My First Camp Toast
One of the very first camping products I purchased as a young boy was a toaster for a camping stove. An assemblage of wires connected to a plate that sat atop a gas stove, it afforded one the opportunity to enjoy … toast … while camping.
The first time I used it over my Svea 123, I was in awe, watching the bread slowly brown. Then, I turned it over with caution, not wanting it to slip from my clumsy pre-pubescent fingers and become tainted with the soil that loomed below. Then, I watched the other side brown. This was magic! When my toast was done, I carefully dressed its crunchy surface with butter, cinnamon, and a load of refined sugar.
With some trepidation, wondering (hoping! praying!) if my camp toast would taste like Mom’s, I took my first bite. I chewed. And chewed. And swallowed.
And noticed a funny thing.
A white gas aftertaste.
I fed the rest of the toast to the squirrels.
The Big Green Wall
I wrote the company upon my return to home and told them about my experience. I received an envelope, with a typed reply stating that my toast might taste better if it was used on a propane stove or campfire.
I eventually figured it out, and enjoyed toast on fires and camp stoves for many years in my youth.
That toaster was manufactured by Coghlan’s, perhaps one of the most recognizable brands in our industry. Coghlan’s green packaging reliably adorns the walls from Wal-Mart to back-alley camping stores to summer camp trading posts across the U.S.
When I was a kid, I had two favorite stores. One was the REI store that sat atop Seattle’s Capitol Hill. This is where I got my adventure fix: peering at photographs of famous Seattle mountaineers like Lou Whittaker climbing impossibly tall peaks across the globe, holding a fiberglass-shafted ice axe in arrest position on the show floor (“hey! what’s that little kid doing with that thing?”), and crawling into a TNF Mountain Tent dreaming about being battered by storms at the South Col.
My other favorite store was a long ways from REI. I don’t even remember the store name, or the location. I just remember that Big Green Wall.
The Big Green Wall was home to every single camping accessory that a young boy needed: tent stake mallets, stoves configured from folding metal and little cans, egg storage containers, pocketknives, long-burning emergency candles, lensatic compasses, and of course, camp stove toasters.
My dreams were spent at REI. My allowance was spent collecting gear from the Big Green Wall, home to Coghlan’s accessories.
Norm Coghlan’s Legacy
Norm Coghlan founded Coghlan’s as a gas appliance store in Winnipeg in 1959. Norm’s customers would inquire about better ways to toast their bread on camping stoves. Coghlan’s had the answer, and soon developed their very first accessory: the Camp Stove Toaster.
Soon, in response to customer demand for niche-market camping accessories that filled very specific needs, Coghlan’s grew its accessory line. Today, two warehouses in Winnipeg and St. Paul ship more than 450 different accessory products to 30 countries worldwide.
Coghlan’s integrity as a brand is undeniable. They have had a long history of outstanding customer service to both end-users and its retailers. When I was twelve years old, I purchased a Coghlan’s pocketknife and I couldn’t figure out how to use one of the tools on it. I wrote a letter to Coghlan’s and received a handwritten reply back with carefully drawn pictures showing how to use … the can opener.
Coghlan’s remains a family-owned company today and is an inspirational model to me as I ponder my own role as the CEO of a growing company in which my family is engaged: a place where my wife used to pack shipments in our garage, my son assembled and sealed dropper bottle kits, and my mother-in-law still ensures the smooth processing of our accounts payable. I often wonder what Norm Coghlan might be thinking as he looks back on 50 years of family ownership.
Coghlan’s remains the oldest client of Opportunity Partners: more than 250 of Coghlan’s products are assembled and packaged by people with disabilities. In addition to the powerful social contribution, Coghlan’s participation in the Opportunity Partners program allows them to bring products to market at economical prices, ensuring that camping accessories are affordable to the masses. That Coghlan’s does not discriminate against the privileged is perhaps their most powerful contribution to growing our industry, where trends towards more technology, more innovation, more cost, and more dependence on affluent customers is resulting in sweeping layoffs and production cuts. Coghlan’s may not be a completely recession-proof brand, but it has the right economic model in place to keep our industry thriving as we tighten our purse strings.
Coghlan’s continues to add new products (while preserving their oldies but goodies) to their lines. While not revered among the lightweight backpacking community as a “cutting edge” brand making the lightest products, it would be hard to find any one among us that hasn’t been touched in a positive way by a green-packaged Coghlan’s accessory at some time in our lives.
Two summers ago, my (then 9-year old) son purchased a Coghlan’s pocketknife from the Big Green Wall at the Trading Post of K-M Scout Ranch in Lewistown, Montana. Last summer, he saved up and purchased a Coghlan’s wood saw. We don’t find Coghlan’s in Barrel Mountaineering, but there is a Big Green Wall in Bozeman’s definitive camping store, the Powder Horn, and it never fails to draw us in.
Happy 50th Birthday, Coghlan’s, and congratulations for recently shipping your seven millionth Camp Stove Toaster.
Thank you for your service to our industry and country, and for inspiring us to enjoy the outdoors without breaking our bank.
Do You Have a Coghlan’s Story To Tell?
Maybe you too have been touched by Norm Coghlan and his vision. Let us know by participating in the forum below.