San Marcos,
08:00 AM

A Labor of Love for Business Dean

By Eric Breier

At the peak of Palomar Mountain, more than 5,000 feet above sea level, sits the house that Jim Hamerly built.

Built, in this case, didn’t mean hiring a contractor and writing checks. Hamerly built the house.

From developing a 250,000-step Gantt chart that provided an orderly blueprint for every task to doing the wiring, Hamerly had a hand – quite literally – in nearly every step of the process.

It took four years to complete, far longer than the estimated 18 months, but the result is fit for the big reveal on an HGTV show.

“I wouldn’t recommend anybody ever do it,” said Hamerly, Cal State San Marcos’ dean of the College of Business Administration. “It’s crazy.”

The house is completely off the grid, powered by solar panels that double as roof tiles. Hamerly’s 25 acres of land include a treehouse equipped with a firefighter’s pole and electricity – solar-powered, of course. There is a 70-foot zip line from the treehouse to a nearby tree for his four grandsons, ages 3-8 -- and a fifth was born earlier this month. The older ones recently graduated from the 70-footer to a second zipline that spans 1,000 feet, so long that it’s difficult to see where it ends through the forest.

The property includes thousands of cedar trees, not to mention black oaks, pines and spruces. And, thanks to Hamerly, it includes about 50 sequoias. Much like the house, the sequoias are a labor of love.

Growing a sequoia is an arduous process. You can’t purchase one at the nearest nursery, plop it into the ground and watch as it magically grows 300 feet tall.

“I had a lot of failures,” Hamerly said. “It took me five years before I germinated successfully and grew a tree.

“A lot of people ask me why I stuck through five years to get a seed germinated and actually grown. I’m a very persevering person. Perseverance is my No. 1 trait. I had failures, but then I had small successes. You learn by doing. Now I’m pretty successful.”

Hamerly became interested in sequoias through visits to national parks. While he also has grown redwoods, sequoias were particularly intriguing to him. Once established, they grow well, typically enjoy good health and have no natural predators.

Though some don’t consider sequoias a native species to the area, Hamerly said conditions on Palomar Mountain provide an ideal environment – high altitude, a west-facing slope that provides air movement with plenty of water in the air.

Hamerly began his quest to grow sequoias by first trying to germinate a seed, which is no easy task. The average sequoia generates 4 billion seeds over its lifetime. From that, Hamerly said, only about 10 trees grow to maturity.

The germination process requires storing seeds in a wet, cold environment for six months. Hamerly likes to fold them into a coffee filter with some water and then put them in the refrigerator. Once removed from cold storage, the seeds must be gradually warmed up. Only 10 percent of the seeds that Hamerly puts through the process will germinate. From that group, only 1 percent will be successfully transplanted.

Once in the ground, the trees require constant attention for the first two years. During the five-year process between embarking on the project and actually growing a tree, Hamerly estimates he lost half of his attempts to deer and gophers. It wasn’t unusual for him to plant a tree one weekend and return the following weekend to find it gone. Now, when he plants a tree, he builds a wire cage that extends underground to protect it from deer and gophers.

Of the 50,000 seeds Hamerly has tried to grow, he successfully has germinated about 5,000. From that, he has about 50 sequoias on his property. The largest, which was planted in 2006, now stands 20 feet tall.

Sequoias can grow to be well over 300 feet tall and live for thousands of years. That’s part of the appeal for Hamerly, knowing that he had a hand in something that stands a good chance of being here 2,000 years from now.

“It’s a labor of love and learning,” he said, “and I’ve got a long way to go.”

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist | Office: 760-750-7314