In 1904, in Larimore, North Dakota, USA, a young man who had just moved to town with his Norwegian wife and opened
a photography studio announced that he had an invention for sale for only 25 million dollars. His name was Edward Felix Russell.
Ed's father, Pierre Rouillard,
had changed the family name to "Russell" when he crossed the border from Lower Canada as a young man. Peter Russell had been a
well-known pioneer on the
Red River, which formed the border between the Dakota Territory and the Minnesota Territory. He was the first homesteader in the
area he settled, and worked hard at a variety of difficult and dangerous occupations. Such as delivering the mail in spite of Indian attacks
on nearby Fort Abercrombie where one of his relatives was butchered by Indians.
In spite of being the area's first settler, Peter was never going to become famous, because
he couldn't sit still long enough to build a memorial to himself, always had to be doing something new,
and this was no way for a married man to behave. He decided his
marriage was not valid since he and his wife had been married on a riverboat. At one time we find him living with his youngest sister
whose third husband
was not around. A woman did not admit to being divorced in those days, especially
a Catholic. Peter died in a mental institution but his wife called herself a widow long before that.
Ed Russell was the next-to-the-youngest of eight brothers, and he had no sisters. He was a bit on the artistic side compared to some
of the others, not a great advantage in a farming community, and he had his share of bad luck. With the usual mixed success
at childbirth in a cold place where doctoring was
without the miracle drugs of today, his wife Mary Haaven's first born only weighed enough to make the local paper and died in a few hours.
Mary then gave her young husband three children to care for and immediately expired. Ed's reaction was to join the Army and
headed for the Mexican border. We are lucky to have a postcard from these days that he made himself as a joke for his family to
enjoy back home. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he might have met Bob Neal, Ed is seen posing in a broken-down wagon behind an
unwilling oxen in front of one of the famous Hot Springs crystal mines. The scene is outfitted humorously including the words
"Leaveing Hot Springs". Ed is the one staring straight into the camera.
Ed didn't have to answer the draft call when the US joined what later came to be called "World War One" since he was already in
the army. Somehow he survived and made it back home to the area where his family lived, never returning to Larimore where he
had sold--or tried to sell--his miracle air compressor. He married a young widow named Roye Bratton, and they had a
daughter together. Ed worked as
a house painter and decorator. They raised
chickens and eggs, and Ed worked as a school janitor later in life, moving the family to where he could find work, or back to live
with his parents if nothing else could be made to work. Like his father the footloose pioneer, Ed died in a veteran's hospital,
and his wife
was buried with her family as "Roye Bratton". I don't know why she was not buried as "Roye Russell". Maybe she didn't like
the way it sounded. More likely, her children with John Bratton did not think inventors made very good step-fathers.
We know almost nothing about Ed's mysterious air compressor; just enough to compare it with "Neal". I am convinced that
Russell was one of Neal's predecessors in the art of putting low pressure air into a high pressure tank, based on the
following quote from a newspaper:
Mr Russell is reticent about the exact manner in which his machine works, but he explains
that he has two air chambers and that the air from one is exhausted into the other. How he takes care of it after it is
exhausted, so as to prevent an accumulation in his exhaust reservoir, is one of his secrets. In starting the machine, he
says, it is necessary to pump air into one chamber, and after that the machine will take care of itself, and will run
until it wears out, not only furnishing power sufficient to operate itself, but creating a surplus, which may be used
for any purpose where the use of power is required.
Mr. Russell says the model has been
in operation for nearly two weeks,
and during that time it was seen by many of the people of Larimore, who are satisfied that it is all right. He claims to
have been offered $100,000 for his invention, but he scorns the offer.
He is willing
to consider an offer of $25,000,000,
but nothing less.
After he had convinced himself and all the people who saw the model that
it was all right he destroyed
the model, for fear some one might steal the secret. He says he is ready to make another one as soon as any one is ready
to talk business. To demonstrate that he is not trying to secure money under false pretenses, he says he will not take a
cent from any one until he has shown that his machine will do all that he claims, and that he will put what property he
owns himself into the invention.
(Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, North Dakota, February 25, 1904, page 2)
As usual, I missed being able to speak with living people about Ed Russell by not finding out about him till his offspring
were unavailable for comment. But here's something that speaks for itself: both Ed Russell and Lewis Kiser publicized
incredibly efficient air compressing engines in 1904. We know (see above postcard) that Russell had been to Arkansas;
Bob Neal spent the second half of his life in Hot Springs and died there in 1970. But what about Lewis Kiser of Decatur, Illinois?
Well, in 1900 he was living in Joplin, Missouri, a hotbed of air car activity since the dawn of time, a few hours' drive from
Hot Springs. A decade-and-a-half
before that, Kiser's
two youngest children had been born in Arkansas. Point being, there's a theory floating around that these fellas could have collaborated
to some degree. Not that it would ever be provable. But if nothing else,
they heard of each others' work from first-hand sources who assured them that the
problem of "perpetual motion" [sic] could in fact be cured with the application of compressed air. This is the
RURAL LEGEND THEORY: Fred was willing to try doing this crazy thing because he knew Jack could do it, and Jack had done
because he knew Fred could do it, etc.
