This is pulled from a letter from me to Bob Olley, a sculptor in England:
Since you never visited Partha, let me paint a quick picture. Let’s start with the fact that Cincinnati is not the most beautiful city in America. It’s not Detroit, but it is a failing/failed industrial town. This city was a river port back in the days when the Ohio River was an economically viable route to the Mississippi and beyond.

I've always felt the face of this miniature looked like Jack Hesselbrock.
I’ve always felt the face of this miniature looked like Jack Hesselbrock.

In the worst section of the worst part of this town there was a battery factory. When the battery factory failed or moved away, Ral Partha moved in. The facility looked like it was built upon oil-stained lead shavings mixed with gravel. The warehouse/factory was a cinder-block hovel with a wood-frame ceiling. The executive offices and sculpting studio was a cramped house filled with the dreams, fantasy posters, miniatures and collectible oddities. A thin layer of industrial dust covered everything in the cramped messy house. Taken together, it was a vertigo inducing mixture that made the minds of game junkies and fantasy dreamers swoon.

The “house” had sculptors on the second floor. That’s where I met Jim Johnson (he mainly sculpts for Reaper now) and Jeff Wilhelm. The first floor of the house had Jack Hesselbrock.

Jack was a natural salesman, a down to earth guy and the type who would play a fighter in the RPG. You know the guy who just wants to roll dice and kill things. He “quit” smoking years ago, but he always reaked of nicotine and had yellow stained fingers. About once an hour he would steal away to the bathroom, which oddly enough, always smelled like tobacco. Along the same lines, he had one of the thickest manes of hair I’ve ever seen on a man over forty. The Cleric Brown (TM by Ral Partha Paints) hair on the top of his head seemed a shade lighter than the hair at his collar at the rear of his head. Jack had an infectuous smile and easy demeanor that quickly won him friends. Jack always bragged about how he was good with the money and how he was the only “business man” at Partha. Jack didn’t have much interest in games anymore and he didn’t really care about the product other than he wanted it to sell.

Chuck was brooding, critical and acerbic. At conventions he liked to dress like Henry VIII and he gave a pretty good likeness—except for the fact that I never pictured Henry VIII as so likable and easy-going as Chuck. (He was always in a better mood at conventions.) Chuck loved miniatures and games and game conventions. He came to life when discussing the difference between a stone troll and a river troll. Chuck’s office was in the factory and it was his job to oversee production and keep everything running smoothly. But Chuck didn’t do that. Chuck didn’t do much of anything. He didn’t like work and he hated Jack. He felt like Jack didn’t know the business because Jack not only didn’t know the difference between a river troll and a stone troll, Jack didn’t frankly give a shit what the difference was between a river troll and a stone troll.

Because Chuck never really lifted a finger to do anywork, someone had to manage production. That person was Mike Noe. Mike looked like Jesus with tatoos wearing a chain on his wallet and low-cut jeans over biker’s boots. I never had the balls to tell him to his face, but I always saw Mike Noe as a bit of a Wormtongue. He had started off pouring lead into spincasters and by kissing Chuck’s rear he had worked his way into a(n albiet filthy) office. He had lifted all of Chuck’s duties from Chuck, except he let Chuck name the figures. That was the one thing which was sacred to Chuck. He picked the name that went on every package.
As a side note, I remember arguing with Chuck about the “Barbarian Empire”. I said they can’t be barbarians and an empire. By definition barbarians are … BARBARIC. Savages don’t build roads, collect taxes and raise legions. Barbarians muster hordes. Chuck won.
Back to the point, Mike Noe was smart enough to let Chuck think and do as he pleased. All the while he would tell Chuck, “If only you were running the company, everything would be better.”
This fiction pleased Chuck greatly and blinded Chuck to Mike’s other flaws. Meanwhile Mike would wink and nod to Jack and say, “Yeah, we all know Chuck doesn’t do anything.”

This strategy meant that Mike was indispensable in Jack’s eyes, because Chuck was worthless. By the same token, Mike was always undermining Jack. Mike wanted nothing more than to depose Jack and set up Chuck as “king” because then Mike would really be running the show. Meanwhile, Mike was a hero of sorts to the marijuana-infested bikers who worked hot pewters in a cancer-causing carcass of industry.

To those bikers who made little more than minimum wage, he made himself out like he was their hero—a man of the people who wanted nothing more than to give them all raises (were it not for that damn Chuck and Jack holding him back). They loved Mike because he was the defender of the afternoon pot-break.

