Treegator is making a splash in Atlanta Drip irrigation device familiar sight around host city of Olympics

August 01, 1996|By Diane E. Otts | Diane E. Otts,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Cissel family of Lisbon attended the Olympic trials in June in Atlanta to watch a nephew compete for a spot as pole vaulter. Although he fell short, the family still could claim a unique role in the Centennial Olympiad -- via its Treegator.

The Treegator is a portable drip-irrigation system that Lambert Cissel, 57, invented. More than 1,500 of the 20-gallon water pouches are zipped around the trunks of the trees that adorn the Olympic Stadium, the Georgia Dome, Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, practice fields and downtown streets.

"We saw a Treegator on every tree as far as we could see," Lambert recalls of his June trip to Atlanta.

"An Olympic official came over and asked, 'Do you know what those things are?' I said, 'Sure, I'm the developer.' He couldn't believe it. People had been asking him about them. He was so glad to find out what they were, he asked me for my autograph."

The "road to Atlanta" was as long and arduous for the Treegator as for many Olympic athletes. It also was a family project. Lambert's son, Steve Cissel, was the inspiration for the invention.

Steve, 33, opened a tree farm across the road from his parents' turf farm in 1987 and became discouraged with the traditional method for preparing a tree for a buyer.

"For the last 100 years, nurserymen who want to dig a tree for sale dig a trench around the tree and fill it with water. When the water soaks in, they dig the trench deeper and fill it again. They repeat the process until the soil around the roots is softened. It's a three- to four-day process and really muddy," Steve says.

Lambert quickly began working on an alternative method.

"When he was developing it, he was like a mad scientist in the basement," says Steve, who field-tested numerous prototypes during the five years it took to develop the Treegator.

Now Steve can prepare a tree for digging in about 12 hours. He zips a Treegator around the trunk and fills it through the opening at the top. The tiny drainage holes at the bottom deliver the water slower than the ground can absorb it, allowing it to soak 3 feet into the dirt with no runoff. Larger trees can be accommodated by zipping Treegators together.

"It was easy to get a patent, because there is nothing like it," Lambert says. But he had to file for a patent four times because he kept improving the device, which was named during a family brainstorming session.

In addition to solving Steve's problem, the Treegator proved to be an ideal method for irrigating newly planted trees and for watering trees whose roots are bagged and awaiting planting.

But as much as Lambert enjoyed developing his invention, he didn't want to take on marketing the product.

"My second son, Scott, graduated from college with a degree in marketing and was floundering. I convinced him I would let him use the patent if he would market the Treegator. He's done a bang-up job," Lambert says.

In 1991, Scott Cissel moved the manufacturing and distribution the Treegator to a warehouse in Raleigh, N.C., and named the company Spectrum Products. "It was rough at first -- I didn't know anything," he says.

The 30-year-old now employs six people in his 5,000-square-foot plant and has 33 distributors selling the Treegator in the United States. He's done everything from designing brochures to repairing the heat-sealing machine used to manufacture the Treegator.

After selling 75,000 Treegators to landscape contractors, golf courses, nurseries and homeowners, he is finally projecting a profit this year.

The Treegator is used at a number of notable sites, including the grounds of the Statue of Liberty, Indianapolis 500 and Pepsi world headquarters.

And now that the Treegator has been to the Olympics, where will it go next? "I do have a hot lead from Disney," Steve says.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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