“Isn't there a better way to lube wire?”
It started out as one of those rhetorical, I'd-rather-be-anywhere-but-here questions that any employee will grumble when faced with a nasty task at work, but it inspired more than the typical “I wish” in response. Maybe it was because they were tired of washing congealed Yellow 77 out of their clothes at the end of the day. Or maybe it was because they'd slapped it on a few hundred thousand too many feet of wire in their careers as electricians. Whatever the reason, when Dennis Hartman and Tim Coder asked themselves that question six years ago, they decided to find out.
So when Coder could spare a minute, the self-professed “tinkerer” would hole up in the workshop on his farm in Effingham, Kan., where he'd cobbled together several homemade tools in the past, to hammer out a solution with Hartman's input. And three years later, once they were sure they had a self-contained wire-lubricating system that would work without the occasional kick or screw tightening, they put down the tools. “It took a long time,” Coder says. “And it actually had parts that I welded in my shop.”
The system they rolled out of Coder's shop that day wasn't much different from what's now known as the SoaperMonkey. A two-part, foot-actuated pump that Coder and Hartman invented pumps lube through a tube from a 5-gallon bucket to a collet that fits around the wire and screws into the conduit opening. The lube spreads evenly and without dripping because the user controls how much is applied. And most importantly, it's a hands-free device, meaning the days of sticky palms are over.
Despite having a product that saved time, reduced mess, and increased safety, though, it took the duo nearly three years to bring it to market. They tried to get a small business loan from the bank. (Not willing to take the risk.) They shopped it around to major manufacturers. (Wanted it for less than it was worth.) And when they'd exhausted their options Hartman mentioned his brother-in-law had made a small fortune in the software business and might be interested in investing the necessary capital.
Even though Jim Davis had no prior knowledge of electrical work, it wasn't long after Hartman brought it to his attention that he invested and created WLD, LLC to produce it. And just a few months later he was demo-ing it at trade shows to get contractor input. Their comments confirmed what he already thought: “Why didn't someone think of this 30 years ago?”
The electricians at Longchamps Electric, a Manchester, N.H.-based electrical contractor, were some of the first to try it out in the field for an extended time. Greg Bairam, a project manager for the company, says that although his team was skeptical at first, it didn't take them long to appreciate its no-mess application. “They like to think they're big rugged guys, but when you try to get them to get lube on their hands, it's no good,” he says.
Luckily for Bairam, he doesn't have to get excited about things like that. Instead, he talks about the ways in which it makes it easier for him to bring projects in on budget, like the fact that he saves time and money with every wire pull. “It can take as much as 15 minutes to clean up after each pull,” he says. “If you're doing a large building with multiple pulls, you could be looking at more than an hour in clean-up time.”
And what about that name? That's a house secret at WLD, but Davis is willing to say it's better than the others they considered. “We'd already kicked around that name when we had an advertising company think of some, and they came up with ‘Goober Luber’ and ‘the Lubinator,’” he says. “At that point, I knew it was going to be ‘SoaperMonkey.’”
For more info, visit www.soapermonkey.com.
- 12 sizes of aluminum collets (0.5-in. to 6-in.) for threaded conduits
- Eight bell fitting sizes (1.5-in. to 6-in.) for threadless conduit
- 5-gallon pump that works with all brands of lubricant
- 12VDC battery with 110V charger and 12VDC charger
- Air-tight carrying case to keep collets lubricated when not in use
- Additional c-, t-, and lb-joints*
- 110V power supply for running on AC*
- Heavy-duty dolly that holds 5-gallon lube bucket, pump, and battery*
- Carrying tray for 1-gallon pump and battery*