Your Subtitle text
                                                                                                    photo Mike Murri

HARVEY DRAPER REMEMBERED

                   Harvey Draper                                               
   Joe Ashman

     Harvey Edgel Draper made his last knife in 1982.  That year, a tragic airplane crash took the life of one of Utah's most famous knife makers.

     October 16, 1982, was a good day for flying.  That day, Harvey would fly a homebuilt Bowers Flybaby owned by one of his friends.  His own plane, a 1939 Piper, sat at the Ephraim airport.

     An expert pilot with 40 years flying experience, Harvey loved to do stunts.  The flabby, a stunt type plane gained speed in the cool mountain air.  Just when everything for the stunt seemed so right, everything went so wrong.  The utterly impossible, unthinkable, the thing that could never happen, happened.  The stresses from the stunt sheered a wing off, sending plane and pilot 1,500 feet to the valley floor, ending the life of Harvey Draper.

     Harvey was a man of many names.  Among these were father, friend, husband, brother, flyer, and of course, knife maker.  Although knife maker is the emphasis of this article, the other names need a brief mention.

    Born March 30, 1924, Harvey Draper had the usual Utah upbringing… hunting, fishing, guns and knives were an integral part of his life.

     He graduated from high school in 1941.  In 1943, he married Madge Nielson from the neighboring town of Manti (pronounced man-tie).  Harvey had been born with a bad foot which eventually kept him out of the armed forces.  Instead, he took a civil service job at Hill Field, an army air force base in northern Utah.  After the war, he worked for Thompson's flying service and then United Airlines.  Harvey developed a life long love of airplanes and flying at this time.

     September 7, 1944, Madge gave birth to their first son named Bart, followed by Sharon Aug. 12, 1947, Gayle Oct. 11, 1951 brad Sept. 8, 1953 and Kent Edgel Draper March 29, 1959.

     Harvey raised his family in the small central Utah town of Ephraim.  He worked at the city powerhouse up Ephraim canyon for 13 years.  While working at the powerhouse he made a unique .357 magnum Derringer, using mostly hand tools.  He made several Derringers during his career.

     In 1955, Harv bought his first plane, a 1939 Piper.  It was Harvey's greatest source of pleasure, an escape, and a challenge.  Harvey took many a friend flying the canyons above Ephraim looking for elk and deer.  

     In 1965, a man named Gil Hibben moved to Manti.  This was to cause quite a stir in Harvey because Gil was making knives, full-time, for his living.  Harvey went to Gil's shop at the first opportunity.  Hibben was most cordial and showed Draper what he was doing at the Manti Knife Shop.

     Hibben was no new-comer to knifemaking.  He had made his first knife in the 1950's, in Seattle.  He had later moved to Sandy, UT (near Salt Lake City) to fulfill a life-long ambition to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

     By the early '60's, Gil was making knives with a partner named Stewart Benedict.  They used the stamp "Ben-Hibben Knives" in the shape of a Bowie knife.  They also had a beautiful color brochure titled "Adventure In Your Hand", illustrated with Charles Russel prints.

     When Gil moved to Manti to get out of the city and closer to hunting and fishing, he changed the stamp to the now familiar "Hibben Knives", (in the same Bowie shape), over Manti, UT, with an updated black and white brochure.

     Later in 1965, Gil Hibben hired Harvey Draper to work with him at the Manti shop, making knives with the Hibben mark.  The Utah School of knifemaking had begun.  It would influence knifemakers for years to come.

     Steve Johnson was in Gil's scout troop when he made his first knife.  Steve worked with Gil and later Draper, Chappel,  A. G. Russel and Bob Loveless.  He ended up full-circle and back in his hometown of Manti, making knives full time with "S. R. Johnson" etched in the blade.

     David Lyman worked at Hibben's shop.  Later, he also worked for Harvey Draper.

     After making several knives on his own, Buster Warenski went to the Manti shop and Gil showed him the basic steps of knifemaking.  More about Buster Later.

     Gil was forging 440c steel at the Manti shop.  Mirror polish, file-fit guards and hidden tang were the normal procedure.  440c was then available only in round or square stock.  Forging was the only way to get it wide enough for big knives.  Gil did a lot of experimenting with 440c and was satisfied his method was the best way to make a knife.

     Nine months after Harvey Draper had started working with Gil Hibben, Harvey along with his son Bart and his friend and relative, Bruce Draper, started the Draper Knife Shop in Ephraim, Utah.  The blades were stamped "DRAPER" over "Ephraim, Utah".  Most sheaths were unmarked, but later they were marked "Draper Inc., Ephraim, UT".

     In 1966, the "Draper Custom Knife" catalog was sold for .35 cents.  100% handmade knives from 440c steel were offered, using the stock removal method.  Hand forging was available, using oil hardened tool steel.  In their opinion, forging 440c was a mistake, as it could cause uneven stresses and microscopic forging cracks.  440c steel was now mill rolled in wider widths.  Draper and eventually Hibben, used the stock removal method with heat treating to achieve the ultimate in knife blades.

