To 40,000 employees in the many and varied Olin enterprises (Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, Winchester-Western arms and ammunition, Squibb drugs, Ecusta paper, Olin cellophane and aluminum, etc.) scattered across the nation, 66-year-old John Merrill Olin is the boss. To the 10-year-old black Labrador named King Buck, whose portrait hangs behind Mr. Olin in the picture at left, he may be the boss sometimes, but more often than not he is just a good-natured pushover on whose bed King Buck likes to sleep, regally aware that no mere captain of industry would tamper with the comfort of one of the greatest field-trial champions in the history of the Labrador retriever breed.
Such inversions of authority do not happen often in John Olin's well-organized world. But at Nilo Kennels (Olin spelled backwards) near Alton, Illinois, where some of the finest Labrador retrievers in America are raised and trained, King Buck rules unchallenged and Olin is the first to admit it. He is proud of King Buck, who is a personal project of his, and for that matter he is probably prouder of his kennels and of adjacent Nilo Farms, a sprawling, game-rich, 522-acre shooting preserve, than of any other part of his considerable empire. This is the place where John Olin would rather spend his time than anywhere else in the world.
From fall to spring on many a day he can be found roaming through the lush acreage after pheasants or crouched in a blind waiting for flighted mallards to come winging overhead. In between, he works his dogs, readying himself and them for the dozens of field trials which are his favorite hobby. Often his attractive wife, Evelyn, a sportswoman in her own right, comes along, despite the fact that her enthusiasms rest more with bird hunting and salmon fishing than with field-trialing.
"She really can't stand field trials," Olin chuckles, "and she doesn't mind letting me know it. As far as Evelyn is concerned, field-trial enthusiasts are insane, because they get up before daybreak, jump in the car and sometimes drive over 100 miles of almost impassable roads to stand out in the rain, sleet, snow and freezing weather to watch an expensive dog someone spent a fortune to raise and train make stupid mistakes."
Even so, Evelyn Olin has gone along on many of her husband's outdoor jaunts. Though she most favors the relaxed life of their Nilo Plantation near Albany, Georgia, with its leisurely afternoon quail hunting, she likes to go with him for salmon on the Restigouche, ducks in Stuttgart, Arkansas, partridge in Spain and chamois in Austria. She draws the line at bear hunts in Alaska, though, or Olin's annual deer and antelope hunts in Wyoming. "She just doesn't like anything that starts before daybreak," Olin says fondly. "I've been getting up before daybreak since I was a boy, and it's just become the natural way to start a day.
"Of course," he adds, "at that time I was getting up to milk the cows and do the chores."
The cows and the chores were on a farm owned by John Olin's uncle, Amos Merrill, at the foot of Mount Moosilauke near Warren, New Hampshire. Every summer of his boyhood, Olin spent his vacation with his uncle on the farm, helping with the crops and livestock and learning about the outdoors.
"I've often tried to analyze what happened to me to make me love the outdoors so much," Olin says. "Whatever it was, it happened there. Uncle Amos had twin daughters but no sons. I guess I filled a void for him, and he certainly filled one for me. He gave me my first gun and taught me how to shoot it. We'd go out together and run the bear traps, or hunt wood-chucks or wade the trout streams near the farm.
"And I also learned something else that was important," Olin adds. "I learned the psychology of a Yankee. Uncle Amos taught me all the facts of life, and then some. I learned to work there, and to save my earnings. My uncle paid me 15¢ an hour to dig kale out of the corn, and if I didn't work I didn't get paid.
"When I finally accumulated $15, I bought my first fly rod. That was the summer I was 7. By the end of that summer I knew where every trout in every pool was, and I could jump from rock to rock like a cat."