VAN ORIN — Tim Lehr of Van Orin makes his living with his hobby of rocketry.
Lehr’s business, called Wildman Hobbies, sold $500,000 to $750,000 in products last year, 80 percent of the business being mail order.
“I keep UPS and the Van Orin Post Office busy with shipping,” he added. “I have a six-car garage that will never see a car in it again.”
The day after Thanksgiving, he and his wife took 500 orders on the Internet and via their four phone lines within the first six hours of the day. They sold about $200,000 of products before Christmas.
“Anybody can shoot rockets off,” he said. “They cost anywhere from $10 to $1,500 to launch one, depending on size.”
The size of the rocket motors are designated by letters from A as the smallest to P as the biggest. As each letter designation goes up, the motors increase twice in size, explained Lehr.
Wildman Hobbies sells and manufactures high-powered rockets ranging in size from little to larger Estes rockets.
“My wife (Jackie) and I work here full-time,” he said. “She does the paperwork, while I work in the shop. We do all our shipping and receiving here.”
Lehr became interested in manufacturing rockets about five years ago and eventually wants to buy another CNC machine that will save him considerable time. This machine cuts out the nose rings for the rockets.
“We also make frames and nose covers,” he reported. “I have a drill press that will never see wood again.” He also makes different sizes of center rings at his shop.
Lehr has been in business for about nine years in Van Orin. He worked five years in Chicago before that in sales but wanted to get out of that line of work.
Lehr gets semis filled with parts for rockets at his shop at least once a week and receives many packages shipped through UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.
Lehr also goes to rocket launches about once a month all over the country. He also brings along a trailer full of rocket motors and other parts to take to the launch.
He got the unique name for his business at a launch in Texas where he flew rockets with the biggest motors he could put in them. One person at the launch called him wildman because of that, and it stuck, he said.
Midwest Power Rocket Launch was started by Lehr about 10 years ago in Bureau County, which is always held the last weekend of October. He used to hold this launch east of LaMoille on an airstrip but now has moved it to rural Kasbeer in a field.
More than 130 registered flyers came to last year’s launch. This year’s launch is set for Nov. 1-3
There are many other clubs all around the country who hold launches, and some larger clubs hold regional launches, he reported. Lehr has gone to launches in New York, Kansas, Texas and Maryland.
His largest rockets are 26-feet tall by 12-inches in diameter, weighing 200-250 pounds This is the maximum height for this diameter of rocket.
There are about 10,000 guys in the country who fly the bigger rockets. Lehr indicated he is well known in the rocket launching industry. Lehr grew up in the Chicago suburb of Woodridge but decided to move away from the urban congestion to Van Orin in Bureau County.
His website address is wildmanrocketry.com. He can be reached at 815-638-3200. He is also on Facebook at Wildman Hobbies.
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