WARRENS, Wis. – “I was born into the cranberry operation,” says Nick Gebhardt, a Warrens cranberry farmer.
He’s the fourth generation on his farm, which has 3,500 acres of land; 280 acres are dedicated to cranberries. Gebhardt is part-owner with his brother; their father is semi-retired from the operation. All the farm’s cranberries go for Ocean Spray Craisins and processed juice.
The industry has seen a significant boost in sales as the result of a viral video showing a man using his skateboard to travel to work while drinking a Cran-Raspberry product, Gebhardt said.
“It’s been seen by millions and our inventory of the Cran-Raspberry juice is depleted as a result,” he said.
But Gebhardt doesn’t just produce cranberry juice. He began scuba diving some 15 years ago; that led to a side business. Through diving he met Keith Cormican, founder and director of the non-profit Bruce’s Legacy Search and Recovery out of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Cormican convinced Gebhardt to join the Jackson County Dive Unit dive unit as well as the first-response dive unit.
Bruce’s Legacy is a volunteer organization providing emergency assistance, education and public-safety awareness. Volunteers perform search and recovery operations for drowned victims to provide resolution for families. Specialized side-scan sonar units are an essential part of the recovery process. They help search for victims, vehicles, evidence and anything else that needs to be found underwater. In addition to helping with the dive team Gebhardt helps Cormican by manufacturing parts and specialty equipment. He also assists with repairs.
Gebhardt’s manufacturing skills were gained on the cranberry marsh.
“We have a background manufacturing our own equipment on the marsh,” he said. “My dad owned a machine shop in the early (1990s) building specialty equipment for the cranberry industry. I picked up my skills there.”
In April 2020 the younger Gebhardt launched a company – Search and Recovery Engineering LLC. It includes an online store offering equipment to emergency-rescue workers and the general public.
“What a time to start a business,” he said. “(But) we’ve done well and love working with our customers. It’s a unique venture. It’s not stuff you can pick up just anywhere.”
In addition to search and recovery gear the store offers ice-fishing gear, thermal cameras, boat anchors, searchlights, life vests and water-sport harnesses. Gebhardt’s also working on patents for a few products of his own design.
Since launching the website Gebhardt and his girlfriend, Tiffany Leis, and their children, Libby and Maddax, have branched out into rock-climbing gear. Gebhardt said he hopes to open a retail location later this year.
Gebhardt’s experience as a cranberry grower has led to another separate online venture, Full Pull Ropes.
“We’ve used synthetic ropes – originally designed for the marine industry – on the marsh for towing projects involving heavy machinery,” he said. “Samson Rope Technologies is the manufacturer. A three-eighths-inch-diameter rope is strong enough to lift a submerged vehicle.”
Full Pull Ropes also sells other types of heavy recovery gear. Gebhardt said he thought Full Pull Ropes needed its own website – geared toward agriculture, heavy machinery, construction and mining.