My brother, Jim Wilhoit, who has a small farm and manages a fishery in western Pike County, Missouri, got a lesson recently in the power of the Internet.
Almost 20 years ago, in search of way to generate some off-season income, he created a specialty product, a wood-burning stock tank heater. He put one to use in his own pasture and neighbors saw and liked it. Soon he was building them for customers across the Midwest.
He built and sold them for a few years until landing a full-time winter job. He hadn’t thought about the project for a decade or more-- until December of 2014.
“I got a call from a friend of mine who said he was looking for an inexpensive way to heat a stock tank and googled ‘wood-burning stock tank heater.’ That popped up the website for Farm Show magazine, which ran a short article on my business back in 1996,” Jim told me. “He couldn’t believe it when he opened the link and found my name.”
Jim couldn’t believe it either. He called me, stunned. “I’m on the Internet,” he said. “I’ve been on the Internet for years and didn’t know it.”
The phone number on the article was out of date, so Jim called Farm Show and asked if they would change the number in the article to his current number. And the phone began to ring.
“I’ve had half a dozen calls and have a solid order for two tank heaters from a farmer near Des Moines,” he said. “It looks like I’m back in the business of building tank heaters.”
“The advantage of a wood-burning heater is that it will keep 600 gallons of water open and warm for less than $1 a day,” he said. “Most farmers have ready access to firewood, so fuel is often free. With the price of propane going to $5 a gallon last year, people were spending up to $10 a day to heat a tank with propane.”
He said building the heaters goes well with his current winter enterprise, selling firewood and bags of hickory chips for smokers.
“I can deliver a heater and the wood to go with it,” he says. “Back in the 90s, I sold heaters in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. I even took one to Minnesota and couple to Colorado.”
Jim builds both a square and round model tank heater. Both models stand 3 1/2-ft. high and have a 3 1/2-ft. long exhaust stack on top, along with a hinged steel lid and a draft control on the side. The round models are 18 inches in diameter and made from 3/8-in. thick steel while the square models are made from slightly thinner material. He sells them for $300 each.
A full load of wood will burn for 18 to 24 hours without refilling. Jim can be reached by phone at 573-324-4373.