|A Hole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On
A Wry Bred Interview
Donald and Paul Molyneux
|WB: The commercial hole industry has burst upon the American
scene like a Fourth of July fireworks display. I am with Ralph Stodsker,
president of The Genesee Hole Company who is going to tell us his story
and give us some insight into the hole thing.
Mr. Stodsker, how did you happen to get the idea for a commercial hole company?
Stodsker: Well, I'll tell you. Holes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When you grow up on a farm, it seems that you're always needing holes. I hated that part. It almost made me turn against the time honored tradition of being a farmer.
Many years ago when I was in High School, I had some strange experiences. I was living with an Aunt and Uncle who were farmers along the Genesee river in New York State. Nearly every Spring the river would reach flood stage and wreak havoc with the river bank. The rush of the water would wash away the bank and carry it downstream. On one occasion, after the flood had receded, I was walking along the river checking to see what damage had been done.
The cattle had come down to the bank to get some water. I noticed that Isabel, our bell cow, was limping badly. She also had a bad gash on her left knee. This really puzzled me because there wasn't anything in the pasture that should cause such an injury.
While I was trying to figure out what the problem was, Esmerelda, that's another cow, was walking down the bank. About halfway down, she sort of tripped like she had run into something. I went over toward her and, dern, if I didn't trip right at the same spot. I couldn't see a thing, so I got up to go on, but I couldn't get past that spot. This time, I fell down and felt my head hit something hard.
By feeling around, I located a long invisible object that was sticking
out from the bank. I don't mind telling you that it was really a
Stodsker: No sir. I ran straight for the house and got my uncle. I figured we were under attack from Mars or something.
As we came over the bank, Uncle Harry tripped and fell, but in a completely different spot! There were two of them! Well, now he was a believer.
Uncle Harry pored over the thing for a while and he was the one who finally figured it all out. They were woodchuck holes! The heavy rains had swelled the river so quickly that the bank had washed away and left the holes sticking right out in the air. We looked around and found thirty seven of the things in varying lengths.
WB: These holes must have been a real safety hazard. I imagine that such a thing could adversely affect property values too. What did you do to prevent further mishaps?"
Stodsker: Well, we were kind of befuddled. We own nearly half a mile of riverbank. We thought of advertising for fill dirt so we could cover them up, but we didn't have enough money for a project of that size. We decided to take more immediate action. Uncle Harry sent me to the barn to get the cross-cut saw. Together we sawed off the holes and piled them neatly where they could do no harm. We put a strand of barb-wire around them to keep the stock away.
WB: So, you had a supply of woodchuck sized holes to dispose of.
Stodsker: Yep, and that was a problem. They wouldn't burn, so we tried to bury them out in the middle of the pasture. That didn't do any good, because, no matter how we tried, the ground over them kept sinking and that made us lose grazing area.
Oh, and by the way, they weren't all woodchuck size—we found dozens of odd sized ones—probably from snakes, chipmunks and other types of critters.
WB: How did the idea of using them finally come to you?
Stodsker: It wasn't until about two weeks later that the idea hit. Aunt Frieda had been wanting one of those fancy cross-board fences around the yard for several years and she wouldn't let us put it off any longer.
Not only was the ground real hard to dig, but I was having a major problem trying to find a place to dump all the dirt from the holes so it wouldn't kill the grass in the yard. That's when it hit me!
I took a wagon down to the river and loaded up a couple of the longest holes. I brought them back to the tool shed and sawed them into two-foot lengths. Then I sharpened one end with an ax, carried them out to the front yard and drove them in the ground with a sledge. It was perfect— uniform holes and no mess to clean up. I had that fence finished in no time at all.
WB: That's wonderful! What a savings in labor! What got you to thinking about commercial value?
Stodsker: That part was Uncle Harry's idea. Jed Mueller, he owns the farm downstream next to the Watkins place, was talking with him down at the feed mill one day. He was complimenting us on how great that new fence was and how quickly we got it together. He wanted to know if we would contract to fence his bottoms field.
Uncle Harry shot me one of those looks, you know, the kind that says "If you want to see your next birthday, keep your big mouth shut." He looked back at Jed right and said that we was too busy to build his fence, but, if the price was right, we might be interested in contracting for the holes.