It is by now an undeniable fact that these machines cropped up in geographical clusters. By coincidence? Not likely.
As a matter of fact, Kiser turned up the heat on publicizing his air compressing engine when he was nearly dead
see photo from Popular Science, 1926 in my
book, Air Car Hall of Fame).
Bob Neal could have read about his engine at that time and contacted Kiser. Because we do know that when Kiser could no
longer work on the engine, he took a mysterious trip to Arkansas, and told his family he had sold his air shop for junk.
Yeah, right. He loaded up his air shop and drove it to a junk yard 500 miles away. Lot of energy for a dying man. I
would like to think that Kiser sold or gave his air shop to Bob Neal, because it is Neal who seems to have--in a relatively
few years--come up with a complex, sophisticated, patentable system for putting low pressure air into a high pressure
tank. Who knows where the timeline
really starts? Ed Russell or someone even earlier? But after Russell comes H. C. Busby.
Homer Calvin Busby, 1869 - 1949
I don't have a picture of Homer Calvin Busby. The last one on earth was destroyed--or made very inconvenient to its
owner--by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans. We know
that Homer was the great-grandson of Cornelius McDermott-Rowe, George Washington's architect that accomplished the remodeling
and worked on a portion of the Capital in Washington. He was also descended from the family of Christopher Gist, Washington's
the French and Indian War. This information is reported by his great-granddaughter, Virginia Roper. Homer was from Harrison County,
Ohio where the sale of a large family farm is probably what paid his way through years of travel from town to town trying to
sell his inventions and doing whatever work he could find. His father had been a farm laborer and carpenter, but Homer
preferred to travel around with his wife and children on trains and ended up in the insurance business, eventually
starting his own private detective agency in New Orleans. The story goes, he and his family were on their way somewhere else,
liked New Orleans, and never got back on the train. (Remember New Orleans.)
Before settling in New Orleans, Homer & family did a lot of moving around. We find him working in an Akron, Ohio insurance office
in 1901, selling real estate and making loans, when some English thugs try to get his Irish dander up into a fight; he accuses
them of assault but the judge throws it out, calling it
a petty matter that should not have gone to court. But remember Akron.
Before and after Akron, the Busbys lived in a variety of places
Jacksonville, Florida and
Birmingham, Alabama (both homes of air train inventor William Elias Boyette who left secret parts hidden somewhere...)
It was in 1909
when Homer lived in Cincinnati, Ohio that he publicized his air machine, shortly after applying for a patent that
was never granted.
Most inventors made the same mistake: newspaper articles were published right after the application was sent in by an
inventor tired of
keeping a secret and eager to meet his future financiers. Normally at this point the financier, being crafty like an
inventor but able to "make" money instead of working for it... the
ends up owning the inventor straight out, due to the fact that the inventor doesn't become rich overnight and can't pay his debts,
so spends the rest of
his life talking about the one that got away while the invention rots on a dusty shelf in some forgotten warehouse that you and
I visit only in our dreams.
With Homer Busby's invention appearing only a few years after Ed Russell and Lewis Kiser's 1904 publicity, it seems relevant to
ask ourselves what his invention actually did. Well, it's hard to say exactly, but there can only be so many general themes when
it comes to getting a bunch of solar heated air molecules to rally under a common cause... let Homer's newspaper publicity
speak for him:
If Busby is able to substantiate his claim, and he has a sheaf of testimonials and commendatory
opinions from mechanical engineers, he has discovered the long-sought principle of perpetual motion. The latter is, however,
a term which he eschews, because he says so many ridiculous schemes have been promulgated under it.
Busby's invention is a system of compressed air applied as power to machinery. He claims that
his device will compress air, and derive its own power for the compression from the air itself. It is a system of valves and
vacuums through and into which the air is driven and expelled. He asserts that no other form of power is needed and that the
future, through his invention, will have no need of coal, oil, wood nor other forms of fuel...Busby claims that he has
succeeded with compressed air where Nicola Tesla failed with liquid air.
(The Advocate, Victoria, Texas, Sepember 4, 1909, page 8)
Unfortunately, this report would be incomplete without mention of the worst thing Homer ever did, or was accused of doing. I haven't
gotten to the bottom of this and probably never will, but when Homer was young and single and working on the Panhandle Railway
out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there was the so-called "Panhandle Pilferers" scandal. Homer and dozens of other
railroad employees were all suddenly accused of making petty theft a daily habit, and a highly publicized campaign of arrests took
place. Of course Homer, while passing through the town where his sweetheart lived, jumped the train so he could visit her, and thus
became known as a "ringleader". I don't know what became of this, or whether it was possibly just another of those union-busting
campaigns similar to today's "downsizing", but Homer Busby and Margaret McDevitt were married the next year and there is
no indication that our man turned out to be a criminal once he had a wife and six children to support.
