Combining model design with journalism skills, Bill Simon was at the center of a creative team that made Estes rockets an international phenomenon in the 1960s and ‘70s
It has been 50 years since Vern and Gleda Estes created the world’s largest model rocket company. Both, however, would tell you that a major part of the success of Estes Industries was due to the creative talent of Bill Simon, who joined the company as a young man in 1962 and quickly became vice president.
Simon not only served as editor of the company’s popular Model Rocket News, he was also in charge of the R & D department and the company’s highly-anticipated annual catalogs.
“Bill was responsible for most of the rockets designed during the 1960s and early ‘70s, rockets that are now hot collector’s items,” says Vern Estes. “Bill also did much of the writing for Estes Industries and I depended on him heavily.”
Today, Simon works as a yacht designer in Washington State but he has fond memories of those early days in Pen-rose, Colorado. He recently answered these questions from LAUNCH editor Mark Mayfield.
LAUNCH: As I understand it, you left college to go to work with Vern and Gleda Estes in June 1962. Can you tell us how that came about?
Simon: During the spring of 1962 I bought an Astron Scout starter kit from a classified ad in the back of Popular Science. A few days after the kit came I received a copy of the Model Rocket News along with a survey questionnaire. One of the items in the questionnaire was “What suggestions do you have for improving the Model Rocket News?”
I sent back a one-page critique, which apparently impressed Vern enough to phone me with a job offer. It sounded like fun, so I accepted, thinking I’d do it for a year or so, save up some money, and go back to school.
After junior college graduation that June I took the train from Portland to Denver, followed by a bus ride to Penrose. I arrived with one suitcase, probably $5 or $10 in my billfold, and my portable typewriter.
Vern had already made arrangements for me to rent a cabin, and provided me with the loan of a company vehicle—a 1949 Ford pickup.
Penrose was desolate compared to the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest, but the hospitality of Vern and Gleda made me quickly feel at home. Also, the job kept me too busy to have any “spare time.”