Barring bears from trash
Sun News Service
NEVADA CITY ” Truckee-Tahoe’s bear problem has turned into a cash cow for a Nevada County welder.
James L. Lester, 24, owner of North State Welding in Nevada City, is capitalizing on a bear’s appetite for garbage.
His bear-resistant trash enclosures are gaining him fame among state parks, national forests and mountain residents nationwide.
“There’s a big potential market,” said Lester, who began carrying his Iron Bear product line a year ago.
Lester said he is one of five companies in the nation that make bear-proof enclosures. Word of his business is spreading without a lot of deliberate advertising. His company doesn’t even have a Web site, yet government parks are seeking him out. He says he is taking orders of 75 boxes per week.
The walls of Lester’s office are tacked with articles about bear sightings, pictures of women in bikinis, and photos of Lester’s days as a monster truck racer.
But he has little time for racing anymore. He spends most of his time filling orders for bear boxes.
Lester’s welding career began with heavy equipment repair and decorative railing. He started making the bear boxes last year after taking a fellow iron worker’s design “to another level.”
Since then, he has sold more than 500 of the boxes at $650 a piece. A contract for 300 boxes for Donner Memorial State Park campground is in the works for the end of the year.
“It would be a nice little Christmas ending,” said Lester.
The boxes everyone is clamoring for are the result of three months of trial and error.
“We probably built 15 different boxes to get to this style,” Lester said.
He took the boxes to zoos, where sows weighing 300 pounds tried to muscle and pry their way to the salmon they smelled inside.
“They’ll pretty much try to rip this thing apart,” Lester said. “I don’t care what it looks like as long as they can’t get inside.”
The box is 30 inches deep, 48 inches wide and 44 inches tall, large enough to hold two 32-gallon garbage cans. The boxes are made with 12-gauge to 14-gauge steel, weigh 350 pounds and come in shades of green or brown.
A detachable handle locks the steel door and keeps stinky trash safe from marauders. Each box is equipped with a child safety device to allow a child to escape if necessary.
Besides the trash enclosures, Lester sells food lockers and city-street style trash cans.
He is working on a box that will withstand the bears of Yosemite, and says a venture in outsmarting Alaskan grizzlies lies ahead.
Lester keeps an inventory of 100 boxes in stock at all times. On a recent morning, diesel fumes filled the warehouse as he readied his truck for a delivery of 18 boxes to a Truckee retailer.
So far, the boxes haven’t failed yet, and he’s crossing his fingers that the record will hold. There are rumors of some very large bears roaming the Tahoe Basin.
“You never know what there’s going to be out there,” Lester said.