Iron Fist pulls no punches
When setting out to write “an interesting book about an amazing man,” Jeffrey L. Rodengen had no idea the journey would last six years and result in a piece of cult literature that garnered him a few close friends and more than a few enemies.
His book Iron Fist is a no-holds-barred biography of Mercury Marine founder E. Carl Kiekhaefer that, when published in 1991, sent shockwaves through the local community and the worldwide marine industry.
The 600-page tome is painstakingly detailed and researched through 300 personal interviews and reviews of more than one million documents.
“Everyone I met had an apocryphal story about Carl,” Rodengen said, “stories that were as exaggerated and larger than life as the man himself. And the deeper I dug, I learned that every story was true, and I felt the need to document all of it.”
An historian and author of more than150 business books, including The Legend of Mercury Marine, Rodengen was “astonished” when he arrived in Fond du Lac, Wis., for a book signing to see 1,000 people lined up around the block.
The book was not warmly received by all, as it laid bare decades-old secrets. Revealed in its pages are “affairs of the heart” among a few company employees and the 30-year old conspiracy among Kiekhaefer’s two top engineers — Charlie Strang and Jim Wynne — to develop the stearndrive and bring it to market independently when Kiekhaefer rejected the idea. “Wynne was shocked that I discovered and documented it so well. His friends never forgave me,” Rodengen said.
Rodengen became very close with the Kiekhaefer family and, though he never met the man, admits crying when he wrote about Carl Kiekhaefer’s death. He also can claim an historic marine industry moment of his own. When Rodengen’s twins were born in 1993, both Charlie Strang — who became chairman of Outboard Marine Corporation — and Fred Kiekhaefer, Carl’s son and president of Mercury High-Performance, stood as godfathers to the children.
“To my knowledge, it is the only joint venture OMC and Mercury ever had,” he said.