Pond All-Stars Pitch In for Memorial Build

Published on April 28, 2024

Memorial Build 2024 WGE

Memorial waterfall build at 2024 Water Garden Expo

To many, February can be just another cold, dreary, winter month. In my world, February is the beginning of spring in the greenhouses. This is when we are busy working to plant all our annual and perennial color for our retail garden center and our landscape and maintenance customers. February is also the month that the annual Water Garden Expo (WGE) is put on by Pondliner in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Aqua UV

I was looking to build a waterfall in memory of my dad. The best time to gather people together at that time of the year is before the WGE. It’s the slow, winter season, and pond people really love attending the WGE.

A Brief History

In the early 1900s, my ancestors came sweeping into the Oklahoma plains from Missouri to claim land. My great grandpa was able to get this land that we still live on today. It was part of a town name Hulen. The town didn’t survive long, because the railroad was never built through it like they thought it would be.

The Chisholm Trail runs north and south about 15 miles east of Hulen. Back in those days, people got water from sisterns and there was one on the homestead. Travelers along the route would stop by and use the sistern and water their horses and wash up. The sistern worked well until more and more people kept coming, so he decided to build a pond. With a team of mules and a rope plow, he dug out a shallow, small pond about 3 feet deep. It was about one-quarter of the size it is now.

I grew up on the land where I wanted to build the memorial feature. It has been passed down several generations — and hopefully for generations to come. As a child, I have very fond memories of my dad and me spending time together on this land. The pond has always been a life-giving part of it. It waters the cattle and greenhouses and you can take a dip and cool off in the hot summer.

As a kid, I remember the “pond” only having water in it when it rained. It was sort of a marsh with cattails in it. Later, my dad helped my grandma with cattle and dug the pond out deeper to water the cattle.

My Professional Life

Meanwhile, after working as an outdoor tree and shrub manager for a local retail nursery, I started studying plant biology and horticulture at the local university. I decided to construct my first greenhouse on the property. I wanted to enter into the wholesale business of selling annual plants to local nurseries and home improvement stores. My dad and I constructed the first greenhouse in August 1994. That summer had seen temperatures over 100 degrees almost every day, with no rain in sight. We received 100-mph, straight-line winds that completely demolished the newly finished greenhouse. Thankfully, I was able to rent some space in a greenhouse in town, and my first crop was grown and sold all while reconstructing the greenhouse.

Using the Pond

My dad and I came up with a plan to use the pond to water the plants. It was great until the water levels got too low, changing the nutrient levels and making it hard to use for the plants. We then made a plan that when it rained, we would get water from the creek and pump it into the pond. Every time it rained, I had to start the pump and keep it gassed up to get the water out of the creek for as many days and nights that the creek was running.

My dad was smart enough to know that catching the water before it got to the creek would be a much easier system to keep the pond full. He came up with a plan to dig a trench under our county road and run a 10-inch sewer pipe to catch the runoff and keep it full. That worked perfectly and is still working today.

Honoring Dad

My dad was my superhero. He was a firefighter who always brought out the fire truck to the school during fire prevention week. He was the one climbing the ladder to the very top. The U.S. government recognized him for saving a pilot’s life after crashing during touch-and-go training. He also supported my dream by building the greenhouse from the ground up — from electricity to plumbing and heating.

My dad was my biggest fan. He enjoyed helping me with ideas in all aspects of this crazy dream that I was chasing. This is why I wanted to do something to honor him.

So, in summer 2023, I put out a feeler video on Facebook showing the land and an idea of what I wanted to do. I was trying to see what kind of response I would get. I knew the WGE was in February, and they had not had a build for a couple of years. Even though I am 120 miles south of Shawnee, I thought it would be the perfect fit!

In September, I put together a Facebook group and started inviting pond people to attend the memorial build. At that time, nothing was nailed down. I was just trying to build momentum and excitement around the project. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, if anyone would show or if I was going to be able to pull it off. But everyone showed up in a big way, and everything just fell into place.

Assembling the Team

I had seen a video of Ed Beaulieu, the Pond Professor, about using a vault for pumps and inlet pipes. I knew that for this project I would need some kind of vault, so I went searching and asking and to have a vault cast. It cost $42,000, and I had only budgeted $50,000 for the entire event, so I knew that wasn’t an option.

Mike Miller told me that Larry Carnes was the man I needed to talk to, so I called him. He sent photos and drawings about how the vault would be set up with the sizes and depths and how it would work. I decided to build the vault myself with concrete blocks. I kept asking other questions and eventually asked him to lead the build. As I’ve become more knowledgeable about the industry, I’ve been fascinated by the amount of water his features move. The naturalistic appearance of his water features. I kept prying and asking things and wanted to learn all I could from him.

Once Eric Triplett heard about the build, he committed to co-leading the build. He also brought his video man, Joe Betancourt. Joe took photos the entire time and made the most amazing tribute video. I have watched it at least 1,000 times. He played it at the WGE, and there was not a dry eye in the house.  

