MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT JIM BUSS
I was born on November 23, 1942 in Boone, Iowa. My father loved wood working. He completely remodeled our house, added rooms, built furniture etc. He also made custom made cabinets for some of the more affluent homes in town. I picked up my father's love of woodworking, and enjoyed working on many projects. I enjoyed designing the project, planning out how to make it, and then making it. What I hated, however, was sanding the wood in preparation for a finish. When I was in High School, I discovered the wood lathe, which gave me a whole new dimension to the art of woodworking. What was actually amazing about it, is that you can hold the sandpaper still, and the wood moves. WOW! Unfortunately, there's only so many trowel handles and candle stick holders you can make.
I also had other hobbies at the time. I was a ham radio operator, and enjoyed photography, camping, and was active in the Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout with a Bronze Palm.
In 1961, I finished High School and started college at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. My love of electronics (Ham Radio) guided me in selecting Electrical Engineering as my major.
On my first day at Iowa State, I was walking past the billiards room in the Student Union when someone broke a rack of pool balls, and I said to myself "What was that wonderful sound?". I investigated, and saw the first pool table that I had ever seen. I fell in love with it immediately. It has ruled my life ever since.
After about one year, I bought a Willie Hoppe Cue Stick sold by Brunswick. I thought I was in Heaven. One day, I decided to modify my cue so I drilled some small holes in it, and glued in some rhinestones. I'm sure it would look tacky today, but someone else liked it enough to steal it.
Having been involved in woodworking nearly all my life, I marveled at the cue stick, and was curious about how they were made. For years I never missed a chance to dig a broken stick out of the trash at a pool hall. I would take it home and cut it apart. I would slice it up in every possible angle until I figured out how they did it. After seeing how complex it was, I decided that this was something that I would never be able to do. I knew how it was done, but didn't know what type of machinery it must take. I had used saws, sanders, planers, routers & shapers, but cue sticks required machinery I had never been exposed to.
I graduated as an Electrical Engineer and started working at McDonnell Aircraft Company on June 6, 1966 (6/6/66). My first assignment was to design an umbilical cable for one of the Gemini astronauts to use while doing a "space walk". This really blew me away. Space flight was in the news every day. We were racing the Russians to the moon, and we were behind. Everyone was following our progress, and here I was, designing an item that I would see on the news someday. It was a simple assignment, but to me, it was like I was designing the entire spacecraft.
From this assignment, I went on to design the Power Distribution System for the Skylab program. After that, I was assigned to work on classified Air Force Space Systems. This assignment required me to move to Sunnyvale, California, where the Air Force Satellites were monitored and controlled. During this assignment, I needed to go to Vandenberg Air Force Base where the missiles were launched. While at Vandenberg, I had a day off, and drove to North Hollywood where Cuemaker Bert Schrager lived. I needed a new ferrule on my cue, and he agreed to do the job for me. While watching him work, the old "I gotta do that someday" feeling came over me. I watched him trim the ferrule on a Metal Lathe. This was a machine that I had never been around, and is perfect for cuemaking. When Bert showed me around his shop, I saw many machines that put most of the pieces of puzzle together for me. I now knew that I would DEFINITELY do this someday. "Someday" was still over 10 years away, however.
In 1982, McDonnell Douglas had a contract to support NASA in Houston, Texas. We provided the technical assistance to the Space Shuttle program by developing the flight plans, flight trajectory studies, orbital studies, and training the astronauts to perform all the functions associated with flying the Shuttle and operating the Payloads & Experiments.
In November, 1982, NASA was preparing to launch the first in a series of classified military payloads on the Space Shuttle. Since I had the background that NASA needed, I was asked by McDonnell Douglas to transfer there and support the program, which I did.
My dream of making cues was still alive, but after looking into it further, I realized that it was much more complicated than just putting the pieces together. Wood has to be properly aged, turned down in stages to relief the internal stresses, and sealed properly to prevent it from warping. The right type of glues had to be used. If you use the wrong glue on certain woods, the cue won't hold up. It will develop buzzes and rattles. There was also the problem of finding good sources for wood and other materials. I finally made a decision. I set a goal of being able to make a cue that a pro player would buy and play with by the time that I could retire from McDonnell Douglas. This was 9 years away. I figured it would provide me with a good retirement income. It also meant that I could work for weeks on a cue and if it didn't turn out right, I would not really lose anything when I had to throw it away, which happened more times than I want to think about. I had a local pro player playing with one of my cues within one year, 8 years ahead of schedule. From there, I experimented with more and more complicated designs, pushing myself to perfect my techniques, and to develop new ones.
In July, 1994, I was elected President of the American Cuemaker's Association. In August, 1997, I moved back to the St. Louis area, which is where I consider home. I began setting up my shop when my old boss from McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) contacted me. He said he had a great job for me. I told him I already had a good job, but he convinced me to come out for an interview where he offered me a position that I just couldn't turn down. So, for the present, I am working 8-4:30 at Boeing, and then from 5-10PM at my shop. I also work about 10 hours every Saturday and Sunday making cues. I have two jobs that I love, and couldn't be happier. In October, 1997, I stepped down as President of the ACA due to the demanding schedule of working two full time jobs. In June, 1998, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the ACA. I plan to retire from Boeing within the next 2 years, and become a full time cuemaker once again.