William Gaston Lynskey – Forman & Biller / Tree Feeder
By: James Biller
I remember Gaston Lynskey
Sure, I can write a story about Uncle Gaston, probably a hundred stories. After all, I knew him longer and probably knew him as well as any of his own kids. When they went to school and he went off to work, where did he go? Here. He worked with my dad, Forman & Biller Tree Expert Co. from 1926 to when he was well over 76 years old. Since I started with my dad in 1957 our jobs overlapped for many years and I had the pleasure of working directly with Gaston during those years. He taught me much of what I know about trees, spraying trees (Pest Control) and arboriculture. He taught me climbing methods and I pruned many a tree next to the one he was doing. Even as a kid working part times during some summers, I dragged hose behind him while he sprayed trees at many of the nice estates around Washington. We worked together at Mt. Vernon, Woodlawn Plantation, Strafford Hall, Armsted Peter’s “Tudor Place” in Georgetown, and many of those other places he used to show pictures of where he put fillings in trees, etc. One of the last big trees we took down together was at the St. James Cemetery over on West St. I have pictures of that tree with him, myself, and another worker just before we felled it. It was heard three blocks away when it hit the ground!
One of Gaston’s proudest achievements was his Patent; so let me write about that. While working at Mt. Vernon “feeding” the trees on the beautiful estate, many years ago, he remembered the old tobacco planters of his youth on the tobacco farm in Danville. He was filling 2” holes with fertilizer behind another guy who was making the holes with a “pinch” bar in the root zone of the trees. Each time he bent over to fill a hole from a bucket with a little scoop, he kept thinking about how many thousand times a day he had to stoop and it reminded him of the elongated funnel that the tobacco planter was. (I have one of those old tobacco planters in my collection if you want to see one.) So, he decided to make a similar tool out of sheet metal, with an opening in the bottom, controlled by a lever at the top handle, to a trap door in the bottom. The funnel would hold about 35 lbs of dry type fertilizer and dispense a shot into the hole from a standing position, thus saving bending over. He made his first one rather crudely but it worked and he used it a lot. Later, he improved the design and made a second one. This one had a thumb push lever instead of a finger pull lever and was made much nicer. (I have his second prototype.) His third one was even better and easier to make. I believe dad even paid him for his third one. We used them for tree “deep root feeding” for many years in our business. Sometime along then, Gaston ran into a Patent Attorney up in Falls Church, I believe on his street, and this gentleman helped him to secure a Patent on the “feeder.” He got the patent but never did anything with it. In 1964, I was invited to be on the Host Committee of the International Shade Tree Conference for the 1965 convention, which was going to be at the Statler Hotel in Washington. I talked Gaston into introducing his “feeder” to the arboricultural trade by buying a commercial display spot at the trade show and showing the “feeder” and taking orders for them. He wanted to do it but didn’t exactly know how to go about it, so we worked together to bring it to fulfillment.
I knew a sheet metal shop owner, not too far away, and we took the feeder up to him and he made a pattern for it to make the hopper. We ordered six of them. Now Gaston had made tools to form the wires and copper snout and handles so it was easy for him to modify a few parts and put the things together, but the actual trap door and a bell crank were pretty hard to form accurately enough for production, so Gaston got in touch with an Ohio outfit that would make dies, and stamp out those parts with an order of 100 or more. That was Gaston’s major investment and he, being a very conservative sort, didn’t particularly like to shell out the $600 or so if I remember correctly, but he did it. I was sure he could sell a hundred of them. Soon, he had 6 finished feeders to show and a lot of extra metal parts to build more. I got some decals made for him that were hand cut for the first 6. And Gaston got a friend nearby to print up flyers to use at the exhibit. I took some pictures of him using it for the display and we also put in a little cheesecake by asking Janet, one of Gaston’s attractive daughters, who happened to be sunbathing, to pose with one in shorts! She was about 18 I think. Next, I went down to a corrugated box place in Arlington to see about getting boxes to send them by Parcel Post. They showed me how to make a box and gave me two big flats of cardboard to make the models. When I got a box made, I took it to the local PO and they measured it and found it was a little too big to go thru the mail. There was no such thing as United Parcel service then, so we had to modify the feeder hopper to make it an inch shorter so the final box would be under the maximum mailing size. Then he had 100 boxes made to send them in.
Finally, the convention came to town and we sit up a little booth and both of us acted as salesman during the trade show times of the convention. Of the first 6, I remember 4 of them were sold to friends of mine in the business. Mason Barrow in Baltimore, my best friend and another friend bought one. Boyd Haney and Sons of Chicago bought two as I recall. Boyd was one of my good friends in the trade. I don’t remember who bought the other two. Gaston may have kept one. But the business was launched at that convention and he took some orders to be filled and sent out. It originally cost $1 to send one and I believe the original cost was $29.95. Later he could tie two together and send them by UPS for less that the PO. He would send 6 to the Karl Kuemmerling Arborist Supply house in Ohio by sending three bundles of two each.
Eventually, he got tired of making them, and Dixie Sheet Metal got tired of making the hoppers, and he sold his patent and supplies to Chuck Ritz, the son in law of Karl Kuemmerling of Ohio, the dealer in tree tools that we had been dealing with for many years.
Once along the way, I had a friend make a fiberglass hopper and Gaston finished a feeder off, but he liked the familiar galvanized hoppers better. Later, when Chuck Ritz got the Amish to make them for him they went to a type of fiberglass. Actually, it was better in some ways, as the fertilizer would rust the metal quickly if any was left in the hopper and got wet. I used to require my men to hang the feeders up on hooks in the shed, upside down, at the end of a job which kept them dry and empty so I never lost one from corrosion. I think Lucille still gets a few royalty checks from Chuck Ritz, even tho the patent has long since ran out.
Written by Jim Biller, November 8, 1999