DESPITE MY LONGSTANDING AVERSION TO CLIMBING LADDERS (beyond the first three rungs or so), in 1984 my wife and I found ourselves living in a three-level contemporary home near the Delaware River in New Jersey. This particular dwelling was nestled among numerous mature ash trees, which shaded the house and provided relief from the summer sun. The problem was that these same comforting specimens would then bury the property in an avalanche of leaves each fall. When we bought the house, we had no idea how much work it would take to clear the leaves from gutters, gather the leaves in huge piles, and move them out to larger mountains along the curb for pickup—or that this routine would sometimes need to be repeated every few days.
We moved into our new digs in July, and by mid-October our decks, lawn, and planting areas were completely covered with leaves. In addition, the gutters were full and the downspouts were plugged. Clearly, something had to done. Being a logical kind of guy, I formulated a plan of attack:
2. Get the leaves out of the gutters and onto the two decks. ( One was a second-floor balcony along the west side of the house, and the other was a much larger ground-floor deck on the east side.)
3. Move the leaves off the decks and onto the lawn.
4. Gather the leaves on the lawn into large piles.
5. Rake the piled-up leaves onto canvas tarps and old sheets.
6. Drag the sheets/leaves onto the street and make leaf mountains along the curb.
7. Pray that the township would make a leaf pick up run before we ran out of street. (At the height of fall, there was usually only enough room for one car to get through the leaf mountains that lined each side.)
I completed step one without any difficulty—the local hardware store was well stocked with leaf blowers—but then realized that step two implied a lot of climbing up to second- and third-floor rooflines, which, as I mentioned, I don't do.
What I needed, I realized, was a long tool that would permit me to stay on terra firma while cleaning out the gutters. I
searched the house, scrounging for parts I could utilize. First I located a sixteen-foot telescoping aluminum pole that I had previously used to touch up the stained siding on the house. Then I found the paint-pad accessory that screws onto the end of the pole and holds the removable pad you use to actually apply paint or stain. This would give me the reach that I needed, but not the ability to sweep the leaves out of the gutters. So I started going through my tool closet and found an old orange clamp that I'd bought years ago and never used. Aha! If I used the clamp to attach a downward-facing dust broom to the paint-pad holder, I might indeed have a ladderless solution to this problem. After scavenging around for a while, I found a short-handled whisk broom in the garage. It seemed about right. I assembled my contraption.
Okay, it looked promising . . . but would this thing actually work? I decided to first try the gutter in front of the garage, which could be reached without fully extending the pole. I raised the pole, positioned the brush above the gutter, and gingerly lowered it in. The gutter was seriously clogged, but the brush was sturdy and the clamp held it firmly in place. And soon I was twisting out huge clumps of wet leaves. Oh my!—as Dick Enberg likes to say—it actually worked! After brushing the accumulated debris out of the gutter and off of the garage, I discovered an unexpected bonus. The long, narrow guide bar for the jaws of the clamp projected about seven inches from the paint-pad holder. It could be inserted through the end of the gutter and into the top of the downspout, then wiggled to loosen the plugged section. Once loosened, the clump would soon emerge from the bottom of the downspout, followed by
PAINT PAD HOLDER
PAINT PAD HOLDER
a large volume of nasty-looking water that had been trapped up in the gutter.
Right about then I was feeling pretty darn pleased with myself. That's probably why I was so disappointed when I tried a higher, more difficult gutter that required full extension of the pole—and the top of the Extend-a-Rake fell to pieces. Suitably humbled, I retrieved the parts (which fortunately fell all the way to the ground, sparing me ladder duty) and went back to work. I repositioned the whisk broom for an improved cleaning angle, tightened the clamp, and added a bolt to secure the paint-pad holder. Prototype number two held together, more or less, and I've used it to clean my gutters for seventeen years now.
The contraption never fails to impress, and I've even been asked to build similar tools for others. (Okay, it was my mom and father-in-law who asked.) But the high point of my career as a weekend MacGyver came one day when I was outside putting the tool to use. One of my neighbors drove around the corner, saw me, did a double take, and slammed on his brakes. After bringing his minivan to a complete stop in the middle of the street, he threw open the door, got out, and declared, "That's the greatest thing I've ever seen!"
While I don't think that fellow gets out much, I'll tell you this: It's definitely the greatest thing I've ever invented.
Bruce Hobson is a semiretired safety professional who is often called upon to MacGyver creative (i.e., cheap) solutions to complex workplace hazards.
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