 65with 51 years of service. These people loved their job and loved their company. Some of the old fieldmen I knew enjoyed their job so much the would have worked for half pay—and they were paid little to start with. There was a great sense of pride to say you were a “Remington Man.” I’m sure the same applied to those who worked for Winchester, Federal or other companies in the gun and ammunition business.

   The employee dedication I witnessed first hand at the company that made green shells now seems to be a thing of the past. It’s a rarity when someone spends his entire career with a single employer. Most of the folks retire now without enough years of service to collect a pension, and they rely solely on their own investments to carry them through the “golden years."

Looking back, as most old folks have a tendency to do, I could name a dozen or so people I worked with whose middle name could have been "dedication". But the one who stands out foremost in my mind is a fellow who retired some 40 years ago. His name was Al RiehI.

Like so many of his era, Al was born into a trapshooting family some 105 years ago. His father Frank Riehl was a great professional shooter for both the Western Cartridge Co. and Remington-UMC. Prior to 1907. the Riehl family lived in Alton, IL, where Frank was member of an 11-man team of Remington-UMC. professional trapshooters.

Annie Oakley’s husband, Frank Butler, was another member of  team. Frank Riehl’s territory consisted of parts of Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky, and his assignment was to attend as many tournaments as possible. In 1905 he shot at 21,020 registered targets without benefit of one of those new motor cars. Means of travel consisted of trains, boats, horse and wagon.

As a youngster, Al quickly became interested in trapshooting. His earliest reading material consisted of periodicals and trade papers that listed tournament results and talked about the great shooters of his day.

The Pacific Coast states were developing rapidly and Frank was transferred into a new Remington sales organization on the West Coast. It was 1908, young Al was 12 years old.

Al joined the Western Cartridge Co. in 1917 and began covering the Pacific Northwestern states as his dad once did for Remington-UMC. Those were the days when professional shooters who represented the major gun, ammunition and powder companies literally ran registered tournaments for gun clubs. Al’s specialty was office work, which comprised of taking entries, posting scores, figuring the purses and options, and paying the winners at the end of the day. All of this was accomplished without the benefit of an adding machine, which didn't become available until after World War II.

Years later when I asked him why he left the Western Cartridge Co. in 1929 to enter the hotel business, he confided, “Everybody I knew was making more money than I was. I decided to give up what enjoyed doing to make more money doing something I didn’t enjoy, so I got into the hotel business." Then he said with a smile, ‘I got my hotel work just about the time people started jumping out of hotel windows. The stock market crash of 1929 soon found me out of work. In the spring of 1930. Remington hired me to work the same territory I had covered for Western."

Remington transferred him to its Bridgeport, Conn., home office in 1953, and he became Shooting Promotion Manager. This was my first association with him on a frequent basis. He and my dad were about the same age, worked in adjacent offices, and became the best of friends.

I was a junior shooter in the early to mid 50s and often traveled to tournaments with Al and my dad. I learned a lot as a teenager about the gun and ammunition business, and about company loyalty by listening to the two of them talk during long car rides.

During one trip to Pennsylvania. Al got going on how serious he was about shooters winning with Remington or Peters shells. He declared, "If my own father was shooting off for the Grand American Handicap with a perfect stranger, I’d root for the stranger if he was shooting our shells and my dad wasn’t.” I couldn’t believe this when I beard it. Root against your own father because he was shooting the wrong kind of shells! Who could do such a thing. Years later I worked with others at Remington who felt the same way. Lee Braun and Clay Williams were two of them. Winchester and Federal once had the same type of people, but I was in the other camp.

In 1959 I found myself reporting directly to Al. He had six years under his belt since moving to Connecticut from the West Coast. During this time, he had accomplished a multitude of things. Single handedly he built the Remington Club at Lordship, CT, into the largest open-to-the-public gun club in the United States. During its heyday, more than 4,000,000 targets were shot there in a single year. Free instruction and free loaner guns, combined with a breathtaking view of Long Island Sound, packed clay target shooters into this club weekend after weekend. It was literally a training ground for new shooters and thousands of ATA members shot their first target on these historic grounds. I was one of them. (Environmental issues closed this club in 1986. Fortunately, Al had passed on by then. It would have broken his heart.)

   I can hear him now. “Reach shooters when they’re just getting started, teach them the basics of the game, don’t let them get discouraged, and you’ll hook them for life."

Throughout his professional career Al urged gun and ammunition salesmen to concentrate on visiting small gun clubs that threw non-registered targets. He’d say, “‘These clubs are important as they are the grass roots organization of trapshooting. In the long run, they will foster registered shooters who will get in the game with both feet."

He compared trapshooting to baseball. Small non-registered clubs were the minor leagues; big registered shoots were the major leagues. All ball players start in the minors; most ATA shooters begin their careers in small clubs.  

He edited a series of information bulletins for thousands of gun clubs throughout the country. These monthly newsletters were packed with helpful hints about how to improve profits and get new shooters started. Al’s greatest claim to fame in the publishing field were the pocket size booklets geared toward getting new clubs started. The most popular was How to Start a Gun Club. Another was Gun Club Operation and Cashiering, and the third The Lewis Class, Other Money Divisions and How to Figure Them.  

Al could break targets too, but that wasn’t important to him. I’ve shot in many a squad with him when he broke 99 or 100. In 1929 he shot in the ATA’s first perfect handicap squad of 125x125, and in 1951 he was a member of the professional All-American team.

But if Al wanted to be remembered for something, it wouldn’t have been for breaking good scores. It would be for helping others break good scores, starting a new gun club somewhere, or breaking in a new cashier at the Grand.

He retired from Remington in 1961. It was the custom in those days to have elaborate retirement parties with lots of long speeches and plenty to drink. Al didn’t like either one, so he told the company he didn’t want a party. You just couldn’t let a man like him walk away without saying thanks, so a bunch of us got together at the Grand and threw a party for him. Some 300 of his friends attended the gala affair at the old Imperial House on Needmore Rd.

After retirement, he and my dad drove to the Grand every year until 1968 when my father became ill and couldn’t attend anymore. Al never went back to Vandalia although he was healthy enough to attend until the mid 1970s. He just wouldn’t go without my dad. That’s the kind of person he was.

In 1972 he turned downed induction into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. He felt that others more deserving than himself should be taken in before him. "After all,” he said. “I was paid to do my job. Others paid their own way."

When he turned down this induction, I personally felt he would never be given another chance. He is the only man to ever refuse induction into this honored group. But in 1990 a second chance came and he was elected. I gave his acceptance speech on August 14.

Severe vision problems in later life caused him to stop shooting completely, and he could no longer keep in touch with his cronies of the past. In the summer of 1979, he gave me his trapgun, as it was useless to him now. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I presented it to the museum in memory of him.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 09:33