By Rick Denton, Honest Abe Log Homes President Emeritus
Perhaps the invention of Perma-Chink kept Honest Abe in business, as well as every other log home company using a chinked product line. I feel it was one of those key markers.
Prior to Perma-Chink the only chinking option was a mixture of concrete, sand and mortar. If the logs dried away from the chinking, it left gaps between the chinking and log. These gaps did not allow air leakage in our homes because of our spline product. However, the gaps allowed water leakage which caused wood decay and rot over time.
The gaps allowed both air leakage and water in other company’s log product because they had open chinking joints. Perma-Chink eliminated the gaps. It bonded to the logs. It was flexible and pliable so it moved with the logs as they dried. Yet, it looked like the mortar chinking that was expected by the marketplace.
The two companies, Honest Abe and Perma-Chink, came together in 1982 and have remained closely linked. Honest Abe has used Perma-Chink in their product line every year since then. Other companies worked hard trying to get the Honest Abe account, but we remained loyal and steadfast to Perma-Chink.
I first heard of Perma-Chink in the spring of 1981 at a log home tour in Brown County, Indiana. Brown County advertised that more log homes were built there than any other county in the nation. I wanted to see some of these log homes to learn more.
I picked up a hand-drawn, crude brochure at one of the stops that advertised Perma-Chink chinking. The brochure described it as pliable and flexible, adhering tightly to the log following the log’s movement. The brochure claimed it was excellent in all climates and authentic in appearance, looking like traditional mortar chinking.
I was excited. I called the number on the brochure from a pay phone there in Brown County and left a message that I wanted to know more about this product. I thought about it a lot on the tour.
When I arrived back at my office, I had a message that my call had been returned by Bud Dietrich and soon made an appointment for Bud to come to Moss. Bud was still in Brown County, Indiana. He had come to this tour to distribute brochures and promote his new chinking product. He slept at night in his van on a mattress atop his entire inventory of 12 buckets of Perma-Chink. He drove from Brown County to Moss for our appointment and was sleeping in our parking lot when I arrived for work.
With years of experience in the log home industry, Bud knew a product like Perma-Chink was needed, so he invented it. He and his neighbor, Rich Dunstan, somehow put together the financial resources to mix up a small number of pails. Rich was an electronic engineer and brought his knowledge onboard.
I made a deal to buy Bud’s entire 12 bucket inventory if he would apply it to a log home one of our customers had built in Murfreesboro. This home had some snags and complications with the mortar chinking. Bud agreed and went to work on the house.
I was excited about this new product. Jim Smith was manager of Honest Abe Murfreesboro Model and eventually Vice President of Honest Abe. At that time Jim’s customer owned the log house Bud worked on. Jim was just as excited as I was. We helped Bud work, and we liked what we saw. Shortly afterward something happened that has been told and re-told by both Honest Abe people and Perma-Chink people.
First, let me set the stage today. Rich Dunstan was Bud’s partner in the beginning. A few years later he bought Bud’s interest in Perma-Chink and today owns the Perma-Chink Systems Company. It is based in Redmond, Washington, and has a large manufacturing and distribution center in Knoxville, Tennessee, an online store and dealers across the world. Today, they manufacture numerous products like log sealants, wood finishes, wood cleaners, wood preservatives, wood restoration and several tools. Bud Dietrich took their Bora-Care product and started Nisus Corporation in 1990 in Knoxville, Tennessee, when he and Rich parted ways.
In the beginning days of Perma-Chink, there was very little money. They needed money for equipment and supplies. Rich traveled to Tennessee in May of 1983 to call on log home companies to invest in Perma-Chink. He visited Honest Abe first. He met with Honest Abe’s founder and owner, Doug Smith, and myself. Doug didn’t have enough money to invest in this new start-up company and was not interested. However, after discussing other options and trying to come up with other ideas, we finally arrived at a solution for both companies. Honest Abe bought a trailer load of Perma-Chink and pre-paid for it. It was the largest check written by Honest Abe to that date.
This negotiation meeting was filled with humorous moments and lively discussion both ways. Both companies were in their infancy with very little if any money. Both were taking a big risk here. After reaching this agreement and writing the very large check, we gave it to Rich and he went on his way. I didn’t know if I would ever hear from him again. I wondered if we would ever see this trailer load of product. I was having buyer’s remorse for paying him so much money in advance thinking he could have conned us. To make matters worse, Rich called me and told me he had lost the check and asked me to send him another check. He apologized over and over and promised he was telling the truth.
I talked it over with Doug. We pondered whether to just forget about it or to send another check. How could he lose such a large check? In the end, we sent the check. We trusted him. I suppose he trusted us that our check would not bounce. The product did arrive. And, almost four decades later, Honest Abe and Perma-Chink still maintain close business relations. Many times over the years, I’ve wondered and speculated what it would have been like to own one-fourth or one-half of Perma-Chink today!