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12/18/2003

Wood Box logs on

By Kate Martin
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT—During a snowstorm four years ago, Judy Halsey had a hankering for a crackling fire and a quiet night at home. So she sent her husband, Len, to the store to pick up a bundle of firewood.

This had become nearly routine, Len Halsey said; Judy and Len lived at The Orchards Apartments at the time. They didn’t have the space to store large amounts of wood. Whenever they wanted firewood, Len drove to the store.

But when he arrived at the store that snowy eve, the store manager was restacking the firewood on the sidewalk.

“When people want wood, they don’t take the wood off the top,” Len Halsey, now 64 years old, said. “People want dry wood.”

Soggy firewood was stacked off to the side so customers could take the dry wood at the center. Len, seeing the store manager’s problem, wondered if there was a way to keep firewood dry while keeping it accessible to customers.

Today, Len Halsey is president of The Wood Box Inc., a company that manages his invention: a machine that dispenses firewood on demand. His first Wood Box is located at The Orchards Apartments on the south-east corner of Hover and Colo. Highway 66.

“It’s kind of like a candy machine that drops wood,” said Sandy Swenson, manager at The Orchards Apartments. “This is a large benefit to the residents: to get wood and not have to leave the property.”

The Wood Box machine is located centrally in the complex and is powered with solar panels. It costs nothing to have the unit on the property, Len Halsey said. He restocks the wood more than once a week.

When a customer pays for wood, a light above one of the 16 doors shines. The customer opens the door and removes dry firewood. Each machine holds 148 bundles of wood. There is a mechanism inside that senses when more wood needs to be sent down ramps into empty compartments.

Len Halsey said he doesn’t expect one machine to pay for his retirement, but several might.

“A machine isn’t going to make you rich, maybe $800 to $900 a month,” Len Halsey said. “But if you have 10 of them out there ... If you have 100 of them, the numbers go berserk.”

He’s been building and fixing things all his life, he said. He fixes his own cars and tractors. When he was younger, he was an electrician. A few months ago, he finished the first machine with his own two hands on the farm where he and his wife live near Platteville.

He is currently negotiating a deal to manufacture more machines. Several ski resorts have expressed interest, Halsey said: Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Keystone to name a few.

“In the spring, when firewood season is over, I’m going to bring units to campgrounds,” Len Halsey said. “Some areas are very interested.”

But Halsey said he is concerned that the company won’t have the finances to continue expanding.

“At this point in time, I’ll own the machines and stock them myself, but if I can’t raise the money privately, I’ll sell the machines,” he said.