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Jacqui Krizo/For the Capital Press
Gopher killer takes the war underground

Farmer takes on rodent pests with automated invention

By JACQUI KRIZO For the Capital Press

TULELAKE, Calif. — Allen Hurlburt was recovering from a heart attack and had been diagnosed with cancer when he found a new mission in life — annihilating gophers.


Hurlburt was in just the right place and had just the right skills to do it. He had grown hay, potatoes, grain and hogs, so he knew that a gopher infestation could break a farmer’s bank account and his mind. And Hurlburt’s other jobs — in journalism, timber and manufacturing — gave him experience necessary to turn an idea into an invention that would fight a scourge of ranchers and farmers.

Soon enough, the Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Controller, or PERC, was born.

To bring the PERC to gopher- plagued farmers, Hurlburt set up his business, H&M Gopher Control, in 1,000-squarefoot barracks at the WWII-era Japanese internment camp near Newell. By fall 2005 he had built prototypes that he tested on 25,000 acres. By 2007 he and an employee were turning out machines full time while Hurlburt’s wife, Virginia Massey, took care of the office work, advertising and sales.

A local company fabricates the base of the PERC. Then Hurlburt and his crew do all the welding and assembly, four to five weeks for each machine. They have sold 169 PERCs to farmers and ranchers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Allen Hurlburt stands in the shop where the PERC is assembled. It takes H&M Gopher Control up to five weeks to build the rodent-killing machine.
H&M Gopher Control,
Manufacturing and Sales
Allen Hurlburt and Virginia
What makes the PERC so lethal for rodents is its 13-horsepower gasoline engine, 22-cubic-foot-perminute compressor and 30-gallon pressure tank. Each unit has four reels with 50-foot hoses, attached to valved hand probes. One wand can fill a 600-foot burrow with pressurized carbon monoxide in two minutes, killing the gopher. Four probes in one burrow will kill the gopher in 30 seconds. There is normally only one gopher per burrow.

“This machine is an elegant solution and efficient,” Hurlburt said. “It kills the gopher quickly and humanely. And there is no poison bait, and no explosions.”

PERC is automated for use in the field — the operator simply probes and turns it on. When the tank reaches full pressure, the sensor valve idles the clutch and turns off the pressurized gas. A single operator using the PERC system can treat 3.5 acres of moderately infested alfalfa fields in an hour.

Doug Van Surksum, of DVS Farms in Bakersfield, farms 900 acres of alfalfa for a 3,000-acre dairy, and he uses his PERC six days a week all year. He said traps aren’t effective and require constant checks.

“I like (the PERC) because it takes out the little gophers, too,” Van Surksum said. “It is the safest and most effective way to control gophers. With traps and poison, I couldn’t keep ahead of them.”

Van Surksum previously used an oxygen and propane method, which blew up the gopher hole. He said the explosion destroyed crops and was dangerous, but he did admit it was fun.

Hurlburt is now a cancer survivor, and his heart is beating fine. He is often seen either in his shop or on a little four-wheeler, with a big smile and a hint of glee as he pulls a machine with coils and red hoses down the road to his next field of gophers.



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