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VLS, The early years.

VLS Through the years

March 18th, 2012 by Bob Letterman

From 1983 to 1985

This is the first of a series of VLS nostalgia, beginning way back in December, 1983. The first volume is from 1983 to 1985. As I find and process them, I will be adding to all the volumes taking a pictorial history from 1983 to December, 2006, when it was sold to MMD/Squadron. I will add a section on Mastercon to document it’s history pictorially from 1991 to 2006 and beyond! Stay tuned!

These are the fronts of the two original locations of VLS #14 was production (Click on photos to enlarge)

#17 was sales, Wes Bradley and Don Wardlaw plan strategies!

Back then, we sold a lot of vacu-form kits. Airmodel was the top seller of course!

In those days, Don Wardlaw was in charge of our art dept. That is a young Bob beside him! (1985) and a young Don beside Bob!

Then we expanded into #25 Cross Keys, about triple the space. We were planning the remodeling! We had so many big dreams in those days!

Lewis Pruneau was in charge of production and VLS Creative Services back then (VP USA) This is Lewis being Lewis! Probably the single most creative guy I ever knew!

Then, there was the entire crew. How many of you can name this bunch? From left to right. Lewis Pruneau, Bob Letterman, Wes Bradley, Tom Gerringer, Judy Baggett, Don Wardlaw and Jerry Schulte! (1986) Standing in front of a newly remodeled #25 Cross Keys Center.

Photo credits to Wes Bradley

From 1988 to 1991

The first 5 + years VLS was operational. First, from our house, (1983-1985), Then we rented space in Cross Keys Center from 1985 through 1988. Those years were covered in “VLS, The Early Years”. Then in August, 1988, We had been talking to our leasing agent, (A real estate company), about our lease payments and if they would rise when the lease was up September 1st. He assured us that wouldn’t happen, then around August 20th, We received a notice that our lease payments, upon renewal, would almost double. When I confronted my agent, he just smiled and said he had no control over that and besides, there is no way we now had time to move before the lease was up. In that last three years, we had grown within the center from our original 700 square feet to over 11,000 square feet. It was a huge task, he knew it, and thought there was no way we could accomplish a move in that time period.

We started immediately and within 24 hours, we had a new office/warehouse leased in western St. Louis county of 12,000 square feet for the same price as we had paid the previous three years at the original location. The next day, we shut down operations on a Friday, rented three large moving vans, and every employee began helping with the moving. We used the three trucks in rotation, we had two crews, one at each location. By Monday morning, we were totally moved and were operational. The agent met us at the old location and was amazed. It was immaculate and much nicer than when we moved in. He even had to return several thousands of dollars of security deposit. The rest of that story is that the space sat vacant for seventeen years until it was demolished in 2006.

If they hadn’t been so greedy, it would have been occupied for years! Click on photos to enlarge.

Our new location was at 804 Fee Fee road in Westport industrial park. The name of the street was the only downside! This aerial shot was taken by a police helicopter in the area. Then and even now, I have many friends in the department. The first building was occupied by VLS except the two end units and half the building behind served as our production unit!

This was the main entrance. Click on image to enlarge.

The Summer of 1990. At that time, a photo of our crew.

Left to right back row. Tony Eads, Steve Miller, Chuck Stuckenberg, Jeff Raines, Herb Rigg, John Vaughn, Wes Bradley and Wim Verlinden.
2nd row, Tom Gerringer, Bob, Susan, Francois.
3rd row, Sharon Miller, Rene Sullivan and Khamini Bhatt.Click on image to enlarge.

These shots of the merchandise in the warehouse were used for promotional images. About that time was the transition from when color was more expensive to when black & white became more expensive. Click on image to enlarge.

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Tom Gerringer, Vice President, Kyle Haag and Wes Bradley. Wes was VLS’ first employee.

Judy Baggett was our second employee and was operations manager at the time of this photo. Judy passed away in 2013. Click on image to enlarge.

Bob in a staged catalog photo.

Lewis Pruneau and two of his dios, Vietnam Riverine and The Capture of the U-505. Behind him is the original version of Legacies by Bob Letterman. Click on image to enlarge.

Lewis worked for VLS between 1985 and 1990. He then opened his own business, Pruneau Dynamics”. While at VLS he built dios on order for a growing list of clients. The list grew to the point he could no longer do both jobs. It continues to this day.

Back in 1983, when Susan and Bob started the business, these were some of the products they made and sold in their mail order business “Warwinds Militaria and Hobby LTD”. Well, it sounded important at the time! These products grew in numbers and the name was changed from Parts Depot to Techstar in 1989. Click on image to enlarge.

Most of these photos were taken for use as promotional pics. We used them in advertising, newsletters and catalogs. Click on image to enlarge.

A wall in the conference room. I have no idea why we took it!

A promo shot of Bob. Click on image to enlarge.

Gerald Schulte, (Gerry), became our first superstar with customers. He had a following of modelers who would only order from him!

