DARLINGTON — Alan Hubbard’s latest invention is certainly hard to miss; the vivid red wagon parked at the junction of Cashua Street and Society Hill Road catches the eye, and the white lettering snags the attention.
Does it read “Convenience?” No, no… it actually says “Corn-venience.”
And the pun, while corny, is an apt descriptor of the wagon’s function: it dispenses deer corn through a vending machine interface, making it more convenient than ever for hunters to purchase this necessary commodity before they head off to the woods.
“Everybody who hunts deer uses a lot of corn, and if they’re chasing around with a bunch of hog traps, they use even more corn,” said Hubbard, creator of the Corn-venience dispenser.
The initial impulse for this creation was frugality; as a frequent hunter, Hubbard was looking to save money on his own shell corn purchases by buying in bulk, but that required a wagon.
“Once I bought a wagon, that’s when it hit me that I could sell the corn and pay for my portion,” he said.
Selling shell corn by the bag sounded like a lot of trouble, so Hubbard set his mind to crafting a solution. A natural mechanical whiz, Hubbard converted his corn wagon to a rolling vending machine and secured permission from Scott Dubose to park it at the Corner Connection store — a locus for Darlington hunting traffic.
The Corn-venience dispenses a true bushel — 56 pounds — of clean shell corn, with a minimal amount of dust or debris so you’re only paying for usable kernels. Users can pay with cash in $1, $5, $10, or $20 denominations, with a minimum purchase of $7, which is the cost of one full bushel. Hubbard notes that price is subject to change with corn market fluctuations.
The machine does not make change, so it will dispense as much corn as you pay for. Customers can bring their own bags or purchase a sturdy lined poly bag inside the Corner Connection. Zip ties are also available in the store.
So far, the machine works like a charm. Little surprise, since Hubbard’s love of tinkering dates back to childhood. He admits to dismantling the contents of his toy chest in an attempt to reverse-engineer the mystery of every mechanical plaything.
“I broke almost every toy I had. I’d take it apart and then could not get it back together… I just had to know how it worked,” he said, attributing his current ability to those early trial-and-error experiments.
Parents Reggie and Carolyn Hubbard were patient with their tinkering son, and Dad even allowed him to use his shop tools as his curiosity grew, and his projects expanded from toy teardowns to treehouse architecture to electronic hacking — like wiring together a clutch of small batteries to power a clubhouse CB radio.
Though little Alan was fond of souping up go-kart engines to make them crack 50 mph, he never developed a love for big engine work, thus sparing himself a slew of teenage speeding tickets.
Hubbard graduated in the final class of St. John’s High School and earned a forestry degree from Clemson University. He says his inventions have allowed him to combine his passion for creating machines with his lifelong love of the outdoors.
“I just want to be outside. I’ve always loved the woods. I grew up right here in Darlington, in Oakdale near the country club, so we hunted and fished a lot along the Black Creek and that area,” he said. “All these things I’ve been piddling with, I’m combining multiple loves, the things I enjoy doing. I like to hunt and fish, and I like to tinker.”
Another hunting-related invention solved the problem of waiting around forever to catch a wild hog in a trap. Years ago while living in North Carolina, Hubbard set up a remotely triggered feeder system to release corn into the trap whenever he called a cellphone relay. He could also arm the hog trap remotely, and he rigged a trigger alarm so when his trap was sprung, he’d get a call on his mobile.
“I could set the trap on Wednesday, come home by Friday, and come Saturday I’ve got ’em,” he said.
From that perspective, the Corn-venience seems like a natural evolution of innovation for this outdoorsy Edison. Hubbard says he’s mostly happy with the machine’s performance thus far, though he plans some heavy-duty security enhancements to dissuade would-be thieves.
The sizable wagon also makes for an excellent mobile billboard, and Hubbard is negotiating with advertisers interested in reaching the local hunting and fishing market.
“The side facing Cashua is about 24 by 10 (feet), so on that side there are about eight 10-by-30 inch spaces — that’s pretty good sized. You can see that driving by,” said Hubbard.
Giant red wagon parked on the corner of two busy streets? No, visibility is not an issue. But it’s a safe bet that deer and hogs never saw the Corn-venience coming.
Samantha Lyles is a staff writer for the News and Press of Darlington.