Hale Cotton Company est. 1880 Hale Rope Company est. 1924
William Hale 1894-1955 (president 1924-1950)
George J. Hale 1914-1992 (president, CEO 1950-1989)
Wallace Hale 1943-2017 (president, CEO 1989-2015)
Gary Hale 1968-present (president, CEO 2015-present)
Gary knew, as much as anyone, that the Internet is a dangerous place. Its limits, unknown. Its powers, unmatched. But what he didn’t know was how many web pages are dedicated to instructing desperate people how to hang themselves. And not just with any ropes — with his ropes.
Gary Hale, son of the recently deceased Wallace Hale, grandson of the late George J. Hale, and great-grandson of the rather late William Hale, was the newly appointed president and CEO of Hale Ropes — “Strength, durability and homespun trust. Doing one Hale of a job since 1880” — a still-thriving outfit with six plants and fourteen retail partners across the country.
Founded in 1881 in Hamilton, Ontario, as the Hale Cotton Company by William Hale’s father and uncle, the establishment grew and diversified into cloths, yarns, cordage and textiles, with numerous factories nationwide. In 1950, eighteen years before Gary’s birth, William and George sold much of the company for a hefty profit and chose to refocus on one lucrative product that was also closest to their hearts: ropes.
Gary, now in charge of running a whole business legacy, still loved the pleasure of making rope. As a child, he toured the home factory with his grandfather nearly every Friday evening. The combing machines whirred to a close, the compressors stopped compressing, and the workers checked out at the time clock. Gary and his grandfather stood at the door, shaking the hands of the labourers and wishing them well on their weekend pursuits, as George’s assistant passed out paycheques.
“Hard labour, this,” Gary’s grandfather would say. “These men earn every penny they make, Gary.” And they’d walk together up the clean and wide cement stairwell to George’s office, a small, plainly furnished room that overlooked the factory floor.
Gary had pieces of different fibres to twist, twirl and knot while his grandfather, and later his father, wrapped up their week’s dealings on the phone. The strands came together and were undone, the braids calming Gary, winding and unwinding in his grasp. They seemed to move of their own accord, with a kind of magic that animated Gary’s hands, inspired his fingers’ dips and digs. He was amazed at how much stronger the pieces were woven together than on their own.
With a break to eat their bologna sandwiches — Gary’s with no mayo, George’s with no mustard — the two could sit together like this for hours. Twisting, untwisting. Transferring raw materials from Chicago. Winding, unwinding. Providing a comprehensive outline of workers’ compensation and pension plans. Tying, untying. Debating how to best “deal with” the union. Looping, unlooping. Talking dollar amounts needed to stop an environmental review.
Gary became so adept at fibre combinations and weaving techniques that one of the company’s most successful contemporary weaves — a nylon-blend, solid-weave variation nicknamed “the bean sprout” — was based upon his childhood play. As he grew familiar with the fabrics, Gary also became familiar with George’s and Wallace’s tasks as he listened to their phone calls, week after week. Unfortunately, Gary did not easily pick up the skills needed for communicating, advertising, and corporate dealings in general. He could handle a length of rope for hours on end, but would sweat profusely with a phone cord dangling from his clammy, clasped fist. Greeting workers and clients was fine, but discussions of methods to improve productivity or investigate falsified time cards made Gary pace back and forth in the office. He did what he was asked with a smile on his face, but Gary was more of a hands-on type, a rope guy through and through.
As a young man, Gary was asked to head the efforts for a new ad campaign. George had officially turned Hale Ropes over to his son Wallace, and both men felt Gary should take on more responsibility. The 1990s had opened with Hale Ropes in a profitable position, but sales seemed to plateau. The Hale men knew the key to increasing sales and popularity was advertising. Although fairly successful in all the roping markets, the company was selling least in the Prairies, to farmers, and in Atlantic Canada, to mariners. Gary’s job was to target these two groups to further increase general purpose and nautical rope sales.
Raised in southern Ontario, Gary had little experience with either geographic location, and knew the areas only by their roping needs and the regional stereotypes he’d grown up laughing about, but he wanted to make his father proud. After weeks of late nights and early meetings, Gary unveiled a new logo to his father and grandfather: an insignia of a bare-breasted mermaid, wrapped in a nylon double braid and wearing a Stetson, riding (sidesaddle) an elongated chestnut stallion, which she appeared to be reining in with a basic cotton multi-coloured.
“Bold,” Gary said. “Beauty. Rope.”
He breathed heavily and perspired at the front of the room while the faces around the conference table remained empty, silent. The team decided to go another way. Gary was not asked again to help with the development of ad strategies.
When Wallace retired to sail across the Mediterranean and settle in France like he’d always dreamed of, Gary took over the operations of the family business. He resisted the title of CEO, since his father still mentored him through correspondence, and instead retained his more comfortable title of factory manager. For five years, Gary eased slowly into business ownership. Then, his father died suddenly in a fishing accident — he’d been demonstrating a better sailing knot to the Spanish crew when the boat’s boom (handled by a sailor-in-training) swung around and sent him overboard with a knock to the head — in the Gulf of Lion, and Gary was left as the last Hale standing, president and CEO.
