CORVALLIS, Ore. — Alden Gray breathes out a sigh, looks down at the ground, chews his lip for a moment and then responds:
“I just couldn’t buy the truck,” he said.
Gray, a 34-year-old landscape contractor and owner of Northwest Naturescapes, was trying to explain why he largely runs his business from a three-wheeled bicycle.
And perhaps it is through the bike — and its evolution — that we discover the best route to understanding Gray.
A Corvallis native and University of Oregon environmental studies/public policy graduate, Gray said he “wanted to reduce his carbon footprint and make the world a healthier place and help people grow their own food,” although that means some days wind up “being mostly about weeding.”
Gray started with a two-wheeled bike that he modified with an electric conversion kit. He added a trailer to carry his tools and off he went. But he soon discovered that no matter what type of kickstand he used . the bike kept falling over. Which did not present well to customers.
So he found a three-wheeler for sale in Ashland, lashed it to the top of his Subaru and drove it back to Corvallis. He added a box to the basket area for the battery and ringed the box with a series of tubes to hold his tools.
Then he found that the battery, which was designed to power a bike, did not have enough juice to power the bike pulling a trailer for a full work day.
“When you run out of juice,” Gray said, “and you have to pedal home . well, that got kind of old.”
So he scored some additional lithium batteries and stuffed them into a backpack that also fit inside the box. And the battery pack became the power source for his power tools. Just strap on the pack — which weighs 50 pounds — plug the batteries into your electric mower or hedge trimmer and you’re good to go . although Gray noted that there is a fatigue factor attached to hauling around 50 pounds of dead weight while you are mowing.
On the day the Gazette-Times visited Gray on a client call, he and associate Tim Zimmerman were planting vegetables and repairing the irrigation system at the First Alternative Co-op. The trailer contained the pots of vegetables, fertilizer, the mower, a pressure washer and other odds and ends.
Gray estimated the total weight at 700-plus pounds and it was a similar load that fueled a final modification to the bike. A bad experience in which he “taco-ed” the trailer wheels led him to add reinforcing bars to the trailer and switch to BMX-type wheels.
“I’d like to make it pretty, but at this point it’s functional,” Gray said.
Gray, who offers services both as a landscape contractor and general landscape maintenance, occasionally, has to rent a truck when a job is just too large for the pieces to fit into his trailer. He showed cellphone pictures of a backyard he turned from “multiple piles of dirt that had the homeowner literally depressed” into quite the garden.
He prefers the more creative, artistic work of landscape construction, but overall what gets him juiced about coming to work is “I get to take care of plants. Sometimes I think that I care more about plants than . oops, I better keep it nice. I like getting my hands in the soil and interacting with soil and creating healthy plants. That’s what I like most about the job.
“And biking around. I love riding my bike around.”
Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com