Taking a cue from local history, radiator firm spreads, gets love with $2 bills

Sean C. Morgan

More than 40 years ago, local mill owner Amos Horner made a point of doing business using the rare $2 bill.

That story inspired Radiator Supply House, over the past couple of years to create a marketing program that travels the globe.

In 1976 or 1977, Horner paid all of his employees in $2 bills, recalled Horner’s daughter, Jean Burger of Cascadia.

The stunt made his point, she said, demonstrating the impact of his businesses on the local economy.

RSH has been stamping its Icebox Performance logo onto $2 bills (in a legal position on the bills) and uses them in a variety of ways, as a sort of business card, as a novelty item and a means of reaching the far corners of the world.

Much like The New Era on the Road photos frequently appearing in this newspaper, the Icebox $2 bills show up in exotic locations as gear head celebrities travel and post photos of themselves on social media. A signed $2 bill recently went with Javier “Shorty” Ponce of the Velocity TV show “Iron Resurrection” and Shorty’s Custom Paint to Machu Picchu in Peru, and can be found on Ponce’s Facebook page, tagged with Icebox Performance.

The idea is to “create a memory,” said RSH Director of Sales and Marketing Wes Collins.

RSH builds custom cooling systems for vehicles and heavy equipment for customers around the world. Icebox is the company’s performance brand. RSH Icebox Performance builds for numerous Motor Trend shows.

“I bet we have 15 to 16 different people that are very well known in the car industry, that sign $2 bills and give them to kids,” Collins said.

In August, RSH President Wes Garrett told The New Era how he used the $2 bill as a business card at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association Show in Las Vegas. The memory that created for a SEMA show vice president paved the way for RSH to secure one of the premier spaces at the show.

Nike had to pay Michael Jordan millions to endorse its shoes, while RSH and its Icebox Performance Brand end up with celebrity endorsements $2 at a time, from prominent members of the gear head community to more widely known celebrities, including Mario Andretti, Ken Block, Richard Petty and Jay Leno.

“We cannot spend eight quarters any better for our company,” Collins said.

RSH had heard about the impact of Horner’s stunt, and Collins and Garrett also observed that $2 bills leave an impression when they’re used.

“You’re not giving someone a $2 tip,” Collins said. “You’re giving them a memory,” likening the action to a grandparent putting a $2 bill in a birthday card.

“Dad decided that the community of Sweet Home didn’t appreciate the vast payroll that he put into the whole area,” Burger said. Among Horner’s businesses in the Sweet Home area were mills in Cascadia and off Clark Mill, a machine shop and a truck shop.

Horner had been battling with the city over grading Center Street, a back way into the Midway Mill (Tomco) site, she said. The only other alternative was Clark Mill Road, where it would bother residents.

“We would go through 100 loads of logs a day at that new mill,” which was new and “state of the art,” Burger said. “We had logging trucks coming through Center Street nonstop eight to 10 hours a day.”

Her father decided to issue an entire payroll in $2 bills to demonstrate the impact of his businesses, she said. He got together with Bill Brown at First National Bank and ordered approximately 47,500 $2 bills to make $95,000 in payroll on a two-week pay period.

Burger, Wendy Smith, Pat Hoots and three or four other women went down to the bank to count the bills, Burger said.

“It was quite an adventure.”

About a third of the employees collected their pay on Friday, Burger said. The other two-thirds picked up their money following the weekend.

“It was a real shock to the local merchants,” Burger said. “You’d go to the grocery store, people in front of you with all these $2 bills. The $2 bills hadn’t been in circulation literally for years. It started hitting the merchants.”

They didn’t know what to do with all of them, she said. They didn’t have a $2 slot in their tills.

“It made quite a splash,” Burger said. “Dad got his point across. They realized we contributed quite a bit to the local economy.”

The city finally graded Center Street.

“My dad was a man way ahead of his time, with innovative ideas. He was brilliant when it came to marketing.”

Every stud produced at the All-American Studs mill Horner owned in Jasper was painted with the Stars and Stripes, Burger said, and he put an All-American Studs T-shirt on every train car full of studs for the workers at the other end of the line.

Garrett has followed suit.

When employees go on road trips for the company, he gives them $150 to $200 in $2 bills, in addition to their regular wage, to compensate them for being away from their families, Collins said. Eventually, the company started stamping them.

“We do multiple things,” he said. “We use them. We pay with $2 bills.”

Company representatives give the bills to Motor Trend TV personalities, Collins said. “They sign them and give them to kids.”

So unusual are the $2 bills, kids often think they aren’t real, Collins said.

It really got going with Kev Dog of Kendig It Designs at the March 17, 2018 Portland Roadster Show, Collins said. “Every show we go to, we always try to make a splash. We were getting ready to build these (radiator) units for the our 2018 SEMA booth.”

Collins said he had a roll of $20 to $40 in $2 bills. He threw them at Kev Dog and told him to swing by the Icebox Performance booth.

The next time Collins saw him, Kev Dog told Collins he was signing them for kids who didn’t have anything else to sign.

Since then, these personalities sign the bills, take photos of themselves with the bills and post to social media, Collins said. They send photos back to RSH, and those are displayed on the walls of the office.

Among them are Christy Lee and Bogi from All Girls Garage, David Rea from DB Restorations, Daddy Dave from Street Outlaws, Diesel Dave from Diesel Brothers, Chris Jacobs from Overhaul’n, John Auostino, Javiera “Shorty” Ponce, Steve Darnell from Vegas Rat Rods, Justin Nichols from Wrench’d and Leah Pritchett.

It’s something that helps the TV personalities too, Collins said. “They know it’s about making a memory.”

“We’re having fun with it. It’s a little portion of our marketing budget, but it’s fun.”

And keeping up that fun is important as the company is growing to a more “corporate” level, Collins said.

Part of the core values for owners Ryan and Wes Garrett is that they go to work for their families. Keeping things fun makes the eight to 10 hours a day of work go by faster “so we can go home our families.”

One of Collins’ favorite stories involves automobile designer Chip Foose. At a show, the line to see Foose was long. Collins isn’t big on lines, and he wandered over to a girl wearing Chip Foose credentials around her neck.

He asked her if she would sell him the lanyard and credentials. A nearby woman told him the girl knew better than to do that.

When Collins found out the girl was Foose’s daughter, helping out in her father’s booth, he asked her if she would sign a $2 bill. She did, her first autograph.

Last year, in a contest among employees, they designed cooling systems to fit specific grills that could handle the engine power behind them. At the SEMA show, celebrity judges and members of the public voted on their favorites. The winner was Kyle Yeack, who drives a race car at local tracks bearing the number 47.

Numerous $2 bills memorialized on the RSH photo wall are signed and marked with Yeack’s number above the winning Icebox radiator and intercooler on display in the office.

RSH keeps a steady stream of the $2 bills going to the people who sign them. Friday afternoon, Collins received a call from David Rea, formerly of Graveyard Cars in Springfield and now of DB Restorations in Creswell. Ray had run out of $2 bills, and Collins told him, he’d send him a new stack.

Ray recently secured Richard Petty’s autograph at the Ridgely Car Show in Maryland, Collins said.

“When we have them sign a $2 bill, we give them a $2 bill to put in their wallet,” Collins said. “It’s a good luck thing.”