“The new phone book’s here!  The new phone book’s here!” 

The reaction of Navin R. Johnson (from The Jerk) to getting the new phone book was similar to kids of yesteryear getting their hands on the annual Christmas catalog, or for Estes Industries model rocketry enthusiasts–the release of the next Estes product catalog.  As we enter the dog days of summer, across the country when it’s not raining or storming it’s time to take the rockets to the empty field on the edge of town for some launches.  These aren’t the volatile Fourth of July variety of rockets where you’re likely to lose eyebrows or fingers.  These are the hobbyist rockets that families have enjoyed for decades.  Ready for summer fun, Estes Industries released its 60th anniversary catalog online this weekend, 88 pages and many more rockets and products than you remember from the pamphlet you once could roll-up and carry in your back pocket.

Since 1958 when Denver inventor Vern Estes first discovered a way to mass-produce solid propellant model rocket engines, kids and adults alike found a new way to do something more than just dream of soaring to the stars.  For three generations families have taken to the hobby that takes its fans from building and painting to launching and recovery of replica rockets using similar principles as NASA, over the years adding payloads and devices to record the voyages.  The smell of burned out engines, starter paper and recovery wadding is like the smell of Play-Doh and Crayola crayons for anyone who has flown an Estes rocket–pure nostalgia.

But Estes almost didn’t make it to this year.  Years after a merger with the similarly well-regarded radio-control hobby brand Cox, the company hit the wall, taking itself into a chapter 7 liquidation.  Out of the ashes the RC division splintered off, and the Estes brand and rocket division was only recently purchased by a new family of life-long Estes fans, with a few dozen of the staff members still around to continue designing and creating.  The new company released the latest catalog and is readying for next year, which should be a big year for the rocket hobby: It will be the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moonshot.

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