Jed offered Harry five bucks a hole and, bingo, we were in business. By the time we finished the Mueller job, we had four more orders.
WB: From what you told me about finding the holes, didn't
this create a shortage in inventory?
Some of the customers wanted to use steel posts which were, of course, too small to fit the holes, so we used the rat holes and the snake holes for that. We liked using them because they were smaller and easier to drive. Business got so big that we quit doing installation and went to a completely do-it-yourself approach.
WB: That's amazing—all this wealth while providing a real service to mankind.
Stodsker: That's right. We try to make it as easy for the neophyte as possible. You see, when we first went to letting people install their own, we ran into some problems that nearly cost us the business. Folks were always laying the holes down and forgetting where they put them and then calling us and claiming a shortage on their shipment. Other people kept tripping over them and tried to sue us for their injuries.
We had to find a way to make it so people could find the holes easily. We couldn't tag them because we couldn't find anything that would stick to them.
One day some artist fellow from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania showed up and asked if he could spend a couple of days painting the scenery down by the river. We said, "Sure."
He got to watching us harvest the holes and talking with us about the business. We told him the hole problem and, dern, if he didn't come up with a solution! He played around a little bit with some of his stuff and found out that water colors would stick to the holes if they were applied with an air brush!
We did have to abandon our first efforts, though. Uncle Harry was air brushing them with black paint. Any high school science student can tell you what happens when you mess with black holes.
WB: Sometimes help comes from the least expected sources. I've been glancing through your newest catalog and I see that you offer many different types of holes. How did some of those come about?
Stodsker: I'm glad you asked that question. When we first went commercial, we had a problem with waste. Sharpening the ends caused us to lose some of the length which gave us less to sell. Also, we were nearly getting buried in hole chips and hole dust.
Uncle Harry always had a sharp mind for inventions. He got to playing around with some of the waste and tied a bunch of the small pieces together with nylon cord and made a fishnet. We tried it out in the river and found it to be the best net we had ever had. That set us to looking for more uses. The possibilities were endless. The market was universal. Everybody needs a hole at one time or another.
Now we hire two shifts a day to sort the chips and dust into uniform sizes and put it into bags. They sell at an unbelievable rate to people interested in crafts. Sometimes the demand is so heavy, we grind up whole holes just to get the pieces. Besides fishnets, the different sizes can be used for anything from macramé to crocheting; window screens to homemade textiles. Why, the pasta factory over in Beech Grove buys three freight car loads a month from us. They use it to stuff macaroni, rigatoni, and other spaghetti type stuff.
WB: Why should the average Joe purchase his holes from you rather than digging his own or hiring someone to dig them?
Stodsker: There are many reasons. I'll give you three of the main ones. First, an amateur should not attempt to dig his own holes. Just think, every one of us knows someone who has suffered a sprained back, heat stroke or even death from a heart attack due to digging without proper physical conditioning.
Second, all of our holes are natural. There are no manmade ingredients or synthetics. Mother Nature has seen to it that each and every hole is one hundred percent biodegradable and friendly to the environment. After all, we do live on a planet that is fighting for its life.
Another thing—our holes are completely portable. Did you ever try to move a homemade hole? What a mess!
WB: Do you have plans for expansion of your line?
Also, our development team spends endless hours working on new applications for existing models for the benefit or our consumers. Our most promising one is loopholes for taxes. They will be available in many sizes from tiny little cheat holes to great big whoppers. We aren't sure when these can go to market. The IRS is having some problems with them and the politicians are trying to get it so they will be private issue for members of Congress only.
Somehow, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture got involved in this and they are proposing that the FDA pay us for every loophole that we don't produce—sort of like the old soil bank program.
WB: I'm sure that I speak for millions of people when I wish you every success in that area. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your wonderful business. It is living proof that the American dream lives on. Do you have a closing comment for our readers?
Stodsker: Thank you for the opportunity to spread the word about The Genesee Hole Company. Bring us your hole list. We're the holeistic company that prides itself in being partners with Mother Nature. Holesale is our business, our only business.
Published February, 1996 - Wry Bred Magazine