Jim Stark passed away peacefully at his home in Ossian, Indiana on Nov. 20, 2015. He was 73.
Jim was an inventor, entrepreneur, pilot, musician, writer, workshop tinkerer, mechanic, and an all-around interesting guy.
He enjoyed happy hour (three-beer limit unless scotch was available), playing guitar and the ukulele, traveling and camping with his wife Kathy, passionately rooting for Purdue, hot tubbing, writing stories, John Prine music, and checking himself out of the hospital. Jim and Kathy played music wherever they went on their travels across the country. Jim founded Blackstone Laboratories back in 1985, a successful company that is still going strong today. He was building his own airplane – a Van's RV12 – just before he died.
Jim survived a tour in Vietnam, crashing an airplane, two heart attacks and two heart surgeries, jumping out of an airplane when he was 70 (barely), and the doctors in Indianapolis before lung cancer got him in the end.
His spirit is among the stars, and he will be greatly missed by all who loved him.
Ryan started at Blackstone in 1997 after graduating from Purdue University with a mechanical engineering degree. Ryan is responsible for writing and maintaining Blackstone's software program, setting up and managing the lab, writing reports, and a million other things that need to be done in a business. When he's not kicking ass in the lab or writing code, Ryan enjoys putting his pilot's license to good use, working on his '84 Chevy 3/4 ton, and teaching his son to play ball. As an experiment, Ryan is currently running Aeroshell W65 — an oil with (gasp!) no zinc or phosphorus in it — in his Chevy to determine if the hype over ZDDP (zinc dithiophosphate) is all that or not. If the experiment ruins his engine, well, he's rebuilt it before. To see Ryan's most recent report, click here.
Kristin deviated from the family flock by attending Indiana University, earning an English degree. She worked as an editor and writer in Colorado and Michigan before the siren call of Blackstone brought her back to Indiana. Kristin started at Blackstone in 2001 and has since learned to love the intoxicating world of oil analysis. When she's not working on the website, creating newsletters, or writing reports, Kristin enjoys running and working on visiting all 50 states with her husband and kids. To see Kristin's latest report, click here.
Billy joined Blackstone as an analyst and backup lab guy, but he has evolved into a true jack of all trades. Billy has 40 years racing experience, starting out in drag racing, then switching to speedway. Eventually he became an official and wrote racing stories for national publications. In the 1990s he owned his own company as a business manager of speedways. In his free time, Billy enjoys marrying off his daughters and spending time with his grandkids. He's also an avid NCAA fan and manages win our office NCAA pool regularly, despite Kristin's insistence that "women's intuition" would conquer all. To see Billy's latest report, please click here.
Erik took to Blackstone like a Labrador takes to the water. Erik spends his days in the lab improving processes, setting up new machines, and building things. He has been known to spend his free time tearing apart engines and fixing them himself. That’s our kind of guy. Take a look at Erik's latest report here.
Alex was a car nut trapped in the body of a bank teller until he found his true calling at Blackstone. He now spends his time penning reports and spreading the word of Blackstone to the far corners of the Earth. He is the proud owner of a 2007 Stage 3 Roush Mustang and spends his free time going to car shows with his very patient wife. He is clearly a very nice person, since he didn't even get mad when Kristin called his Mustang a Corvette. To see Alex's latest report, click here.
Amanda likes to shoot people. With a camera, that is. In her free time she runs a freelance wedding photography business, and brides clamor for her time from the great north (Wisconsin, where she grew up) to the heartland. She also likes to travel. Most recently she did some shooting on a trip out west to Las Vegas and Arizona, and since the cops did not bring her back in handcuffs, we assume she was doing her shooting with a camera there as well. As you can see, Amanda also enjoys getting her picture taken with hairy guys at Packers games. To view Amanda's latest report, click here.
Travis is a man of many talents. Not only is he a word crafter of the highest order, he can take apart and reassemble engines and transmissions with ease. When he's not talking engines with Blackstone's clientele, he spends time restarting hearts and rescuing accident victims as an EMT in Ohio. He also can bend steel with his bare hands, and he once wrestled a grizzly bear to the ground and ate his ear. (Note: The actual Travis may vary some from this description.) You can see his latest report here.
We have never known anyone who could supply soldiers in the desert with water, but that’s exactly what Samir did during his time stationed in Iraq as a Marine. But that’s not all! He’s also a computer crackerjack, mechanic, student, and Blackstone’s latest oil analysis guru. Having worked on cars for years, Samir is putting his expertise to good use crafting oil analysis reports and discussing engines with all the people who want to chat. And there are a lot of you. While he says he spends his free time going to the gym and working on computers, we suspect he’s just being modest about his secret life in espionage and alligator-wrestling. You can see Samir's latest report here.
