KENNEWICK -- There are few home improvement projects Art Hovley won't tackle. Even if he has to drive more than 600 miles to do it -- at his brother's house.
"He's the handyman in the family. He comes up here to recharge his batteries," said his brother, Ben Hovley of Kennewick.
Two years ago, during a July heat wave, Art, who used to live in Pasco, his wife Margo and their seven children headed for a family reunion in Washington from their home in Centerville, Utah.
What Ben and his wife Debbie didn't realize was Art also was on a mission. His intent: Before the Utah Hovleys headed south, the Kennewick Hovleys would have a fish pond in their backyard.
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And not just a simple pond, but a water feature that today takes up a good portion of the yard.
But they're not complaining. In fact Ben, Debbie and their family love it. So do their dogs and the hundreds of quail and song birds that consider the Hovleys' backyard home.
"We even have an occasional duck drop in. That's cool," Ben said.
Ben and Debbie have only been in the newly built home for three years. Because the lot slopes steeply in the back, they couldn't do much with the yard the first year.
"We had to wait for the retaining wall to be built," Ben explained.
In the meantime, Ben picked up what he calls "a pathetic plastic tub" from Lowe's and put it on the deck as a temporary "water feature."
Art, who happened to visit that summer, had just one comment, "That's a poor excuse for a pond."
Which got Art thinking, planning.
"I saw the rock wall -- they did an amazing job with all these huge, gorgeous boulders -- and said 'Wouldn't it be cool if you had a pond and a waterfall?' " Art said.
Art began brainstorming, throwing out ideas, putting together a parts list.
"I told Ben it would only cost him $1,400 in parts. You know, he didn't jump right on it and say, 'Yes, let's do it,' " Art joked.
But then, Ben didn't say no either.
Shortly after Art and his family arrived, the shovels came out.
"The next thing I know, we're digging. It just kept getting to be more and more," Ben said.
"It took at least four to five full, 10-hour days. And it was brutally hot, at least 105 degrees I'm sure," Art said.
But with everyone working, the water feature -- three ponds, two interconnected by streams and waterfalls -- was done in time for the family reunion on Friday.
"It's good to have big families with lots of talent," Ben said.
But Art wasn't quite done. This year he gave Ben the finishing touch -- a copper sculpture -- on April 17, just a few days before his brother's birthday.
"It's always bothered me that we didn't build in a good way to regulate the water level. It drops a couple of inches a day," Art said.
Art considered automatic floats and other methods but then remembered how much Ben loves birdhouses and birds.
He solved the problem with a combination birdhouse-feeder-fountain all in copper.
The structure stands nearly 6 feet tall and is plumbed to the water line feeding the yard sprinklers. A valve inside regulates how much water flows out the spout, through the spillways, over the water wheel and into the pond, Art said.
"Art called me a while ago and said he was fiddling around with a copper bird house. He's like the nutty professor. Art loves to tinker and figure things out," Ben said.
The water feature also is Art's way of saying thank you.
"It was payback, a gift to Ben and Debbie for the tons of things they did for Dad and Mom before they died. It was nice to be able to help out," Art said.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; email@example.com. See more of the Herald's Home & Garden stories at www.tricityhomeandgarden.com.