     The Draper catalog was tan with brown accents.  A picture of the model number 3 Dall Sheep knife, with stag handle, graced the cover.  27 different models were listed.  Sheaths were made by Fred Nielson, who was Harvey's father-in-law.  They are characterized by rivets on the sides and oil tanned leather.  George Lawerence sheaths were optional, for those who wanted basket weaving or hand carving.  Swivel and fast draw sheaths were also available.  The following is a brief mention of the names and characteristics of the different knife models:

     The model number one knife, in the catalog, is the "Elmer Keith" knife.  It is similar to the early Hibben rendition, but with a higher back and curved bolsters designed to keep the knife in the hand while flexing the fingers in cold weather.  Always made of 3/8 inch stock, the clip sharpened on one side for bone cutting, the high back of the blade is left flat for driving down through the brisket, etc.  It was usually supplied with a pouch-type sheath, which was also designed by Elmer Keith.  Elmer wrote an article in the 1967 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine on Draper Knives.  Showing a picture of the model 1 knife he designed, he wrote their knives were the "best he had seen to date".

     Business was booming for the Drapers.  The Elmer Keith article helped spread the word.  Soon, orders were coming in from all over the world.  Hunting knives from Alaska to Africa.  Fighters from South America to Asia.

     Javelina and Dall Sheep are model numbers 2 and 3, and are regular hunting knives.  Hunting Bowie, the lightest weight Bowie is number 4.  Elk, Pronghorn, Trophy Skinner, Nielson Skinner and the three different styles in the Sportsman series go up to model number 11.

     Most catalog Bowies had optional blade lengths available in 7", 8", or 9" at no extra charge, and 1/4" stock was standard while 3/8" blade stock was $3.00 extra.

     Thirteen of the 27 catalog styles are fighters, or survival knives showing the influence of the Vietnam War.  The all metal utility or fishing knives were the cheapest while the rare Thunderbird style Bowie was the most expensive.

     Extras available on any knife incuded name plate of German silver, extra handle spacers, and stainless steel instead of brass on hilts and pommels.  Also available was a brass back strap soldered on top of the blade.

     The style, fit and finish are what set the Draper's knives apart from other maker's knives.  The mirror polish, clean lines, and perfect fit were standard then.  Collector items today, they were built for people to use in the late '60's and early '70's.  The Drapers were graduates of the Utah School of knifemaking with a 4.0 average and high honors.

     A second catalog was nearly identical to the first.  The only differences were the accent color changes from brown to green and the updated prices.  The sheaths listed were Clyde Stone or Simmons.  The Simmons were usually black or brown basket weave.  An insert with color pictures was later added, showing 24 different styles of knives.  Several different sheaths were also shown.  The different knives, in the isert, werer an Elmer Keith style 7" fighting Bowie, a re-designed all-metal boot knife, a new hunting knife named the "Alaskan" and a gamblers push dagger.

     In the late '60's, the place to hang out, in Ephraim, was Harv's Knife Shop.  Everyone knew and liked Harvey and the people who worked with him.  Steve Johnson was going to Snow college in Ephraim in 1968 when he started going to the Draper shop.  Soon, Steve was working with Harvey, Bart and Bruce.

     In early 1970, David Lyman teamed up with the Drapers, as their sheathmaker.  Dave's first sheaths were stamped "Draper Knives, Ephraim, UT", and later stamped "Dave's Custom leather made by David Lyman, Ephraim, UT".

     Late spring, in 1970, Buster Warenski went to work with Harvey Draper.  Buster had known Harv since the early days, at Hibbens' shop in Manti.  Keeping up with local knifemaking, Buster followed Gil and Harvey's work carefully.  Buster had been making knives on a hobby basis, for the last five years.  He originally heat treated his own blades, then later had them sent off with the Drapers'.  This gave Buster a chance to regularly visit the Draper Shop.  Harvey asked Buster to bring a couple of finished knives for him to examine.  Harvey was highly impressed with Buster's work and hired Buster to work with him.

     Others who give Harvey Draper's name as one who helped them get started making knives were Rod Chappel and Don Zaccagnino.

     A new style brochure appeared in 1970, titled "Draper, the Master Knife".  It is black with a picture of the Thunderbird knife on the cover.  Nine new styles are pictured in the map-style brochure.  More skinners and hunting knives plus a folding knife are shown.

     The "Cougar" is a 4" blade with a turned up point.  The "Paragon" is similar only with a drop point.  They werer available with a thin metal butt cap, at extra cost.  The "Les Bowman", named after the famous hunter and writer from Wyoming, has a 4" blade, finger grooves, and pommel.  The "Bowman Archery Set" has a long slim blade and came with a file complete with wood handle and a unique compartment to hold it, built in the sheath.

