Problem-solver turns inventor

Jill Meier, Journal editor

Doug Metcalf invented the Pit Finish Rake and is marketing it to collegiate track and field programs through his company, Jumpit, LLC.

Former “Voice of the Lynx” Doug Metcalf is working to patent the Pit Finish Rake.

Metcalf brings Pit Finish Rake from idea to product  


Doug Metcalf has long considered himself a “problem solver.”
And while working a collegiate track and field meet at South Dakota State almost a year ago, Metcalf dreamed of a device that would ensure a raked-to-perfection surface for every long- and triple-jumper.
Metcalf made that dream come to fruition over the past year with his invention of the Pit Finish Rake and the creation of his company, Jumpit, LLC.
“I’ve followed track all my life. I ran track. My kids were in track and whenever I watched the long jumps or the triple jumps, I would look at the pits and say, ‘That’s not fair to the jumpers.’ It looked like a cattle yard in the spring; there’s got to be a better way,” Metcalf recalls.
A homebuilder by trade, Metcalf reasoned that sand in the pits could be leveled off through a similar process he’d used for decades pouring concrete basement floors and driveways.
So, how did the 75-year-old homebuilder from Brookings come up with an idea that nobody else had?
Simply through trial and error, asking questions and sheer persistence.
“My first prototype of the device to where I am today has been a learning curve,” Metcalf admits. “Luckily, I had an engineer that didn’t just do what I told him to do.”
The former Brandon resident and “Voice of the Lynx” turned to Industrial Machine & Engineering in Brookings for their expertise.
“He has been a life-saver for me,” Metcalf said. “He gave me a lot of free advice and the only times he charged is when he had design time on his CAD or machine time out on the shop. The advice was always free.”
A thankful Metcalf offered the engineer 10 percent of the company.
Nothing like it
Through his patent research, Metcalf found a similar mechanical device had once existed. The device, patented in Norway, was used in the 1986 Olympics, but the manufacturer has since ceased operation. 
“Everybody that I’ve talked to refers to that,” Metcalf said, noting they found it to be too bulky and too expensive.
Metcalf’s design, however, rectified both issues.
“When I started out, the three things I wanted were to be safe, easy for the operator to use and I wanted it to provide a consistent landing surface for every jumper on every jump, because under the existing system, the only one that gets the perfect pit is the first jumper. From then on, you’re at the mercy of the gods. That was my three criteria,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf steered away from mechanical, which would eliminate the rake from having to be powered by either gas or electricity.
“That’s dangerous,” he said. “Instead, I was thinking of making a trek system with a screen board on skids that’s pulled across (the sand).”
There were issues with the first design, and Metcalf soon realized that not every jump pit is the same size or contains the same amount of sand.
“At (University of Nebraska) Lincoln, they fill it up to the level. In Brookings (South Dakota State), we might be anywhere from three-quarters to an inch down, depending on the day. So, I had to have something to have that capacity that would work with any size and that would go vertical and still have the integrity not to warp this way or this way,” he said.
In his efforts to perfect the Pit Finish Rake, Metcalf said the design had some “hiccups”. His first design featured aluminum teeth fastened to a two-by-four piece of wood and then adhered to the head of a three-foot wide rake. 
“When I got done with that, it looked like a tooth rake on meth,” Metcalf said. 
Missing teeth, spacing, depth and width were all considered in tweaking the rake’s design. 
“I had to go online to ask the question, ‘What is the best geometric design going through sand?’ It took me to areas where I didn’t have any background, but I had to find out,” Metcalf said.
His next design mimicked rows of a corn field when pulled through the sand.
“The jumpers loved it because when they stood back, it was like looking down a runway,” Metcalf said.
NCAA and USATF rules, however, require the sand to be level with the takeoff board.
“With those grooves, I had high and low marks,” he said.
He next outfitted the rake with aluminum teeth and a hinged full-width brush with two-inch bristles.
“It was just basically scraping itself; there was no down pressure,” he said.
He returned to the work bench once again, tweaking the device to make the brush more rigid.
And that worked.
But if two-inch bristles worked, Metcalf calculated three-inch bristles would work even better.
Through trial and error, he reverted to the two-inch bristles.
Now, it was time to market the Pit Finish Rake to the colleges and track equipment companies.
His first trial was at nearby South Dakota State, where the jump coach David St. Johnson gave him full access to the pits. 
“They gave me the opportunity to work in their facility without anything but a dream,” Metcalf said, remember Coach St. John was skeptical at first, “but now is probably the best salesman I have for the product.”
His next contact was with one of the largest manufacturers of sports equipment, Gill. In his contact, Metcalf wanted to know the “depth of market” and if there was a need.
“They wrote back and were defensive,” Metcalf said. “They didn’t want anything to do with it.”
But Metcalf didn’t quit there. He ventured to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a Nov. 30 intra-squad meet, and before leaving, the head official of meet said he informed Coach Pepin they wanted the rake at every meet from now one.
“I thought we had made it,” Metcalf said.
Testing it out at Nebraska, Metcalf learned a few more tweaks needed to be made. 
“We had problems the second day (with lowering and hiring the wheels). They were pushing too much sand,” he said, basically due to a misunderstanding of the wheel gauge.
“So now it says ‘raise bar’ or ‘lower bar,” he said.
“The other one was, people thought Nebraska made it for Nebraska,” he said. “I could not figure out why nobody else was coming up to me and on Saturday I had the time to go around and talk with some coaches, and the first one I went to was Minnesota.”
The Minnesota coach described the rake as “the greatest thing in the world,” but didn’t realize the rake was available to all.
Since his first contact with Gill, they have expressed an interest in the Pit Finish Rake.
“They went all the way from mechanical, too expensive, school’s can’t afford it to it looks interesting, keep us posted … to we’re not interested in putting it in our catalog this year to well, our team met and we want to sit down and talk to you on how we can work together,” he said. 
Metcalf’s goal is to get at least one Pit Finish Rake in every major conference.
“Whether it’s the Big 10, the ACC, the PAC-10, if I can get it into one school of each conference, I know every school in the country is going to look at it,” he said. 
Metcalf will bring the rake to a large-scale meet in Nebraska Feb. 1-2.
“That’s going to be my best market,” he said.
Each PFR is priced at $3,800 or Metcalf will sell two for $5,600.
“It’s durable enough, it’s strong enough that they’re going to be long-lasting. The only thing that’s going to wear out are the wheels and the brush,” he said.
Patent process
Before tweaks were made to the rake, Metcalf applied for the U.S. patent.
“As long as I have it applied for, it stops anyone (from duplicating the idea),” he said, adding he will resubmit the application.
“The fact that I put a brush on it, it’s a big enough change,” he said.
So, just how does a 75-year-old homebuilder from Brookings come up with an idea that nobody else has?
“If I had not moved up there, I would not have had this opportunity,” Metcalf said. “Call it luck or whatever you call it, it’s just so amazing how things evolved in a positive way. This is not my background, but my background is problem solving, and I need the challenge more than I need the money.”


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