Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Tonganoxie area businesses grow following 2000 tornado

May 9, 2001

The tornado that ripped through Tonganoxie last May wreaked havoc on some local businesses.

But not everyone saw a downturn in profits following the storm. In fact, two area men were well-positioned with their two, diverse businesses.

Chainsaw carving

A year ago, Russell Ehart dreamed of turning his hobby of chainsaw carving into a profession.

Now, it appears that Ehart has found, or rather, carved, his niche.

The May 11, 2000, tornado struck Tonganoxie on a Thursday night, leaving trees and limbs strewn across town. The following Sunday night, as a local homeowner dreaded the fact that the next day her storm-ravaged century-old elm would be cut to the ground, she called Ehart, known for his talent with wood carvings.

The next afternoon, Ehart arrived at the house on West Fifth Street, chainsaw in hand, and his first Tonganoxie wood carving began to take shape. By the next Friday, he was done. The result a nearly lifesize statue of an American Indian.

Since then, other examples of Ehart's work have cropped up in the area, commonly in trunks of storm-damaged trees.

Ehart, a 1975 graduate of Tonganoxie High School who lives in McLouth, said each tree carving seems to sell another one as passersby see his work. Through the winter months, calls slowed down, but now that the weather's warmer, that's changing, he said.

"Business is booming," Ehart said. "It's picking up again."

Ehart's second Tonganoxie tree carving was a statue of Daniel Boone, at the corner of Pleasant and Laughlin streets.

Another, several miles west of Tonganoxie, is an Indian, similar to the first.

In July, residents of Reno asked for a carving of a bear. The result? A lifesize bear grasping for a fish gripped in the talons of an eagle. The entire carving is 15 feet tall.

Next, a rural homeowner west of town decided on St. Francis of Assisi for her storm-damaged red cedar.

Since then, Ehart's been commissioned to carve a lion mascot for Lawrence High School, an eagle at Oskaloosa, an Indian at Bonner Springs, and at Tonganoxie High School, a relief carving of an Indian's face.

Ehart looks at the last year in awe, but he's not totally surprised at the tornado-spawned success of his business.

"I was born the night of the tornado in Ruskin Heights," Ehart said. "Tornadoes and I get along good it seems like they bring me around."

Concrete storm shelters

Nothing sells tornado shelters better than stormy weather. Phil Weide is owner and manager of D of K Vault, Kansas City, Kan. The company makes and sells concrete products, including free-standing tornado shelters.

Weide, a Tonganoxie area resident, said interest in tornado shelters picked up after the May 11, 2000, tornado ripped through town.

"I think it's a public awareness thing," Weide said. "Every time a storm comes through, our business does pick up because people realized they need to have some kind of a storm shelter to go to."

The two-piece shelters are steel reinforced and weigh 14,000 pounds. To install, the units are buried 40 inches deep in a 10-by-11-foot hole. The top half of the shelter is above ground. Two interior metal stairs give access to the shelter. Weide said the company also manufactures handicapped-accessible shelters that sit on the ground and include a buried concrete base.

It's not uncommon for homeowners to customize the shelters, which on the inside measure 6 feet by 8 feet. One customer turned his shelter into a wine cellar. Some install ceramic tile floors, and one buyer even equipped his shelter with a Boze sound system, Weide said.

The company, located in Iola and Kansas City, has been selling the shelters for two years. Installation takes about one hour. The shelters sell for $3,500, including installation.

Again, this spring, business has been picking up, Weide said. "When the tornado season is upon us, they start calling," Weide said. "People are very knowledgeable about storm shelters."

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