AuSable Souvenirs carries woodworking tradition in Frederic into a new generation
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Frederic-based business is moving forward under the direction of a new owner, whose family has a deep lineage producing wooden keepsakes and souvenirs that are distributed throughout the world.
Aaron Weaver founded AuSable Souvenirs after taking over the production and distribution of items manufactured by AuSable Woodworking.
The items include walking sticks, bottle openers, slingshots, drink coasters, toothpick holders, whistles and game calls, and shot glasses.
“This is what I’ll be doing and I will be adding a bunch of more products as I expand,” Weaver said. “I’ve got a bunch of more products that I can make, I just don’t have the room to do it.”
In 1923, William Johnson started making wooden souvenirs such as candle holders, napkin rings, ash trays and mugs. The items were sold on consignment in Houghton Lake and at other nearby resorts.
In 1927, William was joined by Carl Johnson, Albert Madill, and Norma Madill to form a partnership known as AuSable Souvenir Works. The business was first located in a two-car garage in Grayling, but was later moved to Frederic.
In 1942, the shop was completely converted to World War II production, manufacturing bombay door latches and tank caps. No souvenirs were made until the war ended in 1945.
Weaver’s grandparents, Natalie and Raymond Weaver, joined the business as employees, after Raymond was discharged after serving in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. They remained with the company for four decades.
In 1963, the name of the business was changed to the AuSable Woodworking Company.
Weaver purchased the rights to manufacture and distribute the products from Jim Madill, Diane Thomas, Joan Kaiser, and Margaret Partello in January.
“All of them wanted to get out and I wanted to pick up this line of stuff,” Weaver said.
Weaver purchased a sander, drill presses, and a band saw from AuSable Woodworking.
“They started out in a little tiny garage like this and all they had is hand tools,” Weaver said. “They just grew and grew and they got to be a real big business.”
Also included in the deal was a machine made by Raymond Weaver to make the slingshots, when he first joined the business.
“That machine has produced millions of slingshots,” Weaver said.
Weaver won’t continue on with one of AuSable Woodworking’s main products, ornamental plaques. He said those products require a saw mill and room to apply a heavy lacquer finish.
“It was so huge, so they had a lot of room to do that,” Weaver said of the businesses’ plant.
About 800 slingshots are currently hanging and drying in Weaver’s shop. Hundreds more are in crates, ready to be stamped for the individual states, cities and regions, where they will be sold.
“They’re totally done,” Weaver said.
Most of the products are made with maple, while the drink coasters are made with pine and basswood.
Weaver is joining his wife, Stephanie, who already has a business called Swamp Water Lanyard, which offers dog collars and leashes, fish lanyards, and duck hunting lanyards for game calls. The business also manufactures heavy-duty mesh mushroom bags, a popular item this time of year. Stephanie has operated the business for seven years.
Weaver handles maintenance duties for Frederic Township, while Stephanie works in the offices at McLean’s Ace Hardware.
The couple’s businesses are used to pay for family recreational activities.
“I like to do a little bit of fishing, I like to do a little bit of deer hunting, so this supplements my income for doing that kind of stuff,” Weaver said.
Eventually, Weaver plans to manufacture end tables and coffee tables.
“Just working with a limited about of space, I can only do so much,” he said.