Jamie: test-tube slinger, viscosity reader, quantifier of solids, and more. When he’s not wrangling oil in the lab, Jamie wrangles a camera and spends his free time releasing his inner photographer. We haven’t yet seen a sample from his ’87 Porsche, but he’s being chastised as we speak and one is surely forthcoming soon.
Blackstone was lucky enough to recruit Ken when his previous employer, Navistar, relocated to Chicago. Ken elected to remain in Indiana and pursue a quieter life out the country, raising donkeys, chickens, and kids (not necessarily in that order). At Navistar Ken was a Vehicle Dynamicist in charge of ride, handling, and vibration. At Blackstone he's an excellent Lab Manager, ensuring quality, installing and running new equipment, and generally being an all-around great guy (a job he truly excels at). To see Ken's most recent report, click here.
Judy builds kits, paints things that need to be painted, and does all manner of odd jobs for Blackstone, and we don't know how we ever got along without her. She recently spent a week in Alaska and saw bears, moose, and other huge animals; happily she returned to Blackstone safe and sound.
We found Spencer when we needed temporary help after receiving a flood of kit requests after being featured in the New York Times. A kit builder extraordinaire, Spencer has been with us ever since. As a man of many talents, he has added working in the lab to his repertoire of Blackstone-related jobs. However he has yet to beat Kristin in our kit-building Olympics. Ah well, it's good to have something to strive for. You can see his latest report here.
Sean does a little bit of lots of things at Blackstone, and he does it all extremely well. When he's not logging in your samples and sorting through samples that have recently arrived, Sean spends his time updating his fixer-upper house and dreaming of one day owning a Shelby GT 500. To see Sean's most recent report, click here.
Luke is a master writer, motorcycle rider, and all around great guy. That alone is all you really need to know about him, but wait, there's more! In his free time Luke trains Arabian horses, consults with foreign dignitaries on the value of the yen, practices reiki, applies for patents in nuclear energy, and snowboards. Some or all of this may be true about Luke; you can decide how much. His superpower is the ability to balance young children on a morotcycle seat. Note to potential employees: this is what happens when you can't come up with anything for your website description. To see Luke's latest report, click here.
A guy who's good with his hands, Sam spends his time at Blackstone building the thousands of kits people ask us for every day. If you came for a tour of the lab, Sam might corner you and offer to rebuild your lawn mower or detail your car. And when he's not doing that, he can probably be found fishing or hiking around Indiana. To see Sam's latest report, click here.
When he graduated with a degree in economics from DePauw University, Christopher probably never thought he'd be analyzing oil for a living. But then again, he probably didn't think he'd be laying cable either, which is what he was doing before he came to work for us. When he's not slinging words for a living, Christopher can be found participating in Fort Wayne's Beard & Mustache society, hanging out with friends, and hopefully not breaking any more of his collar bones in bike wrecks. You can see his latest report here.
Maggie loves anything to do with the water - she grew up on a lake and could swim before she could walk. She spent many years working at her grandparents' bait shop and therefore also loves fishing. And also working on and riding motorcycles. And also photography and graphic design. And on top of all that's she's a film junkie! Unpacking samples, helping with log-ins, and answering phones at work, Maggie is destined to become Blackstone's newest Jill-of-All-Trades. Her latest report is here.
LaToya spent 17 years working at North American before she saw the light and made the jump to the wonderful world of Blackstone. She's one the friendly voices you'll hear when you call, as well as one of the people diligently logging in all the details about your oil sample. When she's not doing that, she enjoys spending time with her daughter Chardaé, admiring interesting shoes, and helping run the YouGoGirl project (sponsored by Women's Health Advantage) which donates monthly makeovers - clothes, make-up, fitness membership, photo shoot, and news interview - to women who have been through some type of adversity. You can see LaToya's latest report here.
When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, Josh says he never had any spare time until he got this job. While he figures out what to do with his newfound spare time, Josh likes checking out cars he can't afford and thinking about where he might go in Europe one of these days. You can see Josh's latest report here.
Cathy enjoys spending time with and walking her dogs, when she's not shopping with her daughter or spending time with her husband and son. She also goes to the occasional car show, which makes her fit right in at a place like Blackstone. Cathy's most recent report is here.
When he’s not penning oil reports, recent IU-grad Joe spends his time coaching South Side high school’s speech and debate team, listening to Bob Dylan, and plotting to take over the world. Just kidding on that last one. Maybe.
If it’s outside, Ashley’s doing it. She came to Blackstone well-versed in the world of science, having spent a stint at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo suiting up in scuba gear and analyzing water quality in the shark tanks. Ashley enjoys kayaking, plays soccer and softball, and plans to earn her private pilot’s license soon so she can chat knowledgeably with pilots about their aircraft samples. You can view Ashley's latest report here.
When asked what he likes to do for fun, Robert replied that he doesn't get to have any fun, per his girlfriend. He did manage to remember back in the days when he liked to go see live music, but those days are over. This past weekend he did laundry.