When shoppers flock to the new Cabelas Inc. store in Post Falls this fall, one of the more notable amenities theyll see will be a 28-foot-high indoor mountain, complete with a waterfall, a stream, and plenty of outcroppings for displays of wildlife mounts.
What most shoppers wont realize is that the elaborate display was built by a small Rathdrum, Idaho, company that is making a name for itself by creating grand illusions for clients across the country.
The company, Lakeland Company Inc., has, in little more than a decade, evolved from incorporating artificial stone in some of the signs it built to constructing massive faux rock formations, realistic-looking forests, depictions of ancient ruins, and models of animal environments.
Were limited only to the clients imagination, says David Long, the companys president and founder.
The mountain replica Lakeland is building inside the 125,000-square-foot Cabelas store is being formed from molded panels of fiberglass-reinforced concrete, with some formations carved with chainsaws from blocks of plastic foam.
Lakeland also is making molded log-like panels that will wrap around 40-foot-tall concrete structural pillars in the store, making them look like 36-inch natural timbers complete with knots.
The Rathdrum company didnt get the Cabelas job just because the store site is in its backyard. It already has done similar jobs for Cabelas stores in St. Louis and Boise, the latter of which opened this year.
Just as in nature, no two of Lakelands mountains are the same.
Parts of the mountains surface at the Cabelas facility here will have a geological appearance thats familiar to local residents because those areas of the faux structure were created from molds made from rock formations in the Inland Northwest, says Lakeland project foreman Jon Wikum.
Long says Lakeland currently has eight or nine jobs under way or in the final design stages, and seven more in the pipeline, ranging in value from $30,000 to more than $5 million.
The company recently completed a big project that was part of a $10 million expansion at the Oklahoma City Zoo. There, Lakeland created replicas of 14 wildlife environments and concealed a 300-foot-long, 25-foot-high building with artificial rock and a waterfall.
The company does far more than make imitation rocks and mountains. For instance, it recently created a 12-foot-tall 3-D replica of a Hemi engine for DaimlerChrysler, which plans to use it in a trade show.
Long, a journeyman sign painter from Auburn, Calif., and his wife, Theresa, rolled into Rathdrum in 1991, with $800 and an old truck, looking for a fresh start. Long, a former bronc rider, stopped at a barn sale there, found out the place was for sale, and managed to make a deal for his newfound home.
Around then, his skills in hand lettering in the custom-sign business were becoming obsolete.
Computers came along and took all the art out of the business, he says. And the lack of good-paying jobs was frustrating.
He was down to $100 and an unemployment check when he launched his own business, Lakeland Sign & Display Co. Seeing the writingor lack of iton the wall, he changed his focus to creating boulders out of concrete and lightweight materials for landscaping, monuments, and commercial displays. Interest in the product grew as he employed different molds, textures, and color applications to his creations, to make them more realistic looking.
Initial jobs brought in $200 to $300, but even then, Long had a plan to go big, he says.
It took just as much work to sell small jobs as it took to sell larger ones, he says. I went from a $500 job to a $100,000 job at Eagle Ridge.
At the Eagle Ridge residential subdivision, in southwest Spokane, he built an artificial rock entry and waterfalls in conjunction with the developments large pond.
He followed that with monuments and image designs for residential developments here and in Coeur dAlene for Liberty Lake-based Greenstone Corp.
That evolved into people wanting something more outrageous, Long says.
By 1995, the business, renamed Lakeland Company, was rolling along.
Some of Lakelands more recent artificial landscape projects incorporate water, light, and fog, which combine to give them a live volcanic feel.
Lakeland currently is working on a residential swimming pool near Lake Pend Oreilles Bottle Bay that will have 37-foot-tall artificial rock formations and waterfalls.
Long has taken on ever bigger challenges for projects at private residences, museums, casinos, and trade shows.
My goal was for the company to go national, and my personal goal was to accomplish anything clients requested, he says. Now, its gotten bigger than me.
Long says hes put together a team of artists, designers, and construction workers, who combine their expertise to develop project concepts.
A group of us, including clients, are going to come up with far more creative applications than any one of us, he says.
Lakeland has a core of 20 employees and draws on outside labor near job sites. On large-scale projects, it might have up to 50 people on the job.
The company has annual revenue of $2.5 million to $5 million, he says, adding that his plan is to double that within two to three years.
The company is based in a modest, 2,400-square-foot office building at 7234 W. Boekel, on the east side of Rathdrum. Two warehouses occupy about 9,000 square feet of space behind that, in a yard full of construction materials and artificial stumps and logs.
One warehouse holds the companys giant, four-axis 3-D routing machine, which it uses to re-create artists creations in larger scale. The other contains concrete, fiberglass, and foam equipment for filling molds.
Many of Lakeland Companys creations start out as scale models.
For instance, a 6-foot-tall bust of King Tut that will become a prototype for a proposal for the Luxor hotel and casino in Las Vegas, was first hand sculpted by Lakeland artists as a 6-inch model. The model was then scanned with a three-dimensional laser scanner about the size of a large oven.
Then, the robotically controlled router cut the large replica from a foam block, creating the exact shape of the smaller model.
Like the bust, many products are fabricated to precise specifications at Lakelands Rathdrum facility, then assembled at a customers location.
The big 3-D router can cut wood, metal, and plastic materials and also shape materials so molds can be made from them.
We can enlarge the model to any scale and panel it out in 4-foot-by-8-foot panels, so if you want something 100 feet tall, we can do it, he says.
Technology helps make it big. But artistry makes it appear real, Long says.
We thought about getting a rock pit and using real rock, but that could be easily duplicated by others, he says.
Long says artificial features have advantages over the real thing. A big display made with real rock tends to look more like just a pile of rocks, than a solid feature, he says.
You can only move a rock thats so big, he says. If you want a rock cliff 20 feet tall, we can replicate it with glass-fiber-reinforced concrete panels.
Long says he sees Lakeland growing its niche in creating grand illusions for casinos and museums, which are spreading the companys reputation through word-of-mouth and the Internet.
The number of museums and casinos is like a small family, and they all talk, he says. What we do is a combination of art and heavy construction. The demand is there, but few companies are qualified to do it.
Contact Mike McLean at (509) 344-1266 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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