JONESPORT, Maine — A man who claims to be the country’s only blueberry rake maker can be found on a rural road in Maine, on the way to the ocean, in a tar shingle-covered shop, with an outhouse out back and a modest, faded sign on the front: Hubbard’s Rakes.
On a sunny afternoon in the midst of the blueberry harvest, a half-dozen migrant workers patiently wait in the shade of a nearby tree for Harold “Ike” Hubbard to fix the teeth or the handles or the bins on their rakes.
Inside the shop, rakes of all sizes are fabricated: huge ones for cultivating gardens (purchased and endorsed by Martha Stewart and Johnny’s Selected Seeds) and long-handled rakes for cleaning horse stalls, tiny ones for decoration, and mid-sized rakes for harvesting blueberries, cranberries, herbs, and even for sifting sea glass from beach sand.
“Last year I came up with a three-tine, hand-held cultivator. I showed them down at Johnny’s Seeds and now I have orders for 800,” Hubbard said.
At 66, Hubbard is nowhere near considering retirement.
“Truthfully, I had no idea where this was going when I started it,” he said.
Although his rakes are being used in many other harvests, the blueberry rakes are the heart and soul of his business.
“I’m the only blueberry rake manufacturer in the country,” Hubbard said recently. “And at this time of year, with the blueberry harvest under way, it hasn’t stopped for a minute.”
Hubbard creates aluminum blueberry rakes from a small hikers’ version, weighing just 14 ounces, to the 110-tooth, 10 pound rake that the professional harvesters use. They range in price from $26 to $180.
Coming to the shop door, a Mexican raker handed Hubbard a rake that was modified with aluminum chair legs bolted to the basket and bent to fit the raker’s hands.
“These guys take these 600 percent past where they are meant to go,” Hubbard said, shaking his head. He welded a patch on the back of the basket and passed it out the door.
Three more rakes were handed back in.
“These guys show up with one rake, and while you’re fixing that one, they pull four more out of the trunk,” Hubbard said.
The shop is a mess — a place of work and fabrication. “My wife cleaned this place up one time about eight years ago,” Hubbard joked, “and I’m still looking for stuff.”
The scream of a milling machine and the smell of oil and hot metal fill the air. Hubbard uses a grinding wheel and the sparks fly. He hammers new teeth into a rake and again passes it out the door.
For the four rakes he repaired, the harvesters hand him $25. His going rate for tooth replacement is $5 a tooth.
“I even got paid in a burrito once. I’ll not take advantage of these guys,” Hubbard said. “They have to make a living. There. It took me just five minutes and they’re back to the fields.”
Hubbard said he respects the hard work of the harvesters, and therefore everything stops when a broken rake is brought to the door. He speaks no Spanish, but somehow the transactions are made.
“I’ve never had anyone in here that I haven’t been able to communicate with,” he said.
The rakes come in right from the fields, with bits of blueberry leaves hanging off them and handles heavily taped for traction.
The day was sunny and good for raking, so the migrants head back to work quickly after the repairs are complete.
Hubbard points to a display of antique rakes on the wall. “The rakes all used to be made of tin, a soft metal,” he explained. “At the time, they were adequate, but not today. Not with the heavier harvests.”
Each worker owns his own rake, and Hubbard often puts their names in Morse code on the back of the bin section and then teaches them how to read it.
Hubbard’s rakes are sold across the country — “They use them for blackberries in Alaska” — and he is still coming up with new uses and products. “Everything is going just great. There is no end to what we can do,” he said.
The bustling shop is run by Hubbard with a few subcontractors. Richard Kelly, 76, was busy milling rake sections. “Ike asked me if I had some time to come over and lend a hand,” Kelly joked. “That was six weeks ago.”
Kelly said that Hubbard “can make anything. Ike’s quite clever. Turn him loose in a junkyard, and he’ll be happy as can be, making things.”
Hubbard has adapted much of his machinery to create the rakes and has also milled his own templates. “Never design anything you can’t fix,” he advised.
After a lifetime of engineering, sales and management jobs, Hubbard bought his uncle’s machine and metal shop in Jonesport in 1988. His uncle’s license plates, dating back to 1915, still hang on the shop wall.
In the spring of 1990, after several prototypes, Hubbard started the Hubbard Rake Co. and was asked by local growers to devise a blueberry rake that wouldn’t break. He also participated in a hands-on study with migrant workers to develop a rake that they felt was comfortable to handle and would hold up to heavy harvesting.
Hubbard said his company’s success was planned.
“I made it happen,” he said. “I took this from a blueberry rake, to a rake for huckleberries, or chamomile, or whatever you need to harvest. I’ve never once thought of retirement.”