Log Cabin Chronicles

Eric Smith

Digital Image © 2000 John Mahoney

The Bag Balm Story


Posted 1/10/2000

Now then, answer me this: What do Country Superstar Shania Twain, Dr. A.C. Daniels, and Yours Truly have in common?

The magic words are Bag Balm, surely one of science's boons to mankind and today's "hot product."

Dr. Daniels makes it. Shania says she rubs it all over her lovely body. And I work it into my winter-roughened heels to regain that skin-so-smooth feeling.

Bag Balm is a salve -- a soothing compound of petrolatum, lanolin, and a small amount of antiseptic whose healing properties approach the power of myth among the cognoscenti.

It's a veterinary product and farmers have taken it for granted for decades. Indeed, Dr. A.C. Daniels makes it very clear in all his promotional literature that Bag Balm is for animal use only. And, please, keep it out of the reach of children...

However, those in-the-know have enthusiastically smeared it on various portions of the human anatomy for divers afflictions for years and years. They lavish praise on this greasy unguent that comes in the green can decorated with a dangling udder.

If you suffer from the heartbreak of chapped hands or rough and horny feet, or if your milk cow has a caked bag, bunches, and sore and tender teats, this is the product for you.

Shania Twain

The lovely Shania, a country girl from Timmins, Ontario, whose real name is Eileen Regina Edwards, was just using applied folk wisdom when she reached for the Bag Balm...

"Oh, I use it all the time," a friend once told me as she dipped a finger into a can I had just opened. "I use it on my hands and my feet -- you know how rough they get in the winter."

I said I didn't know about her feet specifically, but I agreed in principle. And where, I asked, had she learned about Bag Balm?

"Oh, I always knew about it. I found it in our local drug store. I love it but the kids always say. `Oh God, Mom, you smell like Bag Balm again!'"

There's even a popular book entitled Bag Balm and Duct Tape written by a doctor who lives down in "Dumpster, Vermont."

"Hiram Stedrock did not have much of a medical record," writes Dr. Beach Conger. "When something went wrong with his body he usually fixed it himself...Hiram had cut his leg with a chainsaw...he had tried unsuccessfully to treat it himself with Bag Balm and duct tape, the former being his standard remedy for any defect in the integument, and the latter his favorite material for patching a leak."

Skiers use it for chapped cheeks and one former editor of Quebec's Stanstead Journal kept a can on his desk, allegedly to keep his fingertips soft and supple. Once, when I visited Dr. Daniel's office, he looked as if he had just applied lip gloss.

"Is that...?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "I've got a cold sore coming..."

Given the litigious nature of our society, I am neither urging you to use Bag Balm nor verifying any miraculous claims, no, I am merely reporting anecdotes interspersed with facts.

"Dr. A. C. Daniels" of Stanstead, Quebec, stodges up batches of the dandiest cure-all for chapped hands, cut fingers, and bunchy udders that exists on the market today in a rugged old cast iron mixer that looks as if it came out of the Sears Catalog for 1887. (Actually, it was built about ten years later.)

Dr. A. C. Daniels is Eric Smith. Or rather, Dr. Daniels is Eric Smith's company. It states authoritatively on the can that Bag Balm is manufactured "only by the Dairy Association Co., Rock Island, Que." Well, that's not quite true.

The Dairy Association of Rock Island is his company and it does make Bag Balm, but there's another Dairy Association that also makes it; it's located in Lyndonville, Vermont -- it's a much bigger outfit and Eric doesn't own it, and there is no connection between the two companies.

Canadian Bag Balm and American Bag Balm are identical products but there is a major difference: the Canadian product is labeled in both English and French. Vive la différence.

There are other differences, too: market size and economy of scale.

The U.S. market is 10 times larger than Canada's. With its automated equipment, the Dairy Association in Lyndonville produces some 1.2 million units of Bag Balm each year compared with the 30,000 Eric churned out last year with his century-old handcranked mixer.

