Rarely did I receive Gregory’s undivided attention. He was four years my senior and in all honesty, a closer friend to my older siblings. From birth until I was ten or so, he lived right next door to us. Gregory was smart, creative and extremely motivated. And he could build stuff. I mean; he could build anything it seemed to me when I was a kid, from robots to rocket ships. His parents forbad him from removing the engine from their lawnmower so he simply incorporated the whole mower in his design! He was building crazy bicycles by the time we moved away but customizing cars was in his future.
I think Mark Brislawn had to have been a kid like Gregory. He bought his first vehicle when he was fifteen—a 1930 Model A pick-up. Fifty years later, he’s still at it. Smart, creative and also extremely motived, I doubt that there is a project or build that Brislawn would shy away from. Everything is “do-able.”
The Vancouver, WA native was able to parlay his knowledge of all things mechanical into a career with a company called Precision Equipment. Brislawn spent twenty years as an estimator and sales manager for the outfit that specializes in hydraulic and mechanical repair.
But of course the founding of Briz Bumpers in 1985 is what most people identify with Brislawn. “I picked up a set of 1937 DeSoto bumpers at a swap meet in Chehalis (WA),” he relates. “Before I left, I had three guys trying to buy them from me!” So the demand was pre-existing. Next Brislawn took the beveled bumpers to one of his fab shop customers to find out how difficult they would be to duplicate. He was told: “No problem.”
Brislawn decided to have a few sets made up. “Initially, I just wanted to make my investment back,” he explains. But when hot rod guys saw them, they went nuts! Clearly he had a hot commodity on his hands. Brislawn chose a marketing expert as his business partner and they were off and running. They set up a table or booth at all of the relevant swap meets, cruise-ins and car shows throughout the Northwest. They utilized print advertising extensively to reach potential customers outside of their area (Remember that the internet would not be viable for another decade or so). Soon Briz Bumpers were being sold internationally. Over the years other products were introduced but the original DeSoto knock off remains the cornerstone of their business to this day. In 2002 Brislawn sold his share of the company to his partner. In 2015 Briz Bumpers is a one man operation, providing a second income for the ex-partner’s son. Meanwhile, Brislawn has moved on.
In his shop there are several projects at varied states of completion. Brislawn gets to choose what he works on next. “My grandson is really into this show called Forged in Fire,” he tells me. “The other day he turned to me and asked why don’t we make a knife?” Predictably Grandpa didn’t have to be asked twice. Within a few hours Brislawn had roughed out the blade and his grandson was grinding on the wooden handle. Regardless of the outcome, it’s the process that’s important. This is quality time together creating something from an idea. It is an experience that his grandson will probably always remember. Mark Brislawn is his “Gregory.” He’s a lucky kid.