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| St. Louis Post Dispatch November 16, 2004|
|Dick Level is not a nut. He's "The Nut Wizard" guy. |
You may have seen him at local fairs and craft shows. Maybe you've seen his advertisements in free newspapers that hit your lawn. Or maybe you've seen him driving around town in a pickup with signs on the doors that say "The Nut Wizard."
"I go all over the place with the Nut Wizard," said Level, 62, a jovial Florissant resident. "I always have a Nut Wizard with me, and I'll show them to anyone at any time."
Let's explain: The Nut Wizard is a simple tool that was originally created by a man in Georgia to pick up nuts, specifically pecans and walnuts.
It has a wooden broomstick-size handle attached to a circular wire basket about the size of a football or a rugby ball, depending on what you're trying to pick up. The spaces between the wires are flexible enough to allow the nuts to go inside the basket as you roll the basket across a lawn.
But what good is such a tool in St. Louis, not one of the nation's largest nut-producing areas?
"I'm glad you asked," said Level, with the smile of a seller. "Anyone who lives in St. Louis either has, or has a neighbor who has, a sweet-gum tree. And those gumballs are too dangerous to run over with the lawn mower, too heavy to blow with a leaf blower and too much of a hassle to rake," he said, with a pitch that sounds as fresh as today.
"So all you have to do is take the Nut Wizard, roll it across your lawn," he says, after pulling one out of the back of his truck and throwing a dozen or so gumballs on some nearby grass and then rolling them up with ease. "It works like a charm."
Speaking of charm, Level has a bunch of it, that small-town variety that he picked up while growing up in Bridgeport, Ill., near the Indiana border.
"We had about 2,500 people in Bridgeport," he said, adding that high school basketball is the town's passion. "I remember one time our high school made the playoffs and we went to Chicago for a game. I don't think there was anyone in town that night under the age of 90."
After attending Eastern Illinois University and majoring in business, Level moved to Kansas and became a policeman in Wakeeney, on Interstate 70. He graduated from nearby Fort Hays State University.
Then he went into the Army and began working at the military records center in St. Louis, which is where he met his wife, Nancy. The couple have three grown children and one grandchild.
After the Army, Level worked for a credit service and then owned Gourmet Pizza on Cherokee Street.
"Apparently, I have trouble holding a steady job," he said.
Then he went to work for the federal government, as a contract manager at McDonnell Douglas.
Level said he could have remained in that job for the rest of his life - except that he found it boring. So at the age of 53, he quit the job and took paramedic classes. He landed a job working the ambulances of St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Mo.
"I didn't want to die without having done anything of real meaning in my life, and I got that feeling from being a paramedic. You help people; you save lives. It was a wonderful experience, good for your ego, and it had a great adrenaline rush to it," Level said. "But that work is a young person's game, so I quit after seven years and left it to the kids. They have the energy for it."
Level's next pursuit was slushy, as in those oozing drinks at convenience stores. "I own a number of those slushy machines. I put them in skating rinks or other small businesses."
Then while in Stockton, Mo., at a fair, he saw someone demonstrate the Nut Wizard by picking up almonds that were on the grounds of a processing plant next to the fairgrounds.
"Immediately, I thought of all the sweet gums in St. Louis. So I bought one and gave it to my neighbor, who has one of those trees. He loved it, right off the bat," said Level, who then contacted the manufacturer in Georgia and began selling them.
The neighbor, Roy Blackburn, was not surprised by Level's gift. "Dick's just a great neighbor, a great guy. He'll help you out in a minute."
Blackburn said that, when he first began using it, people would stop by as he was using it. "Bottom line, it works wonderfully and people wouldn't stop asking me about it," Blackburn said.
And people apparently won't stop buying them.
Level said, "I've sold about 3,500 of them in the two years I've been doing this."
When asked whether that is a reflection of his natural sales ability, Level laughed and shook his head.
"I'm not a salesman at heart. I hate rejection."
Reporter Joe Holleman
You may order online or by calling (502) 290-1262
Just A Few Items That are Easily Picked Up
Sweet Gum Balls
|Small Nut Wizard......ORDER NOW|
Pick Up Nuts, seeds, fruits, or balls at least 3/8" in diameter; we recommend it for small and slender pecans, pin oak, white oak, chinquapin oak, black oak, post oak, scarlet oak, and crab apples. It will pick up items larger than the above list, but in smaller quantities.
Medium Nut Wizard.....ORDER NOW
Pick Up Nuts, seeds, fruits, or balls at least 3/4" in diameter; we recommend it for pecans, red oak, chestnut oak, hickory nuts (pignut, bitternut, shagbark, and mockernut), golf balls, chestnuts, large swamp oaks, and medium sized fruits. It will pick up items larger than the above list, but in smaller quantities.
Large Nut Wizard.....ORDER NOW
Pick Up Nuts, seeds, fruits, or balls at least 1.25" in diameter; we recommend it for black walnuts, sweet gum balls, shellbark hickory nuts, apples, oranges, lemons, citrus fruits, hedge apples (osage-orange tree), and magnolia seed/flower heads. It will pick up items larger than the above list, but in smaller quantities. The maximum diameter is 4".