John Cuddy spent the morning digging holes in a grassy yard for a sprinkler system repair before racing over to the University of Montana to begin his day job.
A scientific researcher by day and an entrepreneur by night, Cuddy is known on campus and beyond as a congenial teacher and hard worker. But despite the pace of his research, he has found time to grow his business – Sprinkler Maniac – to more than 500 customers.
“I love meeting new people,” he said recently, seated in his campus office at the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism. “If I get a phone call and show up at their house, I never know who will be there.”
On the job as a sprinkler repairman, Curry has met artists and jet-setters. He grins, saying Missoula is full of eclectic residents. He met one guy who visits Dubai for months at a time, though the gentleman considers the Garden City home.
Originally from New Jersey, Cuddy earned his bachelor’s degree from Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He wanted to come west to pursue his passion for hunting and hiking, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Missoula won his attention and presented its ripe opportunities. The university, he said, is a great place to work.
“I’d never been here,” Cuddy said. “I like to hunt a lot. I picked this school for the hunting. I like to hike as well, but you can only hike so much.”
Cuddy has been on campus for eight years as a researcher – 10 years if you consider his time in graduate school. During a quick tour of the science lab, he explained the $2.4 million U.S. Air Force grant that helped pay for it in 2008.
“We do physiology research for the military,” said Cuddy. “It’s all about maximizing performance in extreme environments, whether it’s hot, cold or altitude.”
While the lab can place research subjects through extreme environments and replicate altitudes up to 18,000 feet, Cuddy’s office is more down-to-earth. His choice of décor reflects his lifestyle, the shelves adorned with various skulls, including deer, bear and a mountain lion.
The stuffed pheasant sitting on the floor – he found that in a trash bin. He found the alligator head on a local trail. The saxophone was converted into an iPhone speaker by a friend.
“Each project we do is different and something is always changing or cutting-edge,” he said. “If it was the same thing all the time, it would be awful.”
The same goes for his sprinkler business – a project Cuddy says complements his university research. When the ground freezes and business is stagnant, the research opens up. When school lets out and the ground thaws, business calls.
“I did sprinklers through college to help pay for school,” he said. “I worked for a guy in New Jersey. He came out to visit me for elk hunting and we were driving around town.”
As the story goes, his elk-hunting friend noted the number of sprinkler systems around Missoula and suggested Cuddy start his own business. Cuddy wasn’t sure how, but his friend’s advice was pretty simple.
“‘Go buy a shovel and start fixing heads for people,’” Cuddy said, quoting his friend. “This is my seventh or eighth year and I have 500 customers in the Missoula and Bitterroot areas. You work hard and treat people right.”