Tuesday, April 8, 2014
A Nifty Invention from a Thrifty Dad
My dad, who passed away last fall, was many things across his life. He was a great engineering student, an avid fisherman, a dedicated scout and scoutmaster, a hunter of “indian relics”, and a dedicated gardener to name but a few of his avocations. One thing he was always “famous” for was tinkering in his workshop/garage/basement and coming up with ingenious inventions. When I was a boy, my dad actually built our color TV in our basement from a box of parts and instructions that he had ordered from a company called “Heathkit.” We knew as kids to give the basement a wide berth when his soldering iron was on and he was doing detailed circuit board work!
Over the years his inventions spanned the gamut, from electronic ignitions that he made for our family cars (one of which conked out on a family trip, ha!) to the TV mentioned above, and many creations in between. Whether rigging up a radio to keep the deer out of our garden, or building a car roof rack to carry our family canoe, his creations over the years were always ingenious and practical.
Late in my dad’s life, he suffered with Parkinson’s disease. He endured that menace for over fifteen years, again using his creativity and ingenuity to work through the problems he was challenged with every day. Six or seven years ago my dad underwent the Medtronic “Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)” surgery; a procedure that includes having a number of implants placed into the brain and a “monitor” placed under the skin. While quite an invasive procedure, my dad was fascinated by the technology, and was always “tweeking” it and working with the Medtronic folks on ways to optimize the therapy. I remember a conversation with him a year or two ago when he wanted to hook himself up to one of his osciliscopes (how many dad’s have two osciliscopes??) so he could “self adjust” the electronic settings to his bodies “natural wavelength.” Thankfully the folks in the Neurologists office passed on his suggestion!
A much simpler invention that he was proud of was his “pocket hanging” cane. Because of his disease, my dad used a walking stick/cane for stability over his last few years. He was always looking for a place to put it as he opened doors, went to the bathroom, etc., and thus he came up with another ingenious solution. He built onto the cane, using common hardware, a small wire appendage that he would hook into his pocket, thus holding the cane at his side when he needed to use his hands for other work. He was so proud of this little invention and was wondering about patenting it just weeks before he passed.
I came upon another one of his inventions the other day which I have pictured below. My dad always loved a good cup of coffee and he was well known for being cheap, clearly a son of the depression! Once he discovered that he could buy good coffee in bulk at Sam’s club, he was sold but perplexed on how to keep it fresh once he had opened the package. Using the little vacuum stoppers made for wine bottles, he cut a hole in the lid of a mason jar (more on coffee and mason jars in a future essay) , sealed the stopper into the lid with epoxy, and abracadabra, you have an invention that lets you keep your ground coffee fresh by removing the air from the jar. Simple, clever, and practical! I use it now in my home to hold freshly ground coffee and it works like a charm!!
I often think back on my Dad, remembering little experiences and little stories, and on the whole I remember him very fondly. I miss my dad and I miss his little inventions. He was a regular reader of this blog before he passed, and I think he would be proud and amazed that his little mason jar coffee invention made it into one of the essays!