You might as well throw away your old rake, and forget about walking around your yard with a noisy blower, according to Larry Gibson.
The 81-year-old Easley man has invented a new kind of rake that is so simple yet efficient that you’ll wonder why you ever wasted all that effort doing it the old-fashioned way, he says.
“We’re going to make the leaf rakes that are on the market now obsolete,” he declares.
The patent-pending device is just the latest in a string of inventions that have sprung from the nimble mind of this retired builder and developer who grew up a sharecropper’s son.
He invented a tree stand for deer hunters years ago. He created a Styrofoam boot to keep your feet warm while sitting in a football stadium (although a production malfunction nixed that idea and cost him $70,000.)
He holds the patent on a device called the Leaf Corral that fits onto a riding lawnmower to sweep in leaves.
And he has developed a prototype and started production on another contraption that he isn’t ready to reveal publicly. You would never guess what it’s designed to be used for.
“God has been so good to us, it’s unreal,” Gibson said.
The LawnComb Rake, which is on the market now for about $50, takes all of the repetitious stroking motion out of raking leaves. Instead, it requires only walking along backwards pulling the wide rake behind you and leaving a clean swath in your wake.
A specially designed “comb” sweeps up the leaves in one continuous motion, hence the name LawnComb Rake.
If you’d rather push instead of pull, he has another model – the LawnComb Push Rake, which sells for about $250. It utilizes the same combing principle on a wheeled device that can be pushed to wherever you want to make your pile.
He hopes to have the devices in local hardware stores this fall.
“It just came to me,” Gibson says when asked how he got the idea for the Lawn Comb.
He started thinking back in the spring about ways to make leaf-raking easier and went into his backyard workshop to start tinkering.
Although he’s always been inventive by nature – designing innovative houses and subdivision concepts – he found himself with more time on his hands when the housing market crashed in 2008.
“We were going great guns until the recession hit,” he says.
So he reinvented himself.
Actually, it’s a process he’s been going through all his life.
He grew up on a sharecropper farm about four miles from where he now lives in a house he designed and built on 15 acres east of Easley in 1963.
He quit high school at the age of 16 and went to work for Deering Milliken.
Soon, he was offered a job as a bricklayer’s helper, and within a year, he was a master bricklayer and was running the business.
By the time he was 20, he had his own brick masonry business.
His life took a turn on June 17, 1955 when he married his sweetheart, Bertie.
On the night they were married, they attended a revival service at their church, and the preacher asked them to go with him to a youth camp in Mississippi.
For reasons they didn’t quite understand at the time, they went.
When they arrived, they saw that one of the buildings was in need of a brick veneer.
“I said, honey, I know why we’re here now,” Gibson recalled telling his new wife. “I said the Lord would have us come back and brick this building.”
They returned home, and he told his boss his plans.
“His words to me was, you be sure to take all your tools, because when you come back, you won’t have a job,” Gibson said.
But two weeks later, his boss told him he had decided to retire and would sell the business to him. Gibson sold some property he owned and borrowed money to buy his boss’ 1947 Chevy truck.
They drove it to Mississippi and bricked the building, returned home and Gibson became a subcontractor overnight.
That was the beginning of what would become Artistic Builders, the company he ran for all the decades since then.
His first subdivision was Wade Hampton Gardens, near the high school of the same name.
Soon, he was putting his fertile mind to work on home designs that would live up to the “artistic” part of the company name.
Swimming pools coming from the outside in, cathedral ceilings, and rustic exteriors were just a few of the features that made his homes unique for the time.
Then he decided to build a new kind of low-income housing development, called Whispering Pines, just outside of Easley. The 327-home development attracted national attention in the early 1970’s.
President Nixon’s daughter, Julie, came to visit, along with the president of the National Association of Homebuilders and the national director of the Farmers Home Administration, which offered low-interest loans to home buyers.
“They were of a contemporary design, uniquely designed, very appealing,” Gibson said. It was the first subdivision in the area that had its own sewer system built and operated by the developer, he said.
To convince a banker to finance the project, he convinced family members and friends to transfer $150,000 to accounts at Anderson Savings & Loan. Frank Ulmer of Ulmer Lumber Co. agreed to provide the lumber and defer payment until Artistic Builders had the money to pay.
The homes cost about $15,000 then. Now they sell for around $90,000.
Since then, Gibson has never had a construction loan, he says.
In the mid-1970’s, he built about half of a 1,200-home subdivision called Westwood in Simpsonville, then more subdivisions in the Easley area, Oconee County and Greenville.
He’s also built church buildings, and raised money and collected donated materials for church construction, as well as serving on the board of North Greenville University.
He was elected to the South Carolina Housing Hall of Fame by the state Home Builders Association in 2005.
Nowadays, in addition to exercising his nimble mind in his inventor’s workshop, he and his wife take pride in their daughter, Sherri, and three grandchildren.
Their granddaughter, Helen, was valedictorian at Greenville High School, graduated summa cum laude from North Greenville University and is now a student at the Medical University of South Carolina with plans to become a brain surgeon and a medical missionary.
Their grandsons, Nicholas and Lucas, are both Clemson graduates, with one working for General Motors and the other at ScanSource.