307 Bluebird Lane Folsom, California 95630
From his letter dated November 16, 1988.
It’s been months since receiving your invitation to submit
something which may interest Stemgas readers. Now that it’s
started to rain, I’m more inclined to be in the house than out
side. And how we need the rain!
I guess you can see I am not a typist. I have a 93 year old
master mechanic friend who writes a fine typed letter, lives alone
in his house in Boise. I think my birthday on Nov. 8, was the only
one I ever had when the Presidential Election took place. It was my
If I stop and have this article retyped and corrected, I may not
get around to mail it! So do what you want with editing!’ (We
think it’s fine, Howard, just as you’ve written it, as
‘Make a better mousetrap-and people will beat a path to your
Why do so many people believe in such cliches! But, if I should
challenge this, I would be confronted with, ‘Haven’t you
heard about the Cabbage Patch Doll? (Which brought a fortune to the
designers!)’ Or, there are a few other things that could be
cited, like winning a fortune gambling! However, I’m sure that
many have heard or read about some mechanic making a carburetor, an
ignition system, many things, which make the engine much more
efficient, but, never do these become available!
Why? Why do these announcements fade away so permanently? Per
haps a good reason may come by reciting some of my experiences.
I was part of the sales organization of the R. G. Le Tourneau
Company and so was Ken. Ken said he had worked for a large chemical
company, and one of their products was ‘Carbide’. Most
shops using oxyacetylene welding equipment had an acetylene gas
generator to make the gas used in welding. For those who have not
used such a generator, let me say that on the early automobiles,
before electricity was used for lighting the headlights, a small
acetylene generator was mounted on the running board, and tubing
carried the gas to front lamps. On a smaller scale, miners lamps
and the small generators, were carried on the miners caps. So, Ken
told about a customer who had been buying a normal amount of
carbide, suddenly enlarged his order, and then asked for price on
first, a ton, then by the carload!
The price on such a quantity required consulting the factory.
Immediately the question came, ‘Why this change in quantity?
Find out what is being done before we make a quote.’ By
entertaining the purchasing agent, Ken learned that this small
company had been experimenting with acetylene gas and gasolene.
They had a ‘Super Six’ Buick that was now going 70 miles on
a gallon of fuel! This information was phoned back to the head
office, and he was told the price would be for warded to the
Ken went about his area for a couple of weeks, then returned to
the customer’s shop. Holy Horrors! The place was closed and no
one around! Several times he went back and tried to find out what
had happened. He never learned. This was around 1928!
I was in Nevada and met a capitalist (?) who was looking for
some mining property. We became acquainted enough for him to tell
me this tale: He had a brother. The family was living in Wisconsin.
The brother was a tinkering, inventive sort and because they lived
in the country, there were plenty of flies. It was necessary to
keep the screen door closed. After some ideas on closers, this
brother made one that really worked! (I’m sure most country
folks have seen and used this closer.) It consisted of a channeled,
curved part, about the size and shape of a curved finger. At one
end was a roller, and at the other was a spring which snapped over
center to permit the door to be easily opened, then snapped shut
when the door closed, tripping the closing spring.
Well, what? This brother came to the man telling me, how he and
the family made most of their money. The inventor was advised to go
to Kansas City and show the purchasing agent his door-closer. He
was given $50.00 as expense money. The trip was fruitless! But,
with fifty dollars already spent, the young man was given $100.00
and now, with these instuctions.
The hardware wholesaler had a catalog? Yes. Go to the man who
makes up the catalog, and offer him $50.00 to list the item in
their catalog! Then come home and wait! Within a few months, orders
came for the closer and continued. Larger and larger were the
orders. Eventually, the closers were being shipped to many
countries. They were not counted, but barrels were weighed and sold
that way! The idea was sold, money reinvested and now he was
interested in a gold mine, if he found what he wanted!
I also came into the world with a love to ‘make things.’
It often got me into a conflict with my mother who thought I should
be working in her garden! I never did get over this desire. In the
1930’s farmers had a problem cutting their heavy growth of
alfalfa. The parasite vine called ‘Dotter’ spread all
around and the cutter bar would get plugged very often. This
intrigued me as a correctable problem. By the second season, I had
developed a better cutter guard. Details are not necessary to
present the lesson I learned.
At a meeting with a Fordson tractor distributor, he said,
‘Every store would like to have the exclusive sales rights on
some item that people needed and could afford to buy!’ This
axiom should be kept in the minds of all inventors!
Then, at the Fordson factory in Michigan, a conference was held
with their attorney, the controller and the chief engineer. While
it was decided the idea should be tested, there was no more money
for new experimental work for the year! I called on Detroit
Harvester people, wrote to the implement companies making mowers,
without success. Then, quite without cause, I found another
One very large manufacturer, wrote the son of an executive,
‘Glad you keep aware of new developments in our field. However,
we have a large inventory of mower guards, all the tools and
equipment to make them and have no real customer com plaints.
Therefore, we cannot afford to throw out what we have and make
something new, unless competition forces us to do so.’
I do not have to explain that I did not have the capital to
offer competition by making mower guards! The lessons are there,
for many to learn.
First, we can see little concern for the substitution of
petroleum, regardless of the destruction of air, forests or even
The managers of many sales organizations, and for that matter,
individuals, resent new ideas. It can cause problems and they do
not need more problems.
I have learned that advertising’s main purpose is to benefit
the advertisers, not necessarily the buyer! But, without letting
people know what is being made available to them, there can be
little hope of success.’