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A Story Written In Stone

 

My passion for working with stone began in Elgin, IL as a child. We had a large yard in which my parents installed a flagstone patio, numerous limestone retaining walls, and an elaborate rock garden. It was an ongoing project that involved countless trips to our local stone yards and quarry, wheel barrels, shovels, sand, gravel, and sweat. When things were finally finished, we had a beautiful yard that all of our friends and neighbors admired. I enjoyed the process so much, that I could often be found out back disassembling walls so I could experience it over and over. My parents soon put a stop to that, but after some shrewd negotiations on my part, I was allowed to be the curator of our rock gardens. This involved collecting specimens for addition. I often think that I developed the physical strength I possess, as a youngster lugging bowling ball sized rocks back from our hiking excursion and vacations. One regret from that era, was leaving behind what I estimated to be a 500-pound boulder of rose quartz I had exposed in a creek bed in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I pleaded my case for days but could not convince the parents that they wouldn’t even notice it in the back of our station wagon for the remainder of our vacation.

 

I made it through my school years and immediately joined the United States Navy. I had a deep desire to travel the world over, and at the young age of 18, this seemed to be the perfect solution to appease this yearning. The travel was great, I got to see the world, and I made friends I still keep in occasional contact with. The downside was working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day and earning about $1 an hour for my efforts. When my enlistment was up, I said adios to life as a sailor.

 

Shortly after exiting the Navy, opportunity came knocking, in the form of a buddy from my school days. He had a great source for work, so we pooled our money, purchased a 1-ton flatbed pickup, mortar mixer, and a few trowels, and became tile and coping sub contractors for Blue Haven Pools in San Antonio, TX.  Our work consisted of brick, flagstone, and ceramic tile installation on the gunite swimming pools they were building.  The first summer of doing this, Blue Haven had a national sales promotion that included a free 3’ x 5’ natural stone waterfall with any pool purchase. After a week of brisk sales, they realized they had no one to build all the waterfalls they were selling. I caught wind of their dilemma, and drawing upon my childhood experiences, promptly stated, “I can build waterfalls”. So here I am barely 21 years old, with a truckload of stone, a customer saying, “we’re so excited about our waterfall, do you mind if we stay out here and watch?” thinking to myself, “oh boy what did I get myself into?” After the first few I installed the sales people and construction superintendent were saying, “this kid sure has a knack for these waterfalls, lets give him every one we sell”.  That summer I became known as the waterfall man.

 

The oil boom of Texas was winding down and along with it the local economy. One of the guys I had  working with me said “ I have a rich uncle in Santa Barbara, CA who has a swimming pool at his house he wants to remodel and would like for us to come out and put flagstone decking and a waterfall on it as well.”  When we arrived we were gung ho and ready to go. We headed over to his house ready to get at it. The uncle promptly informed us that he had decided to wait another year or two to remodel his pool. He added, “If you boys are as talented as you claim to be you’ll have no trouble finding work here". My jaw dropped to the floor. Here I was in one of the most expensive areas of the United States to live in, and the only job prospect I had, just fell through. Time to beat the brushes, and beat them hard.

 

I found work with a company owned by a fellow named Julian George. This man introduced me to a world of creativity beyond the imagination. He told me stories of his beginnings in sculpted concrete working with Walt Disney. Within a years time we built a private zoo with a penguin exhibit, monkey habitat, and flamingo ponds on a mountainside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We built an elaborate swimming pool, a spill over spa that appeared as a natural hot springs nestled inside a grotto within a hillside of our rock creation, with massive waterfalls and a slide into the pool, for a vineyard owner living in Palm Desert. We created thousands of square feet of water features, ponds and streams at the Embassy Suites in Oxnard. I was ecstatic with what I was doing, and loved it when someone would ask me “what line of work are you in?” One day Julian called saying “I have a project in Pensacola, FL that we just can’t seem to finish. Would you help me out and go show those boys how we get things done”. I was all over it. I spent the next 3 months working 6 to 7 days a week, on what is still, to this day the biggest and most impressive water feature in the Florida panhandle. It was also during that time in Pensacola, I met the love of my life, and so after a brief return to Santa Barbara, I relocated to Pensacola to be with my future wife.

 

In Pensacola I started Stone Works, Inc., hired a few employees and kept us all busy with stone masonry, tile and coping, water features and stuccowork. This I continued for the next 6 – 7 years.  After that time an industry acquaintance contacted me with information on a large project at Busch Gardens in Tampa. A company called Kopje Rocks had gotten the contract and was in dire need of experienced rock artisans. The project was Myombe Reserve The Great Ape Domain. My duties on this project were to order the survey work and have the position of our rockwork transferred from a set of plans to the ground on site. I would then direct our employees to excavate, place steel, and pour the concrete footings. We had created a scale model of the rockwork and used this as a guide for the shaping of the steel armature that would become our actual rockwork. After the steeltex was in place I would call in for an inspection, prior to the placement of our shotcrete. We hired a local shotcrete company and had a couple of our shapers work with them as they sprayed. I also found a local plastering company that sprayed our texture coat for us. We would trowel out the plaster and use foil textures, positive carving, for the rock, and a nozzle finish for the eroded soil effect. After our acid staining we had built what is the most impressive habitat Busch Gardens has.

 

Upon completion of the Myombe Reserve as an assistant superintendent, Kopje Rocks offered me a position as Project Superintendent for the Wortham World of Primates, at the Houston Zoo. This project they informed me they wanted to do in a different manner. The plan was to sub contract out as much of the work as we could and use unskilled labor from a local labor hall to complete all other tasks.  The project completed well and looked great, stayed under the allotted budget, so everyone was happy.  Kopje Rocks work dried up, so I relocated to Atlanta, Georgia and started a hardscape company, doing primarily residential work between 1993-1999.

 

The summer of 1999 a friend who has a business in Seattle, Washington offered me a partnership in his operation.  I moved to Seattle and began my experience with “Natural Creations in Rock and Water”.  We were installing swimming pools, spas, caves, grottos, fountains, ponds and many other projects using natural and sculpted rock, or the GFRC panel we were manufacturing.  I remained part of N.C. Inc, for the next two years.  While we were in Seattle our first grandchild was born and was living in Saint Simon’s Island, Georgia.  Residing in the Pacific Northwest was just too far away from this wonderful addition to our family for myself and wife to stand, so we relocated back to the Southeastern United States, where we currently live, and I continue to create water feature and hardscape elements.