H. A. Peterson & Sons, Inc.

 

Contact H.A. Peterson & Sons, Inc.: Flags, Flagpoles, & Flagpole RepairsFlags, Flagpoles, & Flagpole Repairs

 

Last Updated: May 22, 2007

   

 

 
We offer: Flags, Flagpoles, Flagpole Repair, & just about anything having to do with flags!
2003-2005
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H.A. Peterson & Sons
Phone: 305-255-3375
Fax: 305-
255-3652

 


 

The Miami Herald

July 4, 2002
Section: Living
Edition: Final
Page: 1E

RAISING THE FLAG
DANIELA LAMAS, dlamas@herald.com

 

At 73, Hal Peterson figures he has climbed more than 1,000 flagpoles since his dad taught him how one morning when he was 12. His father had just received a call from the president of nearby Ryder College in New Jersey, alerting him the American flag had been replaced with a pair of red boxers.

After years of watching his dad scale flagpoles, Peterson climbed the 35-foot pole and took down the offending garment (the result of a hazing ritual). He hoisted the flag, ran to the bathroom, changed his clothes and made it to school on time.  ``I got up there and found out how much I liked being there,'' he said. Six decades later, Peterson still climbs with a grace born of a lifetime installing and repairing flagpoles. With characteristic perseverance, he's parlayed his skill into a thriving family business, H.A. Peterson & Sons, run from a storefront off South Dixie Highway near The Falls.

Peterson's work can be found throughout South Florida: the 40-foot flagpole gracing the American Airlines Arena, the approximately 70 flags at the main entrance of Miami International Airport, the flags marking Sylvester Stallone's former Coconut Grove home.

``We've got our landmarks all over,'' Peterson says, smiling. ``When we raise a flag, there's a real satisfaction from seeing the flag flying in a new location.''  At 11 a.m. on a recent Friday, the store is quiet.

WEB BUSINESS

Peterson's son, Mark, is working on the firm's website, hapsons.com, an increasingly lucrative portion of their business. Mark and his mother, Joan, handle the day-to-day store operations, while dad and son Scott are the on-site climbers. No wonder. Early in his career, Mark discovered he was afraid of heights. He could climb 20, 30 or 40 feet, but no higher.

``He and my brother love it,'' Mark says, gesturing to his father. ``But I could do without it.''

Dad, on the other hand, revels in his highest climb - 125 feet, on a wooden, double-masted nautical pole. He was repairing the rope on a pole at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.

Rather than climb, Mark has sent flagpoles to Japan, Russia, England, Ireland and most of the islands in the Caribbean, he says. Most recently, he sent six 40-foot flagpoles to Antarctica, where they will be stored until the spring, when they will be transported to the South Pole.

Behind the store, a warehouse holds the flagpoles - 5,000 pounds, in total, of aluminum wrapped in thick brown paper. A number of tattered American flags are piled in a bucket in the back. When they take down a flagpole or replace the flag, Peterson gives the old flags to the Eagle Scouts so they can learn the official flag-burning ceremony. As he and Mark fold an American flag with military-style precision, Peterson describes some of their more memorable flag-climbing experiences. There was the trip to Columbus, Ohio, to straighten a flagpole on a day so cold the flagpole was covered with a sheet of ice. When Scott finished his job, Peterson told his son to come back down. Instead, his son asked him to send a camera back up - the view at 702 feet was too beautiful to ignore. On Tuesday, dad and Scott will travel to the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island to fix the light at the top of the Bahamian flagpole in front of the hotel.

Surprisingly, business doesn't generally increase around July 4th, Peterson says.

``It's pretty constant. But every year, we get some call on the second or third of July from someone telling us they'd like a flagpole in front of their house - and they'd like it by the 4th,'' Peterson says, laughing.

But business has steadily increased since Sept. 11. In the two days following the terrorist attacks, the store sold all of its flags, along with all the parts necessary to fix flagpoles.

Even the sign on the door - ``Sorry, we have no flags'' - didn't discourage customers.

``We didn't have a screw left,'' Peterson says. At one point, a man called to order 1,500 American flags. The man told him he needed the flags for a parade in Washington, D.C.

Peterson says he told the man to call the U.S. government. The man responded, ``I am the U.S. government.''

FAMILY HISTORY

The road to H.A. Peterson & Sons was a long one, inextricably intertwined with Peterson's family history. Peterson spent most of his childhood traveling with his dad, Harold, who built and repaired steeples, radio towers, smokestacks, brick chimneys and, yes, flagpoles. A steeplejack, if you will.

``I loved it,'' Peterson remembers. ``We'd work hard all day and play hard in the evening.''

But Peterson knew the steeplejack trade would not last, as the work was increasingly farmed out to large construction companies. His dad's business died in the mid-1950s.

At 21, Peterson began working as a flight attendant at the now-defunct Eastern Airlines. He spent a few years in the Navy, followed by a stint repairing televisions and television antennae before returning to the airline.

He married and had three sons. Although he told his sons stories of his childhood adventures, Peterson says he never expected to find a way to revive the Peterson family business.

But at a July 4 celebration in 1983, Mark and Scott told their dad they wanted to make a living selling flagpoles. The third son, Brian, lives in Buffalo, N.Y. He is not in the flagpole business.

It had been two decades since Peterson had last hoisted himself up a flagpole; he told them they were out of their minds. But his sons insisted.

``It was our family history,'' Mark says. Peterson took them to the park of a local elementary school to teach them how to climb. He says he hadn't lost his skill with the rig of two stirrups and two pieces of rope - nor had he lost his love of the balancing act. ``It's like riding a bicycle. You just don't forget,'' he says. Newly motivated by his sons' excitement, Peterson set up accounts with flag, flagpole and rope providers. Zachary Edge of Edge Cordage has supplied the Petersons with nylon solid braid rope and nylon solid braid with wire for added strength for over 10 years.

``He's good folks,'' Edge says of Peterson. ``There are fewer and fewer out there like him.''

At first, Peterson says, ``things were kind of lean.'' But after a year, he began collecting a small, but stable, customer base. One of the appeals of his business, Peterson says, is that he and his sons climb the flagpoles themselves-with a technique that was passed down from Peterson's grandfather, a seaman who learned to climb from hoisting himself up the ships' masts.

Rather than using more cumbersome cranes or cherry pickers, Scott uses one of his grandfather's old climbing stirrups, made from fire hose.

In 1984, Peterson retired early from Eastern and threw himself into the burgeoning family business. ``We thought flags might still be a viable business,'' Peterson says. ``We had no idea we'd be where we are today.''

FUTURE WORKFORCE

Peterson says he expects to continue climbing flags ``until I'm flat.''

And he sees potential for a fellow climber in his 4-year-old granddaughter, who loves to climb onto the roof of the Peterson's shop. Although Peterson's father died before the family created H.A. Peterson & Sons, Peterson says he's sure his father would be proud of what he's doing today. ``If he's up there, I'm sure he's smiling down on us,'' he says.

FLAG FACTS

In 1818, Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, that limits the number of stripes on the American flag to 13 - seven red, six white. The law says the number of stars must match the number of states, and that a new star would be added on July 4 in the year after a state was admitted to the Union.


 
H.A.Peterson & Sons, Inc. | 13012 S.W. 85 Ave. Rd | Miami, Florida 33156
Phone: (305) 255-3375 | Toll Free: (800) 606-3375 | Fax: (305) 255-3652 | eMail: scott@hapsons.com