History of Madsen's
Late in the winter of 1936, Magnus Madsen headed back to the house with a letter that had just arrived in his mailbox. It was from his friend, Otto. A heavy coat protected Magnus from North Dakota's bone-chilling cold. Times were tough. Like most Americans, the years following the Great Depression were difficult. For Magnus, the frigid North Dakota winter made it seem worse. A letter from a friend was a welcome surprise.
Magnus's family had homesteaded in North Dakota after arriving from Denmark, but now Magnus had a young family of his own. North Dakota's harsh climate, coupled with poor economic conditions, made Magnus uneasy. This wasn't the life he had hoped for.
Several years earlier, Magnus's friend Otto had packed up his family and moved West. He occasionally wrote, and Magnus was anxious for news. As he opened the envelope, to his surprise, Otto had pressed a small crocus between the folds of his letter. Magnus held the flower in disbelief. The thought of a plant budding out West - when North Dakota was frozen solid - was unbelievable.
In the letter was another surprise; a job offer. If Magnus would move to a small town in Washington state, Otto would hire him. Magnus quickly weighed his options. "I'll be out in the spring... And thank you," he wrote. When warmer weather finally arrived in North Dakota, Magnus gathered his belongings. He stored a few tools in his parent's barn, loaded a two-wheeled trailer with the familiy's necessities, and sold the rest. With the trailer hitched to his '31 Buick, he loaded his family and headed West. After nearly a week on the road, they arrived in the small town of Chehalis, Washington. The two friends were happy to see each other. Otto, who had opened a Chevrolet dealership, helped Magnus settle in. He also made good on the promise of a job in his shop.
Right from the start, Magnus and his family liked Western Washington. They liked the temperate climate. The occasional summer rain was refreshing and they liked how green everything stayed. When late summer arrived, they couldn't believe the bounty of fruit that seemed to grow everywhere. They picked apples, pears, and berries. The taste of sweet ripe fruit was a pleasure beyond words.
Magnus Madsen opened the doors of "Madsen's Repair Shop" in 1946, but the first photo we have was taken in 1948.
A proud Magnus Madsen is shown standing next to the bay door of his new shop.
This photo was taken in 1959. Magnus (the tall fellow) and his neighbor Ernie are standing out front. Notice Madsen's had grown to include two shop bays. Magnus started selling chain saws in 1952. It is hard to see in the photo, but in the window is a display of "one-man chainsaws."
Madsen's Repair Shop Begins
For the next ten years, Magnus worked steady. He bought a house, saved his money, and held on to the dream of one day owning his own shop. In 1946, World War II had ended, and Magnus felt the time was right. With borrowed money, he built a small wood-framed building in front of his home. It was located next to a busy road in Centralia, Washington. In bold letters, next to the single-bay door, read "Madsen's Repair Shop."
Before the shop was completely finished, work started to come in. Magnus was a talented mechanic and welder. He could fix anything with an engine, rarely turned away work, and had a reputation for being a fair man. Automobiles, trucks, farm equipment, and any engine powered device was welcome at Madsen's. One day, a customer brought in a new motorized tool Magnus had not seen before; a "one-man" chainsaw. Magnus was impressed. He was sure this tool was something his other customers would find useful. So, in 1953, he became a dealer for IEL chainsaws.
This is what the "sales office" looked like in 1960. Grandson, Sam, is sitting on the counter next to Magnus. You can see from Sam's dirty knees that he liked "helping" his Grandfather in the shop.
At first, sales were slow, but Magnus wasn't discouraged. His repair business kept him plenty busy. By the late fifties, sales of chainsaws had improved, but Magnus's health was failing. Fortunately, his son Ralph had been working with him and was able keep the small shop going. When Magnus retired, Ralph took over the business.
Magnus and Ralph shared many qualities, but differed some, too. One thing that had frustrated Ralph was his father's lack of a book keeping system. Magnus was a talented mechanic, but he believed records were a waste of time. For Magnus, his wallet was both the cash register and a filing cabinet. A few handwritten notes were all he felt was necessary. Ralph's approach was different. He believed for Madsen's to grow, he needed records. So, during the day, he worked at the shop, and at night, he did book work. Ralph's long hours paid off and Madsen's grew.
Young Sam is shown here explaining the features and benefits of a "Pioneer" saw. These were among the first direct-drive saws on the market.
Madsen's Needs More Space
Along with growth, came the need for more space. In 1959, new walls encircled Magnus's original shop building. This extra space was enough to contain Madsen's for the next decade.
In 1970, a friend Ralph had attended high-school with, ran the regional Stihl distributor. Ralph liked Bill, and believed the brand had potential, so he became a Stihl dealer. By the mid-seventies, both the saw shop and auto shop were viable businesses, and Ralph saw a need to separate them. Again, the building was remodeled and expanded. Each business now had its own office and work area.
