The Bencher RJ-2 straight key is also known as "The Ultimate Hand Key" according to the factory box. The “RJ” designation on the key is a memorial to one of the finest CW operators, Jim Rafferty N6RJ. Mr. Rafferty would state “Give me a good straight key and I’ll have a race with you on any electronic keyer”. In a discussion about keys Mr. Rafferty went on to state “The action of a good straight key has got to be felt to be appreciated”.
The Bencher RJ models are made in the U.S.A. and have a full range of stainless steel adjustments for tension, contact spacing, and knob height above desktop. The RJ models have precision machined parts with self lubricating bronze pivot bearings on each side of the lever arm which account for the smooth and crisp action of the RJ keys. A heavy cold rolled steel base. Chrome lever arm and top components. The contact points are gold plated silver. Large coiled main spring. The key is supported by four non-skid rubber feet which are screwed rather then pop riveted onto the bottom of the base. These keys come equipped with a two piece Navy style knob which allows the operator the option of removing the bottom skirt. The RJ keys measure in at 3"W x 6"L x 1.75" high with a weight of 2 pounds
The RJ-2 lever arm/straight key is identical to the RJ-1 model with the difference being that the RJ-1 has a black powdercoat base and costs a little less. Whereas the RJ-2 has a chrome plated base. The Bencher RJ series are "low slung" straight keys with the bottom of the base rising 11/32" off the table. The "low strung" profile of these keys allow the operator to comfortably rest their arm on the table top with the wrist staying in a natural straight position. As of the end of 2020 Vibroplex sells the RJ-1 for $159.95 and the RJ-2 for $189.95. Both models are built to last a lifetime.
In the December 1994 issue of 73 magazine there is a review of the Bencher RJ-2 by Gordon West, WB6NOA. The price listed in the article for the RJ-2 is $79.95 while the RJ-1 is listed at $69.95. The article goes on to state that The Bencher straight key was developed in response to requests from a number of customers and dealers wanting something new from CW key guru Bob Locher W9KNI.
So when and where was this Bencher produced?
The instruction manual which consists of a single page measuring 8 1/2 by 11 inches states that Bencher Inc. was located at 831 N. Central Ave. Wood Dale, IL. 60191 U.S.A. at the time of purchase.
This Bencher model RJ-2 has a serial number of 003157. The original owner who purchased the key new was not exactly sure but believes that the purchase was made around 2010.
The Bencher company:
While nformation is scarce on the origins of the Bencher company, it appears that by 2014 Bencher started to sell off their amateur radio product line.
The ARRL reported on 12/08/2014 the following:
DX Engineering has acquired Bencher’s Skyhawk, Skylark, and Butternut antenna product lines. Headquartered in Tallmadge, Ohio, DX Engineering announced on December 5 that it will exclusively manufacture and market the three antenna lines as well as provide service, repairs, and replacement parts. The deal did not include the Bencher line of CW keyer paddles. The Skyhawk is a trap-free tribander for 20, 15, 10 meters. The Skylark is a dual-band Yagi for 17 and 12 meters. Butternut HF verticals come in 9-band, 6-band, and 2-band models. Bencher, headquartered in Antioch, Illinois, had acquired the Butternut product line in the 1990s.
Scott Robbins W4PA, and owner of Vibroplex since 2009 announced the following on March 18, 2015.
"Bencher, Inc. of Antioch Illinois announced the sale today of the Bencher Amateur Radio product lines to Vibroplex, LLC of Knoxville, Tennessee. This sale ends Bencher’s presence in the amateur radio field, thus allowing the principals, Jere Benedict, President, and Bob Locher, (W9KNI) to move towards retirement.The product lines sold include the Bencher BY series of Iambic Paddles, (the world’s best selling iambic paddle, with over 150,000 sold) as well as the ST series of single lever paddles, the Bencher Hex Paddle, the N2DAN Mercury Paddle, and the Bencher RJ series Hand Keys. Also included in the sale are the HK-1 Universal Hook-up kit and the YA-1 Low Pass Filter.
Vibroplex has agreed to honor the manufacturer’s warranties of all covered products, and to offer parts and support for these products as well. Vibroplex will continue to offer the Bencher products through existing marketing channels. Vibroplex may be contacted at http://www.vibroplex.com, or at (865) 309-5073.
Jere Benedict and Bob Locher wish to express their gratitude to the amateur radio community for its interest and support since the sale of the first Bencher amateur radio products in the early 1970’s."