     The "Karl Hunt" knife was listed as a perfectly designed hunting knife.  The "Hunter's Bowie" was the same as in the earlier brochures.  The "Alaskan Skinner" is distinguished by a single finger groove, 4" blade with a sharpened clip.  "Marco Polo" is the name for a knife Harvey said was designed especially for skinning Big Horn Sheep.  With a thumb rest and an upswept blade, it is similar to the "Dall Sheep" but not as radical.

     The "Folder" has a unique lock and 3 1/2" blade similar to the Cougar.  Harvey would change the lock style, blade length and design several times.  The sheaths in the brochure looked like the early Simmon's style.  The black brochure later came with a price supplement listing all the knives in the earlier catalogs.  It also listed 9 others namely the "Utah Skinner", "Lynx", "Kodiak Cub Bowie", "Mihi Elk", "Mihi Dall Sheep", and a "1830 Bowie".  The 1830 was the largest Bowie the Draper shop made, with a brass back, "S" type hilt, and no pommel.  At this time, the Draper Shop had 37 catalog styles not counting optional blade lengths or custom work.

     Harvey took the new brochure and several knives to the Houston Knifemakers Guild Show in the summer of 1970.  Harvey was in favor of the Guild but never got his name on the roster.

     Gil moved out of Utah to Springdale, Arkansas, in 1970, then later to Anchorage, Alaska where he started other knifemakers in the Utah School direction.

     Although the knives were selling well and all reports gave high marks to the makers, the business was not without problems.  A complicated financial matter closed the door of the Draper Shop in early 1971.

     A man who had been dealing in Draper knives was partly to blame for the closure of the Ephraim Shop.  He convinced Harvey he could be of help in the business end of things.  Harvey moved to American Fork, Utah setting up shop, in the basement at the new partners' sporting goods store.  Bart and Buster stayed behind, eventually going their own way.

     Harv changed the stamp to "DRAPER BLADES" in the new shop.  Hiring Dennis Friedly and later Dale Spendlove were some of the better things to come from the newly located shop.  Dennis went on to become a full time knifemaker and guild member.  He now works out of Cody, Wyoming.  Dale made some fine knives on his own, later.  Regretfully he's not making knives now.

     Harvey was busy making knives on weekdays and going back to Ephraim on weekends.  He assumed the unnamed man was taking care of deliveries of finished knives and orders with deposits.  The "unnamed man" will now be called "the Crook", as that's what he ended up being".  The crook would re-sell a knife that had already been paid for, then submit a work order for a duplicate knife, making turnaround times ridiculously long.  He would cheat the customer and eventually even Harvey.

     Harv, Dennis and Dale moved the shop to Provo, Utah in 1973.  David Lyman was still making most of the sheaths.  During this time, he made them in Ephraim and gave them to Harv on weekends.

     They were still using the "DRAPER BLADES" mark, and still being worked over by the crook while in Provo.  Harvey eventually decided to move back to Ephraim.  Dennis and Dale went their separate ways and Harv went back home.

     The crook kept getting the orders, with deposits.  Out of his pettiness, he destroyed them rather than turn them over to Draper.  A lot of damage had been done to Draper's reputation.  Harv worked hard to make things right, but the damage had already been done.

     Harvey's personal life also had problems.  His son died and his own marriage dissolved.  Later, Harv married Judy Nielson.  Kent Draper started making knives with his dad, in 1973.  He sold his first knife in 1974.  Kent made knives on a hobby basis, in his dad's shop until 1978 when he took a job driving trucks.  Harvey and Kent rebuilt the Piper airplane starting in 1976.  It took three years to complete.  Harvey worked on other peoples' planes, still making knives full time.

     Buster started making knives full time, on his own, in 1973.  He kept a close relationship with Harvey, always crediting the Draper shop with helping to launch his success.

     With the shop all set up back in Ephraim, Harv changed the stamp to "H. E. Draper" over "Ephraim, Utah".  Doing it all by himself now, Harv slowly started getting business right, again.

     The shop was crude by most shop standards but the knives were top drawer.  Draper had waiting customers.  He would make knives for them but his greatest desire was to fly planes.

     Gil Hibben stopped by Harvey's shop just weeks before the fatal accident.  Like two old soldiers, they reminisced about their times.  Who could have imagined the impact their knives would make?

     How did the death of Harvey Draper affect the price of his knives?  We've all seen or heard how an artist isn't appreciated or valued, until he dies.  Draper knives were no exception.  Prices doubled then tripled.  Some have sold for 10 times what Harvey originally sold them for.  Collectors are alway looking for another model or variation for their collection.

     When Harvey left the airport that October day, in the Flybaby, he left doing what he liked doing best.  He left a legacy to his sons Kent and Bart (ie: the Draper knowledge and technique of knifemaking.)   He left his signature stamped in the steel that was his art, his livelihood and his life.

     Everyone liked Harvey Draper.  He was a man who lived life to the fullest.  He will always be missed but he will never be forgotten. 

As authored by Joe Ashman 1988.




Joe Ashman holding a "Thunderbird".



Web Hosting Companies