Lewis built this “Carrier Deck Crash” Bob bought it from him and owned it for several years. Ralph Koebbeman, Bob’s partner in the museum that would come several years later, wanted it so bad that Bob sold it to him for what he had paid for it. Click on image to enlarge.

Another Promo shot of the Prez.

Kyle Haag, Graphics dept. and the designer of the Techstar logo among other things. Click on image to enlarge.

Kyle Mullin, VLS’ programmer.

Staged shot in shipping, Tony and Lewis are in the background and Jack Bullard was the shipping manager is in the foreground. Click on image to enlarge.

Another staged shot in production.

Since we had so many units in this building, we had a complex of office space, this being a small part. From front to back, Chuck Stuckenberg, Lewis and Wes Bradley. Click on image to enlarge.

Bob had spent three years in Europe in the military, (1959 through 1962). Beginning in April 1976, Bob and Susan began annual trips to Europe. These became twice annually and after the business started in 1983, as often as six times a year. By 1996, Bob had crossed the Atlantic well over a hundred times. As VLS grew in size Bob and Susan took several of their employees on these tripe with them. This is a trip taken in 1984 with VLS’ first employee, Wes Bradley. Click on image to enlarge.

Wes at the Arc de Triomph.

Bob & Wes at Eiffel Tower.

Wes at the Eagles Nest on the Obersalzburg. Click on image to enlarge.

Bob and Wes at the Cologne Cathedral, (The Dom).

Bob and Wes again at the Sacre Coeur in Montmarte. (Susan was taking all the pictures for Wes). Click on image to enlarge.

When Lewis first completed “The Paris Gun”, this picture was taken among others which are no longer around. Click on image to enlarge.

Bob owned 5 Corvettes during his life. This was a 1976 Sting Ray. Bought new in 1976 for $8000., 14 years later he sold it for $14000. They have phenomenal resale value!

Back then, in 1984 Wes was president of Gateway IPMS, St. Louis Local chapter. Bob was VP and here are Susan, Wes and Bob at a banquet. Chester Klier, a B-25 Mitchell pilot during WW II and the father of Denny and Ron Klier who were cops and friends with Bob. He gave a long talk about his experiences. He had published a book on those experiences and everybody was fascinated with his tales. Click on image to enlarge.

Almost 30 years later, Chester passed away. However, he did make it to the museum several months prior. Shown here wheelchair bound, his son, Denny brought him out on New Years Day, 2013.

Our family room in Florissant. The basement was where both the Winds of War and the original Legacies were built. Also the first home of what would later become VLS. This was taken in 1981, Bob had the first big screen most people ever saw. The back wall in this photo was struck by lightening, caught fire and if not for their little cock-a-poo, Goblin, they would more than likely never made it out. When he awoke Bob, he crawled to the hallway entrance on the far left. The entire room was engulfed in flames. Goblin won the state’s bravest dog award that year from the Humane Society! Click on image to enlarge.

Kickin’ back. Wes, Bob, Wes’ then wife Kay, Benny from Belgium. Benny came over with two other employees of VP to help set up production. Bob and Benny had weight lifting in common and they became friends. Lewis is on the far right. In the foreground is Bob and Susan’s first Yorkie, Cagney and first dobe, Warlock. Warlock was the largest doberman we have ever seen, many thought he was a Great Dane. He was a real sweetie! The river in the background in the Mississippi. Photo taken in Ste. Genevieve, Lewis’ home town. Click on image to enlarge.

In 2008, a year and a half after they retired, they decided to get everybody together from the period of this thread. Several they had not seen in many years. This was Chuck Stuckenberg, who learned computers when he worked for VLS right out of high school at 17. In 1997, he left for bigger and better things. He is now a supervisor of the IT department of one of the largest hospitals in the midwest.

Herb Rigg had previously retired from the postal service and was hired in 1987 by VLS after he had done some remodeling for us. He stayed on until 2000. He primarily worked in production, he became an Icon at Mastercon as the shuttle bus driver, picking up customers and celebs at the airport and bringing them to the convention. Herb has stayed one of our very best friends. Click on image to enlarge. Herb is still doing great at 85!

Left to right. Tony Eads, HIs new wife Melody, Chuck and Susan. Click on image to enlarge.

Herb, Wes and Jerry Schulte. Jerry had changed less than anybody else there. Jerry’s wife is in the foreground.

Tony went on from close to ten years at VLS to Reuters News agency. There he met his new wife and they recently retired, bought a huge yacht and now, during season, charter cruises. There are four guest cabins, the crew quarters and a galley. They now live in the Carribean in season showing tourists from North America and Europe the various islands. They spend off seasons here in St. Louis. Tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Here is a final shot of Tony and Melody. Great couple! Click on image to enlarge.

That’s it for this chapter. Later, we will post VLS, The Later Years, and finally, VLS, After the Split! at a later date.

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