Now onto this heaping pile of dung throw this tidbit: Jack was married to Chuck’s ex-wife. That’s right. You don’t have to reread that sentence. I’ll type it again. Jack started banging Chuck’s wife before Chuck divorced her. I spent the night at Jack’s house and met his wife. Nice lady. Nice house. She said Jack was so good with money, and Jack was so industrious. Jack’s house had nothing in it which might indicate that he had anything to do with Partha. He had a nice billiard table in the basement, but our game was the first time he had played in years.
Chuck’s house, as Jack and his wife liked to point out, was inherited. Chuck’s parents left it to him and though it was in good condition when they passed away, it was not much improved since then. Chuck’s wife was a little younger and a real fan of Xena the Warrior Princess. Chuck met her at a convention and she jumped his bones when she found out he was the “rich and famous” owner of Partha. She later learned what others knew. Being “famous” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Chuck had pissed away any opportunities at riches long ago. Chuck and I played a game about the Battle of Britain the night I stayed with him. He was like a kid. It was a load of fun as my Luftwaffe took his Limey bastards out of the air. He gave me the game afterwords. He gave me lots of other cool Partha momentos.
Chuck and Jack had a cordial but cold business relationship. They both talked about the nut in the other building and how Partha would be better off without the other one. But to my mind, Partha needed them both. Jack was the mind and Chuck was the soul. The worst part was, rather than working together, they worked to sabotage each other. For example,Chuck would only listen to Jack when he knew an idea would fail. This was so he could prove to Jack what an idiot Jack was. Jack was not to bright when it came to the games, but he knew enough to know that Chuck was just about worthless. He treated Chuck like he was worthless so that he became more worthless. Quite sad.

There were three other partners: a lawyer (who didn’t much care about the thing—I never met him), Tom Mieir, and Rich Smethurst (a postman who loved games nearly as much as Chuck). Three out of five of these partners put Jack in charge. Tom Mieir was bitter because in his opinion he had been screwed out of royalties by Partha.

Rich just wanted free lead. (He was the nicest guy and the best person I ever met who had anything to do with Partha.) I think Rich had it all figured out. He would deliver mail and occaisionally come to the factory to cast his own figures. If Partha made money that was just a bonus.

I don’t know the last pieces of this puzzle, but I think I know the characters well enough to guess how it played out. Mixing fact with conjecture, I’ll tell you how Mike Noe orchestrated the sale to FASA. TSR had recently been acquired by WotC and WotC was planning on pulling the licensing from Partha. This would take away at least 40% of Partha’s business. FASA counted for another 30% of Partha’s business and they knew they had Ral Partha over a barrel. If they took away the license, Partha wouldn’t be finished but they would be in deep trouble. So FASA both threatened to take the license away but also offered to buy the company.

Tom M. and the lawyer wanted out. They always voted to sell. Chuck and Jack were like some sort of brothers from literature—bound for life to the beast called Partha and a shared union with a woman. They would never vote to sell. Rich didn’t care if it made money or not. Why sell? He just wanted more figures.

But Mike Noe wanted to be the king beneath the king. So on one of the Wiesmans’ (FASA owners) many visits to Partha Mike laid out the plan to take the company. The Wiesmans cut a secret deal to promise to put Chuck in charge after the sale. Chuck voted to sell and thus stabbed his baby, his one true love, Ral Partha in the heart. True to their word, the dudes from Chicago fired Jack and put Chuck in charge … for a time.
Chuck couldn’t manage a damn thing. So, in the end Chuck got the axe and Mike got what he wanted. Mike was lord of Partha.
But then in a generous twist of Fate, the Wiesman’s dicked over Mike Noe. They orchestrated the bankruptcy of Partha, looting all that they could before leaving the whole thing in a twisted and failed mess. Of course, afterwards Mike Noe took over Iron Wind Metals and he at last had his kingdom, but to my mind he was better off as a lieutenant in the best and brightest miniature company on the planet than a king of a cancer-ridden pile of shit.

This probably would make an interesting novel and this is only the half of it.

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About the AuthorWill Nesbitt is the principal broker of Condo Alexandria / Nesbitt Realty. Will is a realtor who specializes in condos, townhouses and single family real estate in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County, Crystal City, and Kingstowne. Will resides in Belle Haven Estates just outside Alexandria VA in Fairfax County.
Gaming, Off Topic,

Will Nesbitt

View posts by Will Nesbitt
Will is the principal broker of Nesbitt Realty and Condo Alexandria. He is licensed in anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but focuses on those communities found in and around Alexandria, Arlington, Mount Vernon and Springfield/Franconia. Will has been involved in real estate management, sales and investment for more than twenty years. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army. While in the army, he studied Russian at Monterey's Defense Language Institute. He is also a "veteran of the dotcom wars" and built most of the sites associated with Will currently resides in Belle Haven Estates just outside Old Town, overlooking New Alexandria. He is a former president of the Mount Vernon Youth Athletic Association and founded the Alexandria Fun with Friends Group. Will is the author of BattlestorM, a tabletop fantasy game, which was published by Ral Partha Publishing in the late '90's, and Arthur's Realm, a boardgame available at the Gamecrafter.