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Inventor builds manure fork out of obsession

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Articles - January 2010
Monday, November 16, 2009
fork
Berto and his Shake'n Fork

The route to creating a mechanized pooper scooper began, as do many inventor journeys, with another obsession, one that was financially foolhardy, yes, but what obsession comes cheap?

Joseph Berto is a jack-of-all-trades who has been inventing things since he was 14. “It’s basically what I do,” says the 51-year-old helicopter pilot/rancher/logger/firefighter. The obsession presented itself to him one day about 12 years ago. He had sold his California business and moved to Medford to start over. (“An inventor is an optimist,” he says). One day he was driving past the shuttered Medco sawmill. The company was formed during the Depression out of the bankrupt Owen-Oregon firm. One remaining artifact after the mill was closed in the late 1980s was the elegant “White House,” an office building built in 1927.

“I was driving by it one day and thinking about building a house,” Berto says. Instead, he spent $80,000 buying the old office, which was days away from being bulldozed. “Financially, you had to have rocks in your head,” he says.

Berto disassembled the structure and moved the pieces to his horse ranch in White City. “I didn’t look at it for seven more years,” Berto says. But eventually, he started putting the building back together.

This is where we get back to the pooperscooper.

“I had been in anguish trying to find a product to invent to supplement our income,” Berto says. “I wasn’t making money from my other inventions or in piloting helicopters, and I had just started in on this crazy house. Then I had a brilliant vision of a better manure fork.” The brilliant vision started with the prosaic fact that a horse produces about 30 pounds of manure a day, and mucking (de-pooping) those stalls is a lot of work. Berto and his wife board and train horses, and manure volume is something he’s expert at. So Berto developed the Shake’n Fork, which looks like a fork but has a small motor and rechargeable battery to produce a “unique” shaking motion that captures the solid matter (Slogan: “It’s mucking incredible.”). Berto has been selling the fork online for two years for $167 and estimates he’s sold between 500 and 1,000, or “not that many.” A YouTube video of Berto demonstrating the fork has been viewed about 2,300 times.

Back to the obsession. Berto has taken 2,500 square feet of the 5,000-square-foot historic office building and turned it into an office and manufacturing area for the fork. He hopes to turn the rest of it into a new home; he and his wife now live in a mobile home on the property. The rehab was helped along by former Medford Corporation CEO Bob Higgins. Higgins was head of Medco from 1974 to 1984, when Harold Simmons acquired the company. Higgins says he contacted Simmons, who sold the company in the late 1990s, and Simmons “made a very generous donation.”

But that and the current revenue from the fork sales aren’t enough to fund the rest of the rehab, and Berto has hopes of finding a strategic marketing partner to take sales from 100 forks a month to a thousand. “That requires resources that I don’t possess,” he says. “We go to horse shows and breed shows and hope that somebody will recognize the goodness [of the fork].”

“Joseph’s done a great job,” says Higgins, who spent a decade in the White House. “He’s put a lot of time and money in that building. I hope somewhere along the line he will get some reward out of it.”


ROBIN DOUSSARD
 

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