Mark Hockensmith hates to see perfectly good material go to waste in a landfill.
His three daughters would roll their eyes when he’d peer in a dumpster when they were youngsters. And he can be spotted working area demolition sites – like the old Frankfort lumber company – keeping an eye out for, well, just about anything worth saving.
Mark, 54, has eight semi trailers full of items he’s salvaged over the years that he keeps on Lambert Moore’s property.
Several other buildings, made from scrap lumber, shingles and other materials, dot the yard of his home just inside the Woodford County line.
One of those buildings will be his bathroom once he builds a new home on his mother’s farm off Georgetown Road. He’s already installed windows and a skylight and has plans for a sink, claw-foot tub, medicine cabinet and bathroom closet.
“It might be a sickness I got,” Mark said. “I just got an eye for stuff that’s going to be demolished.
“… On the weekends everybody’s out swimming and partying, drinking their rum and coconut Maui Wowie drinks. I was salvaging lumber.”
Every piece Mark, a 1976 Franklin County High School graduate, has salvaged has a purpose.
The top of a vintage 1933 Chevrolet car with the roof cut off, for instance, will be a good place to grow flowers one day, Mark says. A Springs Valley Bank & Trust Company ATM that’s tucked away in the trees, which Mark says is worth around $10,000, will be his gun safe when he builds his new home.
In fact, Mark started saving material, especially lumber, with a new home and workshop in mind, which he plans to build when he inherits a piece of his mother’s farm. He’s already built a deer camp there, also from recycled material.
“I thought, ‘Well, if I have my lumber when I build my house, I won’t have to worry about having to spend ($25,000-$35,000) on material,’ so I started packing lumber in,” said Mark, who has hauled demolition debris and worked as a handyman for the past 16 years.
“They were tearing down barns and houses and everything, and I thought, ‘That’s actually better lumber than what you can buy now anyway.’ It’s already seasoned, it’s dried out. You buy new lumber now, and it’ll twist and warp and bend.”
Most are more than willing to part with what they consider junk and don’t charge Mark.
He also works closely with Lambert, whose siblings went to FCHS with Mark. C.C. Moore Inc. is handling the demolition of the longtime Frankfort Lumber & Manufacturing Company property, and Mark recently took home the side of a building at the site that prominently features the business’s name in white block letters.
“That would look really, really nice put together somewhere near the road where people see it when they drive by,” Mark said.
What’s more, Mark, who began his career as a welder, has a number of friends around Frankfort like Lambert, Ronnie Clark and Dale Stevens who let him use their equipment or shops to work on various projects.
While he has his future home and shop in mind, Mark takes pride in making and salvaging furniture, buildings and other things for his daughters and a handful of friends, always free of charge.
At his friend Linda Goins’ Shady Lane home, Mark mentions several items he’s built for her, including an insulated dog house, complete with a small front porch, made partly from grain racks found on the side of the road in Lexington; a gardening shed; a coffee table made from saw horses and poplar; a leaf trap for her cellar; and a covered deck that once belonged to a mobile home near her swimming pool, which is also surrounded by a salvaged privacy fence.
Mark builds things for Linda in his spare time after she paid off some $2,200 in credit card debt for him. He bought four new tires for his Bobcat and took it to Tuscaloosa, Ala., last year after tornadoes ravaged the college town.
He couldn’t find much work since most homeowners were waiting to hear from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What work he could find covered his hotel bill, he said.
“She (Linda) needed things done here and wanted things done, so I just started doing ’em,” Mark said. “She paid it off a long time ago. We never talked about the bill, but she paid it off.
“It’s just like a silent agreement. I’m doing all this work, then we’ll be even at a certain point.”
Growing up on a farm, Mark quickly learned how to build and repair barn doors, flats for wagons and other things.
“If you had to pay to have all that stuff done, my dad didn’t make that kind of money farming, so you had to learn to do it yourself,” Mark said.
In 1972, his father bought Labrot & Graham Distillery, which wasn’t in operation, and Mark helped him fix water heaters and patch roofs on some of the rental homes on the 38-acre property that is now Woodford Reserve distillery.
“I learned how to do a lot of stuff being around my father,” Mark said.
Living in the country also put new ideas in Mark’s head. A home’s sagging floor gave him the idea for a steel framed house, and he thought up a four-wheeler, which hadn’t been produced at the time, on one of his cumbersome drives across the farm in a four-wheel drive truck.
Both ideas came to fruition from others, but Mark finally came through with the Ladder Doc, a ladder stabilizer that allows people to ascend roofs without the help of another.
“I put my ladder up on a house in Lexington to clean the gutters out, and the woman came out and she said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want your ladder against my gutter,’” Mark said. She had recently had new gutters installed for around $1,500.
Mark saw other ladder stabilizers that take 20 minutes or so to install, but he wanted to make something that could be handled with little time and effort.
His Ladder Doc, which costs $49.99, hooks onto a ladder rung and rests on the roof’s shingles or a vertical surface, keeping the ladder away from gutters. He made his first pair of Ladder Docs 12 years ago and has sold 300 out of 1,000 units and stores them in one of the buildings at his home.
He offers to buy back any Ladder Docs within six months if customers aren’t satisfied.
“I’ve had about four or five people call me, and I thought, ‘Where’s the bullet going to hit? I hope it doesn’t hit me in the guts,’” Mark said.
“And they said, ‘You know, I bought one from you, but I need one more,’ or, ‘I bought two and I need two more.’ Nobody has ever asked me to buy one back.”
Mark has taken the Ladder Doc to QVC tryouts in Chicago as well as trade shows in Orlando and Connecticut. Nine out of 10 who saw the product in Chicago said he’d be a shoo-in for QVC, but the television shopping channel picked a voice-command refrigerator opener instead.
He says he hopes to be on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a show where a panel of five successful entrepreneurs invest in a variety of products. They typically ask for a majority stake in the product for a six-figure investment, and Mark says he’ll gladly hand over control of the Ladder Doc to someone with a proven track record.
“I’d let them have that in a second because they’ve already made their multi-millions and they already know their business,” he said. “I’d rather let them have control because they want in it to make money.”
Mark also has an artistic side, such as the railroad spikes he has molded into metal figurines. One wields a small ax overhead and stands in front of small cuts of wood, and another sits on a small toilet.
When asked what he gets from his line of work, Mark looks at his hands and mentions the nail holes in his fingers.
“I like to do it,” he said. “I’m not making any money doing this now. I help Lambert get stuff because he’s like I am. Even though his company demolishes stuff, he hates to see good stuff get crushed up and put in a dumpster.
“… I like doing it, and I don’t like to see good stuff taken away like that.”