BassWestUSA - November/December, 2009, Page 52

riod of time, people were taking small boats and putting bigger motors on them which made the whole situation worse.” Through research, Hilton found that in the early 1900s, a safety shut off switch had been invented for drivers of street cars in San Francisco. “In the pictures that I found, the operator was wearing a huge leather harness. I knew that bass anglers weren’t going to wear a leather harness,” he explained. Thus began the trial and error period of Hilton’s kill switch development. His first design was a pressure switch on the seat which cut the motor when the driver came up off the seat. “The boats rode so rough back then that it would keep cutting the motor whenever you’d hit a wave,” explained Hilton. His second and third experimental designs required the driver to keep pressure on a foot petal or steering wheel mounted baton. These designs, however, were difficult to operate. Finally, Hilton settled on a cut off switch which was both functional and easy to oper- ate. “I decided that if I miniaturized everything and made a switch that a lanyard could hook to, it would be the most functional option,” Hilton explained. “That seemed to work and people liked my prototypes. Over a period of time, I refined the switch itself and started to set up a manufacturing facility to produce them.”

In 1970, Hilton began shopping his newly developed kill switch to motor companies. He was met with resistance. “They all said that if they put a kill switch on their motors, it would send the message that the motors were dangerous.” His big break came in 1972 when, out of the blue, he received a call from one of the owners of Aero Glass, a now defunct boat manufacturing company based in Memphis. One of the Aero Glass owners flipped a boat equipped with one of Hilton’s kill switch- es. “He said that the switch killed the motor and saved him,” recounted Hilton. “He wanted to put one of my kill switches on every boat that Aero Glass made and that completely changed my thinking.” Rather than try and sell the kill switch to motor companies, Hilton began focusing his efforts on boat companies. Cranking up production and refining the tooling, Hilton reached a point where he could produce between 600 and 700 kill switches a week and began selling them to boat companies. Hilton also began selling individually packaged kill switches across the country. “As I recall, we were selling them for around five dollars a switch,” he said. The package fea- tured one kill switch and two lanyards, and they were sold at marine dealerships across the country.

An avid tournament angler, Hilton also began carrying his packaged kill switches to Bassmaster Invitationals where he not only competed but also installed kill switches on many other competitors’ boats. “I think that 1973 was the first year that BASS required kill switches and many of the competitors didn’t have one. Ray Scott told me to bring a bunch of switches and at the pre-tournament meetings, Ray would announce that I could install a kill switch if a competitor didn’t have one,” stated Hilton. “Instead of practicing for a lot of those tourna- ments, I spent most of my time installing kill switches,” he laughed. As time progressed, Hilton’s main customers became boat manufacturers and dis- tributors. When Brunswick acquired Bayliner in 1986, an additional 4000 of Hilton’s kill switches were installed each month on Bayliners. “By this time, we were in high gear and had built a factory where I had around 10 workers dedicated to making kill switches,” said Hilton. “We molded a lot of other prod- ucts but at one point, kill switches were probably up to 40% of sales.” As foreign made switches began to flood the market during the late 1980s, the de- mand for Hilton’s kill switches dwindled. In 1990, he decided to scale down production and focus on molding other plastic products.

the BiG Break

the Peak

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November/December 2009