Gary sat in front of his computer. The window, open to allow fresh air in amongst his books, permitted the sweet aroma from the bakery down the street to mingle with that of Gary’s freshly pressed coffee. With the Saturday Times folded beside the keyboard and his elderly basset hound Waggles by his feet, Gary’s morning had begun quite comfortably.
To prepare for a stockholders’ meeting Monday morning, Gary had decided to do some research over the weekend to better familiarize himself with Hale Ropes’ online presence and popularity among younger generations — millennials, Gen Z and the like. His business managers were pushing a new website and updated online ordering processes, something his father and grandfather had never been interested in. Gary began with basic probing — Hale Rope Company — and expanded his search terms from there. He jotted down tidbits of information he found fascinating — such as which retailers appeared at the top of the results, and how many people named Haley Ropes were on LinkedIn — on a crisp, lined memo pad.
Hale Ropes was not the leading supplier for military ropes, and Gary knew this, but he could not remember which corporation held that position. Canacord Industries? Albert Dunstrum Textiles? He started to type most popular rope for military in the search box and stopped. The first suggestion that appeared in the autofill was most popular rope for dogs, but the second caused Gary to pause: most popular rope for hanging yourself.
Gary sat and, as Waggles snored under the table, he stared at the cursor, his hand poised on the mouse. He was not generally a curious person. Gary did not like intentionally encountering negativity. In the newspaper, he read terrible stories from time to time (impossible to avoid), and dwelled on particularly tragic victims and survivors for days afterward. He was unable to watch scary television shows or movies with sad endings because they prevented him from sleeping. Gary would simply rather not know. And yet, Gary’s index finger moved the mouse and pressed down.
For the next forty-six minutes, Gary clicked on links and followed paths that secured the knowledge that the Hale Rope Company, his company, was manufacturing the most popular ropes for self-induced hangings. A specific rope did not appear to be favoured — there were blogs touting a standard nylon braid, discussion boards recommending a lightweight three-strand polymer blend, a poll insisting that polyester with the soft multiplex skin was the way to go — but, rather, the brand itself. These people, these customers, had chosen a manufacturer they could rely upon. Hale Ropes: strength, durability and homespun trust. And, in death, trust they did. One Hale of a job.
Gary could not move. Many of the sources he’d read were recent, but some dated back to the early aughts. How many of these people had used his ropes? He watched a video from 2009 in which a preteen boy demonstrated the best ways to tie a noose and then recited the Hale slogan at the end of the clip.
Gary stared at one of the framed photos on his desk. It featured him as a child, his father and his grandfather, all playing tug-of-war with a large cotton shipping rope on the ground floor of the home factory — the one Gary still worked at. The same rope still hung in the factory, coiled on hooks in the wall, one of the many displays that had been maintained for years.
Hale ropes, Gary’s ropes, were made out of quality materials and tested constantly for tensile strength, flexibility, and temperature and element resistance. These ropes were effective in hauling ships through rough waters (fresh and salt), pulling freight up steep inclines in any weather, and keeping beloved pets close to their owners. According to the Internet, they were also efficiently breaking necks and cutting off oxygen to a rather high number of cerebra in North America.
Gary was torn. How could he, in good conscience, support the well-made products he had admired and manipulated for a lifetime? He would have to make a change, sabotage the quality and reputation of the Hale Rope Company. He knew ropes like no other. Surely, if he retired some of the oldest members of staff with decent packages, he could manipulate the production in his own factory. Make the ropes brittle, less likely to withstand force.
Gary had visions of people screaming as tug lines snapped; fishermen without catches to sell; construction loads tumbling; sled dogs breaking free, leaving their passengers stranded, their goods undelivered; children falling off swing sets, bones in their tiny arms snapping. What was he thinking? He could not let the loyal clientele suffer. He could not be responsible for the consequences of a faulty product.
But bodies were swinging from rafters, perhaps even now, this very moment, as Gary’s coffee cooled in its stoneware mug. Last moments lived, loved ones left behind. Strength. Durability.
How could he allow the ropes to be made if they might eventually be wrapped around the necks of desperate teens, men with no way out, women leaping towards a new life? How could he project sales, shake the hands of the people he employed as they left for the weekend, watch the machines whir, if the nylon-cotton-poly blend were to one day tighten across a pulsating jugular, warm flesh about to — no.
He could not. He would not. Gary, extricating his foot from Waggles’s drooling cheek, got up, went down the hall to his supply closet and retrieved a box of rope. He carried it back to the office, set it on the desk in front of the tug-of-war photo. He removed a piece of Hale rope. He tied an adjustable hitch. He undid it. He tied a noose (as directed by the boy in the video). He undid the noose. Gary tied a monkey’s fist. He tied a noose. Sailor’s knot. Noose. Wagoner’s hitch. Noose. Common whipping. Noose.
Gary sat down and placed the noose in front of him on the desk. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and let out a slow breath. Waggles slapped Gary’s shin with a lazy tail. Laughter from the park across the street floated through the window.
Put it out of your head, Gary, he thought. After all, you’re a hands-on rope man and you’re the last Hale standing — president and CEO. Let someone else untangle this knot.