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Sudbury inventor of patented miner's adjustable wrench dies

Don Rastall built tool and mining supply shop into global exporter
Don Rastall (File photo)

Don Rastall, a legendary Sudbury entrepreneur, industrial supplier and founder of the Rastall Corp., has died.

His family and colleagues will remember Rastall as the ultimate salesman who possessed a strong head for business, was a willing mentor, was generous and instilled confidence in others.

Born in Huntsville in 1937, Rastall developed his work ethic and mantra of customer service at an early age working after school and on weekends alongside this father, Ernest, who operated a small garage. At 17, after his father died, he took a job as a construction worker with Bell Telephone.

The gift of gab caught the attention of Rastall's bosses who gave him a sales position, marketing training and a territory stretching from Fort Frances to Huntsville.

"They realized I was a better talker than a pole climber," said Rastall at a 2008 ceremony inducting him into the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association's (now MineConnect) Hall of Fame.

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After moving to Sudbury, he married Jackie Helpert in 1960 and went to work for his father-in-law, Charlie, at Helpert's Supply for 15 years where Rastall learned about the mining industry.

He observed that 12-inch adjustable wrenches were regularly being tweaked to open wider to meet miners' demands, and Rastall launched his own business in 1975 to create and sell a unique modified adjustable wrench. His invention became known as the patented Rastall RS-12 Adjustable Wrench.

The wrenches were hand-wrapped at home by the husband-and-wife team and shipped out to various Inco and Falconbridge mines in the early 1970s. Today, the wrenches are shipped all over North America and abroad.

Over time, the family business was expanded as Rastall Mine Supply to include the sale of fasteners, becoming the largest such supplier in Northern Ontario, shipping quality product to mines in Sudbury and clients in the forestry and construction sectors across the region, Canada and internationally.

The family-run company of Rastall Mine Supply and Rastall Tools is run out of a 25,000-square-foot building on Hemlock Street in Sudbury's west end.

During his SAMSSA acceptance speech 12 years ago, Rastall said he obtained a long-term perspective on recessions and the dangers of knee-jerk quick-fixes as a result of fear.

He cautioned against buying into this fear through "information overload," which often leads to sacrificing the heart of one's workforce as a panicked reaction to the sudden plunge in the market. These same people would be needed once more when the markets improve, as "the sun will shine again," he said.

Instead, he argued, companies need to closely scrutinize their books as most have excess fat to trim before putting the knife to their people.

Rastall spoke of a prior recession where his accounting staff found that the company was spending $37,000 annually on prizes for staff sports tournaments. By cutting this unnecessary expenditure, he could keep one other job afloat, meaning one more person could continue to walk into the shop with a smile on their face.

"We want to cut our costs, not our throats," said Rastall. "People are the most important thing."

Rastall Mine Supply and Rastall Tool Corp. survived a disastrous fire, which burned the business to the ground in July 2000, but the family and staff persevered and banded together to secure a temporary warehouse location to be back operating within 48 hours.

Rastall is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jackie Rastall; his two children, Charles Rastall and Mari-Helen (Tom Primeau); his sister Jill Goldthorp of Huntsville; among two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.