MOTELS FOR MARTINS ; Glenn D. Smith (left), director of birdhouse franchising, and Robert M. Mayes, inventor of a novel martin house, inspect one of the models which serve as housing for the purple martins which visit Indiana each year.
If a man builds a better mousetrap, according to the adage, "the world will beat a path to his door." But 56-year-old Robert M. Mayes had a better idea: He is building birdhouses.
And, if not the world, the nation is keeping him busy with a demand for his unique purple martin houses. It all began when Mayes, president of the E-Z Fill Bird Feeder Company Inc. and Craft Displays Inc. of West Lafayette, got an idea last March for creating a new type of martin houses, and t look his idea to Frank P. Thomas, president of the Indianapolis-based Burger Chef Systems Inc.
The idea was for a six-compartment house for purple martins, designed and decorated in the orange diamond pattern which distinguishes the Burger Chef outlets.
Most of the birdhouses are topped with the famed Burger Chef identification sign, but they also are available with a plain diamond symbol on the roof for neighborhoods where planning regulations prohibit advertising.
Mayes' birdhouses are almost exact replicas of the Burger Chef drive-in restaurants which dot the nation.
Judging by the quick response the houses have received, most people in many states do not look upon them as advertising but as a haven for martins which they would like to have in and about their yard.
One of the chief reasons householders like to have purple martins around is that the birds eat mosquitoes. Mayes explains that one bird can devour some 2,000 of the summer pests a day, and he has made a study of martins.
When he originated the idea of the Burger Chef birdhouses and convinced Thomas that it was worth trying last March, the pair decided Indianapolis would be an ideal test area just before the 500-Mile Race.
They erected 10 of the martin "apartments" on the perimeter of the city in early May.
As a result, the company was swamped with requests for information on how to get "one of those cute birdhouses." The queries came mostly from race fan-visitors.
There now are 400-plus martin houses in the state, another some 200 in Illinois, and the restaurant chain is preparing to introduce them in Florida, California and all other states. Representatives are being assigned for that purpose.
You can't buy the martin houses. They are furnished free of charge by the company, which also leases an 8-inch circle of your property to accommodate the post and to comply with the law. The operator of a nearby Burger Chef drive-in restaurant pays the cost and maintenance expense of the birdhouse. You can buy the company's newest product, a small wren house, which is a mini-size duplicate of the martin house, from participating Burger Chef restaurants.
This is expected to be a big attraction for children, who like both birds and hamburgers.
Edward W. Cotton
The Indianapolis Star, Saturday, November 9, 1968