Getting Started

I took measurements with a transit to find out how much fall we had to work with. The Oklahoma plains are pretty flat. I sent that information along with pictures and videos to Larry. He was gracious enough to sit down and map out and design all the details as well as the supply list. We decided on a pump vault of 6-by-6-by-6 feet.

A couple of weeks before the build, we spent several days preparing the site to construct the vault within the confines of the existing pond. My team and I excavated some of the dirt at the shallow end of the pond and built a small dike to dam the construction site from the body of water.

I had originally planned to pay for all the materials, but Randy Stewart of Pondliner had added people to our Facebook group, and it was picking up momentum. I started hearing that manufacturers and suppliers were interested in donating some supplies. Jeff Weemhoff from Atlantic-Oase donated two L310 pumps and 64 half aqua blocks. Stacy Pruitt and Elevate Liner donated two 20-by-100-foot EPDM liners, a 30-by-35-foot liner for the wetland filter and a 30-by-100-foot liner that we needed at the last minute. Randy met one of my guys at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning to get that to us. Pondliner donated the foam and foam guns, 1 gallon of quick prime and a 100-foot roll of cover tape.

More help from friends

I really wanted to add a fountain to the middle of the pond, and Kasco Marine discounted it to Pondliner. Through the grapevine I heard that Shaun Lindley with Lindley Stone out of McAlester, Oklahoma, wanted to donate a load of stone to the build. I reached out to him, and it was an instant friendship. He kept me abreast of the progress and what type of boulders he was picking out. We had the material staged and ready to go plenty ahead of time. During crunch time, we needed another load, and he made it happen with no problem.

We used 150,000 tons of boulders, 100 tons of various rock such as 1-inch pea gravel, 2-to-4-inch Oklahoma rock,and 4-to-6-inch Oklahoma rock for the streambeds. 3-to-6-inch rip rap is used at the bottom of the stream going into the pond and around the vault to set boulders at maximum height. It’s also used for planting pockets around the pond.

We used six to eight pallets of concrete to shim boulders, eight loads of topsoil and eight pallets of sod. Jay Kluge with Davis Supply and FX Lighting generously donated night lighting for the project. The installation of the lighting is planned for the near future.

At the last minute, I realized that we would need some water plants for the wetland-bog area. I reached out to Kelly Billing, and without hesitation, she dug up some of her personal plants and shipped them out. Kelly also was able to come out and give a hands-on demonstration about where and how to properly install them. We are so excited for them to bloom. They have grown so much already!

Calling in Backup

In order to move some heavy boulders, I needed some heavy equipment. My buddy Charlie Hale brought his two Caterpillar 306 excavators and his semi-truck with his front-end loader, where he was here to unload the largest load of boulders. I also used his loader to pick up two elm trees that we used for driftwood. The monster trees lie cross the waterfall for some very interesting visual appeal.

The feature is 20 feet wide by 195 feet long and includes a 20-by-25-foot wetland filter with three falls at the top of the feature and a drive-over path three-quarters of the way down.

Larry Carnes and his crew came in on Friday and started digging out the top. Eric Triplett came in on Saturday. For the next two days prior to the official build, Larry, his crew, Eric and I, along with four of my guys, worked to get the project started. Since we only two days with the majority of the participants, we needed to get a large part of the work done before everyone arrived.

Pumps and Path

Larry oversized everything to make sure what was used would reduce friction and keep head pressure to a minimum. There are two L310 pumps with a 4-inch discharge that went vertical up to the top of the pump vault around 6 feet, using 4-inch PVC where we set a bushing to put on a 6-inch “T” for our exit line and a drain point if the need arises to drain the system. This point also allows us access to put in a gauge and check the best efficiency point. A 20-foot trench was dug to lay our 6-inch plumbing lines up to two discharge points in the feature, one running to the wetland filter and the other one running three-quarters of the way up, adding to the stream after the initial fall.

We needed a path over the waterfall, and Larry utilized twin-wall culvert pipe laid across the stream for water to flow through. We covered it in No. 57 gravel and a dirt sock, with sod laid on top to finish it off. The detail work covering the culvert pipe is not yet complete, but we have some great ideas for that.

Collaboration for the Ages

When everyone arrived, Larry laid out the scope of work and positioned everyone where they could work on their part of the build. Because these guys are some of industry elite, we were able to collaborate and work as one, even though most of us had never worked together. Even though we were running all this equipment in an area smaller than 5,000 square feet, there were no accidents or injuries. The only problem was a broken hydraulic line on the excavator. That’s because Benjamin Timmermans came in a half-day late and had to make up ground on breaking the equipment.

We had more than 50 people show up to work on the build. This included quite a few newcomers. Some came from Canada and as far as England. I feel that they were welcomed as family from the time they got here. The group that comes to the WGE is unique and tight knit. We all enjoy each other and learn so much from being around one another.

I can’t thank everyone that came enough to share their talents and fellowship. I am truly humbled by the amount of love and support that have been shown to my family and me during this event. I love you all!

Japanese Koi Kodama

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