Brian Stone kicked one too many camping meals into the dirt.
Frustrated with small stoves that were light but unstable, the weekend outdoorsman started sketching ideas for alternatives.
Stone finally shared his thoughts with a fellow player on the Spokane Rugby Club, Rick Jafrate, on the way back from a match in Boise.
Jafrate is an engineer doing consulting work at Kaiser Aluminum Co.’s Trentwood rolling mill.
Stone said his drawings didn’t impress Jafrate, so he got hold of a frying pan, welded three legs to the bottom, and presented the curiosity to his doubting teammate.
“This is what I’m talking about,” Stone recalls saying.
Jafrate saw the light.
“I had the concept. He brought it together,” Stone said. “It was his engineering that pulled it off.”
Their collaboration produced the Moon Unit, a combination stove and pan that looks a lot like a wok on stilts. Underneath the 19-inch dish is a burner that accepts a screw-in propane bottle.
A removable handle can be attached opposite an indentation that acts as a pour spout.
Stone said the detachable burner and legs, which also screw into bolts welded to the bottom of the pan, are unique to the Moon Unit and its 14-inch companion, the Moon Lite.
Both units weigh less than three pounds without the fuel cannister, although Stone said the Unit is probably better suited to rafting or canoeing than backpacking.
Moon Lite is Teflon-coated, the Moon Unit anodized to allow for easy cleaning, he said.
The Unit sells for $59.95, the Lite for $49.95. They are sold locally at Mountain Gear.
The final design took some simmering, Stone said.
Unable to come up with a suitable pan on their own, they tried an old satellite dish form. That worked.
They took that dish to a woodshop where a slightly modified mockup was made. The wood version ended up at Paul Eyraud Co., a cookware manufacturer in Cheney.
“They thought we were nuts,” Stone said.
But the company spun out 100 dishes, he said, and welded on the bolts. Tipke Manufacturing Co. now does the welding.
Stone, a controller for Lignetics in Sandpoint, found suppliers for the legs and burners.
In August 1996, he and Jafrate took 50 Units and one Lite to the North Idaho Fair. “We sold everything we had,” Stone said.
That, he said, showed the partners they had a product with a market. They also had a company, Moon Campware Inc.
Stone said their next step was a trade show in Atlanta last February. There, they landed an order for 650 from EMS, a major store and catalog retailer of outdoor gear.
They have since lined up distributors in Seattle and the Midwest, and plan on attending another show for outdoor retailers this week.
Stone said he expects to book orders for 1,000 stoves, half the projected 1998 total.
The interest is there, he said, but Moon Campware must establish itself.
He said he bypassed a possible chance to plug the units on the Home Shopping Network because the company does not have the capital to finance pre-production of the 3,000 units station officials said Moon could expect to sell.
A European dealer told Stone he thought he could sell 8,000 stoves.
“We’re just not set up to do that,” he said, unless orders are placed far enough in advance to allow him to arrange financing through a bank.
New products like the Moon units are typically the last ordered for the season, he said, adding “I wish it was easier.”
But Moon Campware did get a boost last month, when the company was one of 11 awarded $10,000 in the U S West NewVentures Seed Money Competition.
The grants were based on feasibility and creativity, according to spokeswoman JoAnn Ficca. There were 1,300 entries in the competition.
Stone said he split the money between Erod and Tipke. Those funds will cover half the costs of the projected 1998 production run, he said.
Stone is also working on accessories like a steam tray and lid. He considered a windscreen for the burners - the stoves stand at least 16 inches off the ground - but figured a suggestion that users bring along aluminum foil would solve that problem.
He’s also working on expanding the sales network as he anticipates growing interest.
“Things are just starting to happen for us,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo