OKEECHOBEE -How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
And how do you move a 20-foot wide banyan tree with a 150-foot spread from West Palm Beach to Jupiter Island? Well, that's a little more complicated.
But it wasn't too complicated for Al Boshell and Scott Durand, owners of Tree Locators in Okeechobee. The pair are best friends from the east coast of Florida who run a nursery, offer landscaping services and, of course, relocate trees.
It started when Boshell was living in Indiantown between jobs. He'd grown up in the nursery business, had a degree in criminal justice, and worked for the Department of Natural Resources for several years.
While Boshell was trying to figure out his next step, "this guy drove onto my property one day and said, 'Hey, do you want to sell those trees?'" he recalled.
The man was indicating 10 sabal palms near the road. Boshell dug up the trees and sold them for $85 apiece. "I thought, there's money in this!" Boshell said.
Boshell began to make a business of buying sabal palms from ranchers and selling them to customers and developers. The business snowballed, and pretty soon Boshell couldn't keep up. It took a little persuading, but he finally talked his friend Durand into investing in a truck and trailer to haul the trees around the state.
Durand had been managing a pepper farm in Jupiter, but the job wasn't working out, so he went back to work for his old boss in the hay business.
Boshell tracked him down baling hay one day. He told Durand he had some sabal palms he needed to move to Tampa and asked if Durand would transport them in his truck.
Durand agreed to do it over the weekend. "I took 10 trees to Tampa. I thought, man that was pretty easy money," Durand recalled.
Before long, he was all-in in the tree transportation business with five vehicles under the name Diamond D Transport. He did that for four years before Boshell asked him to buy a John Deere loader and join his business. Durand was a perfect fit because he had a lot of contacts from his transportation business as well as his experience with the hay industry. Plus, the two had synergy.
"It just worked," Durand said.
That was in 2001. Now the friends do over $1 million in business a year on 40 acres, relocating trees, selling plant and landscaping material and designing and installing landscapes. Many of their beautiful layouts use only low-maintenance, Florida-friendly vegetation. They are one of the top three distributors of natural stone in Florida. Durand came up with the company's tag line: "Don't destroy nature when you can recreate it!"
But back to the banyan.
There were actually four huge, mature banyan trees, all scheduled for the grinder to accommodate the widening of Southern Boulevard in Palm Beach County.
Boshell had been called down about relocating 1,600 sabal palms for the same project, but when he saw the banyans, he asked if he could have those, too.
"We gave them $1,000 a tree not to destroy them," Durand recalled. But although it sounds like the team had confidence they could move the monstrous trees, Durand shook his head and laughed. He personally didn't think it could be done.
Two days later, by pure chance, Boshell had a wealthy buyer for the trees, and the game was on.
The tree relocators stripped the leaves off the trees to keep them from losing moisture and root pruned them, leaving the air roots dangling down from the branches "as life support for the tree," Boshell said. Then, they cut the trees into chunks, like pieces of a puzzle and loaded them up on semis.
It took eight state trooper escorts and a shutdown of I-95 at midnight to get the tree parts moved to Jupiter Island. "It looked like a manhunt chase," laughed Boshell.
Once at the new location, the pieces of the trees had to be meticulously lined up using a crane pulled with a loader. It was tedious work, but in the end, all four trees survived.
These days, Boshell's joy in his work still comes with being the problem-solver. Durand, who learned landscaping from Boshell, has developed a passion for that aspect of the business. "When we leave and (the customer's) jaw is still on the ground-- the satisfaction of that is better than money," said Durand.
The business partners are also excited about a new endeavor-- a fresh produce stand that will open at the end of October.
Tree Locators also donates plant material to local groups and recently put in some trees and boulders at no cost to beautify a fire station. They are also recognized by the Farm Bureau CARES program for voluntarily implementing best management practices which promote environmentally sound and economically viable farming, according to the CARES web site.