New Purpose for Old Technology

For decades, the Florida Department of Transportation provided a lifeline to stranded motorists along Florida’s Turnpike and the Interstate System via a comprehensive system of Motorist Aid Call Boxes.  Just about every mile along these highways, a motorist could summon law enforcement, ambulance or tow truck services.  The call boxes made use of microwave and telephone technology—the standard through the end of the last century.  The call boxes on the Suncoast Parkway near Tampa were powered by solar panels instead of electricity.

New Purpose for Old Technology

Technology moves along, and by 2012, the cost of maintaining 50-year old technology was running into the millions of dollars yearly while the number of motorists who used the call boxes was falling at the same time.  The department’s eyes in the sky at the statewide network of traffic management centers, the Road Ranger program, and the wide use and availability of personal mobile phones had mostly eliminated the need to keep the call box program going.  Those millions could be better spent on other transportation projects, so it was decided to begin phasing them out.

Meanwhile, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) was providing the scientific, agricultural and homeowner communities with valuable research and practical knowledge to use in crop development, bug and disease resistance, and degree programs.  One of the IFAS experiment stations developed frozen concentrated orange juice.  The extension service agents provide information to homeowners on everything from food preservation to ridding your yard of cinch bugs.

New Purpose for Old TechnologyMaster gardeners and County Extension Agents Ed Thralls and Kelly Greer were working on a demonstration garden for display at the UF/IFAS Extension Service location in Orlando.  Demonstration gardens showcase the Florida-friendly Landscaping Program™ and give homeowners ideas on things they can do to promote native plants that attract butterflies, bees and other “good” insects in their own yards.  Kelly wanted to include a water feature, but didn’t have resources to run power to the fountain he had in mind.

As luck would have it, Ed read about the call box removal and thought he might be able to repurpose them.  After getting in touch with FDOT in Tallahassee, he eventually made contact with the Turnpike’s maintenance department, which in turn provided him with 10 of the old call boxes and three cell towers for use in developing his idea.

Ed successfully converted the call boxes, and the demonstration garden, which opened in the spring, is a charming success.  He says  butterflies can now “puddle” on wetted stones during the daylight hours as often as they need and visitors to the garden can hear the sound of gently running water powered by the sun.

The new butterfly garden can be viewed at the UF/ IFAS Extension Service office located at 6021 South Conway Road, Orlando, 32812.