In 1980, Ralph's son, Sam, graduated from college. He had grown up working in the business and joined up with his Dad full-time. Ralph encouraged Sam to concentrate on the saw shop. Over the next few years, Sam added many new products. In 1984, one of those was the Husqvarna line. Along with an expanding product line, Madsen's was gaining a regional reputation for good service and low prices. Soon Madsen's had hundreds of customers - many in distant locales. Again, Madsen's needed more space. This time, instead of more construction, the auto and truck repair business was closed. The saw shop expanded into the empty space.
Throughout the eighties Madsen's grew, and in 1988, a warehouse building was built across the street from the existing shop. The new building doubled Madsen's working space, making it possible to handle truck-loads of merchandise. This, in turn, made it easier to buy products directly from manufacturers. Both Ralph and Sam knew aggressive buying was the secret to low prices. Madsen's customers soon felt the benefit of this warehouse and business grew accordingly.
In 1990, Ralph retired and his daughter, Mary, joined the business. Like Sam, his sister had worked at Madsen's while in school, but instead of joining up right after college, she worked outside the business as a CPA. Madsen's needed a first-rate accounting system and Mary's training and experience provided one.
In 1996, Madsen's celebrated fifty years in business. This year also marked the beginning of construction of a new facility. A larger parcel in a better location was acquired and contruction of a new building began. After keeping Madsen's original address for more than fifty years, Madsen's moved to the new facility in 1999. This project had taken over two years to complete and more than tripled Madsen's work space. It allowed for more phones and a streamlined order processing line. It also made room for a larger service area, high capacity pallet racking, and an improved loading dock. Everything from new displays to a larger selection of products improved Madsen's ability to serve pro saw users. Where else could you walk on logs when trying on a pair of calked boots inside the store? What other shop had the sizing and selection of over 2000 pairs of logger's jeans?
This is a photo of the three generations who have owned and operated Madsen's. Ralph, the second generation, is on the left. Today's owner, Sam, is the two-year-old in the middle. Magnus, the founder is on the right.
Seventy Years in Business
Now, two more decades have passed. Like their grandfather and father before them, Sam and Mary work to perpetuate the legacy of serving professional saw users. Like all organizations that endure the test of time, Madsen's has changed. While Magnus Madsen never imagined the Internet or the possibility that someday a computer would tell him how many parts he had on hand, he wouldn't be surprised two important things haven't changed - the value Madsen's places on professional customers, and their commitment to serving them.
Both Sam and Mary are quick to point out the history of Madsen's includes the contribution of many suppliers, terrific employees, and thousands of loyal customers. "Today we serve the sons, and sometimes grandsons, of early customers," says Sam. He adds, "Sure we sell great products, but people are the life of a business. Madsen's provides the opportunity to make friends and associate with a lot of great people. Our history is really about those relationships."
100 Year Old Stove
This old wood stove sits in the middle of our store. The date "1885" is cast into the back of the fire box. A stove historian said it was probably made on this date or a little after. He added that it is the only one of this model he has ever seen.
From the photo, it is hard to tell, but this stove is taller than a man. Large ornate stoves like this are hard to find. Compared to stoves made for a home, these were only used in hotel lobbys, train stations, etc. The collector/restorer (from whom we purchased the stove) told us he believed the stove was originally installed in a theater in Kansas City. He did not know the chain of owners nor where the stove had been installed during all if its first hundred years.
The stove has been completely restored and sits on a raised floor. Old oak benches (retired church pews) surround it so customers can sit a spell if they'd like. The coffee pot is close by and as you might imagine, on cold or wet days, a lot of "sawing" is done right here.
When this stove has a belly full of hot coals, it puts out a lot of heat -- it also consumes a lot of wood!
Madsen's Original Shop Truck
This is our first "company" truck. It is a 1950 Dodge pick-up. Madsen's is not the original owner. The original owner was Lindy Linderman, who used it in his lumber yard. We purchased it in 1956, and it was our only company vehicle until 1972. It was then sold, repurchased, and finally, restored.
Today the truck sits in middle of the store, displays merchandise, and visually testifies to our 60+ years business. Its shiny condition is the work of Bob Judson, a fellow who worked in our shop and has since retired. It took Bob about three years to restore it. Our original truck was in such poor condition, two additional trucks were acquired to get enough good parts to build one good one. The box, hood, cab, frame, and all the running gear is from the original truck.
Here is a pic of the truck in 1960. It was originally red, but in this photo, it had been painted light blue. Ralph Madsen is on the left and Magnus Madsen on the right.