Weekly Local Biography

 Rainy Riding

 

“Once you’ve tried our products, you’re hooked!” That is the slogan of Streamworks, a Chiang Mai company that makes fishing flies. There is also a Chiang Mai Choral Society that has hooked itself a choral director who just happens to make and design fishing flies, and is the co-owner of Streamworks. That person with the two strings to her bow (or should that be to her fishing rod?) is an affable American lady, Rainy Riding (“Yes. Rainy like a rainy day,” she told me as we shook hands).

Rainy came from rural Utah, born in a small town south of Salt Lake City. Her father was a cattle rancher and her mother was a medical receptionist who also managed to find the time to raise five children, of which Rainy was number four.

As a young girl, she had five main interests, “Sport, sport, sport, sport and music.” That included softball, volleyball, basketball and even horseshoe pitching, for which she once held a record. Despite this tomboy image (she still has one uncle who calls her Tommy) she also studied the piano and music from the age of seven.

When she finished High School, she knew what she wanted to do. “I wanted to be a choral director.” She had even conducted her first (church) choir when she was only 13 years old. When I asked when did she first show this musical interest, she replied, “My mother said that I used to beat the time to music with a pencil from when I was a little girl.”

Following this aim, she enrolled at the Utah State University to study music theory and conducting which was to take up much of the next three years. However, at the same time, she got hooked tying flies for fly fishermen!

This apparently strange connection came about through a Utah State University exterior course on fly tying which was oversubscribed. The lecturer asked the young Rainy to assist him, teaching her how to make two flies in the hour before the class. From this unlikely beginning, her interest in fly tying began to expand. Each week the lecturer taught her two more flies, which she then in turn passed on to the students. She was now really hooked, and began to give her time to local community groups, eventually becoming quite famous in the fly-fishing industry.

As she neared the completion of her choral conductors course she began to have some doubts. Not about the direction of her life, but about how she wanted to support her life. Eventually she decided that she wanted to make conducting a hobby, rather than a profession. But what could she do to earn money?

The answer to the conundrum was supplied by her local doctor, for whom she had tied some flies, and who then gave her $20. A little bell went off in Rainy’s brain, “You mean I can do this and make money!” she thought, and then placed an advertisement to say “Experienced fly tyer available,” and she was inundated. Suddenly her hobby was her business and the business she was training for had become her hobby. A reversal, but one that was to be very rewarding.

Like many women in the 70’s, the next few years of her life became dedicated to marriage, children and home-making. Fly tying became the family second income, with only the time left after home duties available for it. However, this was when Rainy found that she had another side to herself. While tying flies she let her mind wander and found that she had an inventive mind. Not only new fly designs, but even such diverse applications as how to make a hopper leg for agriculture.

She entered the 1980’s, but now single with children. She had many ideas and concepts, but no way to market them. To make ends meet, she sorted mail and other part-time jobs, while tying flies as well. While this might have been a low period of her life, it also produced a plus. She met (her now business partner) Ellen Clark, a woman who was a marketing guru, and who took Rainy and her ideas and began to make them realities, taking them to trade and sports shows and getting orders for her work - especially her flies.

By the late 80’s, Rainy and Ellen became full-time business partners, with 25 contract employees to make Rainy’s flies and Rainy’s other concepts. The business grew, but unfortunately the work force did not. She found that young America was not interested in tying flies as a home based business. But there were people in other countries that would like the work. This was the start of the Thai connection.

Rainy found out that there was a company in Chiang Mai that was already involved in making flies and she offered to come here to teach ten girls how to make her specialized flies. This she did, but then she and Ellen were offered directorships in the company here in Chiang Mai, as the current directors wanted out.

In a boardroom reshuffle, and then share transfers and stock sale, eventually Rainy and Ellen ended up owning the company. They returned to America, sold out and completed the move here to run their fly business to manufacture over 1,000 of Rainy’s designs.

However, there was another attraction here in Chiang Mai, and that was choral work, and Rainy is now the director of the Chiang Mai Choral Society, still getting so much satisfaction from her ‘hobby’ that she has had since school. I asked her if she had any unrequited aim in that direction and she said, “I would love to direct a couple of songs for the Tabernacle Choir. Maybe in the next life I will do it!”

Rainy Riding enjoys her really full life here, “I will probably have a presence here for the rest of my days, but I miss the snow and I miss my grand-babies.”