This production level appears to be on a rapid rise, however. During December they were knocking out 1000 cans a day, trying to keep pace with demand.

The two Dairy Associations have had a no-compete commercial agreement for the past 50 years - you stay on your side of the border and we'll stay on ours. Eric's father started the business -- "It was more like a hobby for him," says Eric - then turned it over to his son in 1975.

"They're very good about forwarding all Canadian inquiries to us," says Diane Smith, Eric's partner and wife. "We've included a hot link on our new web site to their website to make it easier for everyone." (Dr. Daniels website is at www.bagbalm.net; their Vermont counterpart is at www.bagbalm.com.)

An aircraft mechanic by training, Eric moved back home in the early 1970s to work with his father at Dr. Daniels after he was laid off by Pan American Airways in Florida. And he concedes that he misses the work.

"I like mechanics," he says, "and I like airplanes -- I like the way they're put together, the history, everything about them. When I was a teenager I used to hang around a lot with Cecil Wright (a well-known local pilot 30 years ago) down at the airport in nearby Newport, Vermont."

Now that he's thoroughly earthbound, Eric concentrates on manufacturing and distributing products meant for horses and cattle, although his Muskalene (a scented petrolatum/lanolin hand balm) is very popular with woodsmen and fishermen on the North Shore.

Other products he either manufactures, re-packages, or distributes include Dr. J. Woodbury's Celebrated Condition Powders for Horses & Cattle (a pleasant-smelling compound of herbs and minerals), and Dr. J. Woodbury's Liniment.

Eric, a soft-spoken, low-key man, no longer drives across half the country, plugging Bag Balm. These days Dr. Daniels sells through distributors - including the prestigious Lee Valley Tools operation.

"I wasn't much of a high-pressure salesman -- I'd just go out and talk with my customers. If the product is any good, it'll sell; if they wanted it, they knew where to call."

He doesn't advertise much -- he relies on word-of-mouth to sell his Bag Balm and other products. "I supply a lot of stuff for race horses and that's all by word-of-mouth."

However, Dr. Daniels is now on-line and the Smiths are telling the world about Bag Balm. [Full Disclosure: I created their website and thus have a peripheral connection and interest.]

"There's a bigger market in the States, a bigger audience," Eric says. "People down there seem to read more about their businesses. Canadian farmers and horsemen are more conservative. Pleasure riders, however, are impressionable. If they see a product advertised in an American publication, they have to have it. And if something new comes out next month, they have to get that. So we just sell wholesale these days."

He and his wife, Diane, handle everything at Dr. Daniels -- he handles production and distribution, she takes care of the books and helps out where needed.

Or that's the way it was BS - Before Shania.

When the story got out that the lovely Shania uses Bag Balm to keep smooth and soft, it seemed as if all the media in Canada showed up at Dr. Daniel's' front door and product demand went through the roof.

Several friends came in to work on production and son Jeff, who lives not far away in Kingscroft, turned his 18-wheeler over to his brother David to drive and went to work on the production line.

Ah, yes - the production line.

A few years back Eric would dig the solid ingredients out of 50-gallon drums, heat them on a large hot plate, then pour them into the antique mixer and start turning that handcrank.

These days, there is a large pre-warmer plywood box - the result of "some midnight thinking" -- that warms the petrolatum and lanolin to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. From the warm drums it can then be pumped into the antique mixer, which now has six layers of electric warmer bands.

Then, it's crank, crank, crank...

The latest innovation is a stainless steel wire rack to hold the famous green cans of Bag Balm...

Folks, this is Appropriate Technology, and this is Country.

One Sunday night, as Jane and I wearily went to bed at the end of a hectic weekend, I caught a whiff of something familiar but oddly out of place.

"What's that smell? I asked.

"My hangnail," she said.

"You have a smelly hangnail?"

"I put Bag Balm on it."

Good Grief, Dr. Daniels. Good night.

To Canadian Bag Balm | To American Bag Balm

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