- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Two men in red T-shirts that say “Keep calm and garden on” are standing in Ron Coble’s garage and staring in wonder.

“Yeah, that’s a cool looking thing,” says Stuart Leaton, general manager at Gray’s Garden Center. “You don’t see that everywhere.”

Or anywhere.

There are plenty of birdhouses in this world - but these are more like bird condominiums.

Leaton and Colter Lodestein-Riel, a hard-goods buyer for Gray’s, are here at Coble’s home, on the eastern fringe of the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, to inquire about selling Coble’s unique creations in their Eugene store.

“This is beyond hard goods,” Lodestein-Riel says.

Coble, 70, has been building his elaborate bird homes for years, mostly giving them as gifts to family and friends.

“He should have them all in my yard and stop giving them away, that’s what I think,” his wife, Connie Coble, says jokingly.

Ron Coble has been building things all of his life. A long-retired general contractor, Coble did so well in that business in Phoenix, Arizona, years ago, that he says he was able to retire at (not a typo) 27.

Back then, he says, he had a crew of 300 working for him, building homes by the score.

So something as simple as a birdhouse isn’t much of a challenge, Coble says. It’s just fun.

“I just get the enjoyment of doing it,” says Coble, whose looks and gravelly voice are reminiscent of singer and actor Kris Kristofferson.

“If I’m not doing that, I volunteer down at the church (New Hope International) or the Eugene Mission.

“I don’t really know of something I can’t build,” he adds. “I’m just blessed that way.”

Coble says he built his first birdhouse in Phoenix about 35 years ago. He had just finished building a home for a friend.

The house had a swimming pool and beautiful redwood decks. Coble was inspired to build a birdhouse to accompany the rich grains of that deck.

He and Connie, high school sweethearts who married at 18, moved to Oregon in 1982. They bought 90 acres near Fisher Road and Royal Avenue, where for years they raised cattle.

They sold most of the property about a decade ago, except for a couple of acres on the far west end. There, Coble built a home of stone and corrugated metal.

With time on his hands, he built another birdhouse, and then another and another and a few more after that.

Two of them greet you on either side of the gravel driveway that ends after a lengthy trip from the end of Royal Avenue.

Birdhouse pieces are strewn all over a table in his garage that is large enough to fit his 43-foot-long recreational vehicle.

“Once you get all the parts cut, you’ve just got to put them all together,” Coble says.

He says he has no blueprint for these birdhouses. And he has never been particularly drawn to birds, although he marvels at the number of swallows that can fit on one of his birdhouses. As many as 100, he says.

Coble and Connie do not place any bird feed on the houses. The swallows are attracted to the insects that live on and around the wood, he says.

“They eat their weight every day in insects,” Coble says of the swallows.

Coble estimates that he spends 70 hours to 100 hours creating each birdhouse, and he has sold a few of them, for $1,000 or more apiece.

They are often as tall as 11 feet, including the post they sit on, or about 9 feet after you sink the post into the ground. He builds them out of cedar and highlights them with stained glass or black-polished rock.

“Every one’s a little different; this one’s got round roofs,” Coble says of the most recent birdhouse under construction on his table.

The Cobles have two sons, Craig, 51, and Todd, 50, both of San Diego; and 14 grandchildren.

One of those grandchildren, Savanah Coble, met Lodestein-Riel while planning an event at Gray’s Garden Center. She told him about her grandfather’s birdhouses - which is why Lodestein-Riel and Leaton are standing in his garage.

You can find Coble’s latest creation at Gray’s Garden Center on West Sixth Avenue, retailing for $1,500.

“It’s an eye-catcher,” Leaton says

___

Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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