Over the years, Homer did spend his share of time in court rooms, most generally as the accuser. In 1896 he sued the
for firing him and not renewing certain documents, making it impossible for him to get another job as a brakeman. (Note: trains
all use compressed air to stop themselves.) Homer lost the lawsuit, since the judge figured his employer had a right to blame him
for a train wreck if they wanted to, and there was nothing he could do about it. This seems to have signalled the beginning of his
career in the insurance business.
But do not forget Akron, Ohio. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. New Orleans.
Homer ended up with patents in the US, Canada and England for his means of marking receipts such as train tickets to prevent fraud.
His only mechanical patent that I know of was for a network of windmills running compressors and feeding into common utility lines.
He formed the National Compressed Air Power Corporation around this time, and the windmills as well as the plumbing through town
figured in his plans, but he kept the secret out of this, his only air patent.
In 1910 he reported with great excitement that he had
stumbled on the (other?) secret of perpetual motion, and had not built a working model yet, but poo-poo'd the notion that he
could possibly be
mistaken. Nothing is known of this device. In 1914 he was on the Board of Directors of a corporation
assembled to work on a water motor of some kind, and in 1936 someone named Busby applied for a patent on a water motor. Other than
that, we really don't know who Homer Calvin Busby was. His "vacuums and valves" made an air compressor run for free, and that
is what really concerns us. But whatever you do, remember New Orleans. Akron. Pittsburgh.
Daniel Burns, 1880 - ?
In my files amongst the dozens of inventors whose background I haven't had time to study or whose claims are so vague I cannot
hope to make any guesses about their techniques, there are no doubt several more predecessors of Neal's 1930s milestones. And it
has been pointed out to me that the savviest of the savvy inventors would have received no publicity whatsoever, steering clear
of the patent system so as to retain personal control of their project. These wise guys might have been the
smartest, but their work is the most invisible. So the next appearance of what I consider to be a clear predecessor of Neal was
Daniel Burns of--you guessed it--Akron, Ohio.
Daniel Burns came alone to America in 1902 as a young man from County Down, Ireland, by way of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh has always been a hot spot for air cars and was the home of H. K. Porter Co. which sold the two-stage air powered
locomotives that were used in coal mines all over the world for 30 years. These partly-solar-powered heat absorbing air cars,
along with the ubiquitous steam engine and steam
railroad that was part of daily life for so many people in the area,
must have inspired a lot of the pneumatic inventoring we see in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Like Homer Busby, the young brakeman,
you couldn't stop a train without compressed air, so how many of the local tinkerers must have asked themselves obvious
questions about how
one might best go about making the train go using compressed air.
The young Irishman Daniel Burns came to America when Homer Busby was selling insurance in Akron, and after a tour of
fortune-seeking somewhere out west, he found himself in
Akron, Ohio, (recently abandoned by Homer Busby), working in the stone monument business. He had some experience in stone work,
calling it his "first love". He started
out sweeping chips from the stonecutter's floor and ended up
selling monuments and delivering them to cemeteries. Daniel was a hard-working, steady type. He remained single
for the longest time, then finally married a
Scottish woman named Rose, and they lived quietly with no
children. They moved back to Pittsburgh after the flurry of publicity regarding the air car project from at least 1923-1925,
sharing the city with
the young air car mechanic Willard "Bill" Truitt, one of the greatest air car evangelists who ever lived. To talk air
cars without mentioning Bill Truitt is a bit of a travesty which I don't intend to be guilty of; so just wait. But I wanted
to briefly mention that Daniel Burns' air car career could have started when Bill Truitt built his first air car. Because
that's how the RURAL LEGEND THEORY works.
I will have to address the question of whether Burns and Busby had a chance to meet in Akron, through further research. Burns
left Ireland on February 23, 1902. But we know that he lingered in Pittsburgh, then disappeared out west, before showing up
in Akron. Busby was still in Akron in August of 1902, and Burns was still in Pittsburgh doing odd jobs in 1910,
and Busby had moved to Indianapolis by July 1903. So it's unlikely
that the two air concerns ever
met. But even so, Busby could have left a trail of ideas and inspiration that found its way to Burns when he arrived.
In the stone cutting business, Burns would have been around air tools every day. And his employer had probably been there a
long time, long enough to know of Busby the insurance man, who was rather noisy.
Not knowing whether Daniel Burns ever met his predecessor Homer Busby in Akron, we can say the same about Burns and Truitt in
Pittsburgh, but with a twist. I mentioned above that Homer couldn't stay in one place till he and his family fell in love with
New Orleans, and I said that Daniel and Rose A. Burns lived quietly. Well, I don't know how quiet they were, but they had no
children and they maintained residence in the same house for many years. About five miles from where Bill Truitt lived in his
parents' boarding house, and at the same time. Not close enough to assert that they'd definitely met, but while Daniel might
have kept quiet
about his interests most
of the time, Bill Truitt never kept quiet. His daughter Jean Truitt informs us that later in life, when he had moved across the
river to McKees Rocks, he was the town eccentric. Which is what people are going to call you if you never stop talking about
air cars, have stickers and decals all over your car, and pressure gauges taped to your dashboard.
But, speaking of Daniel Burns, what did he do that made him qualified to be called a predecessor of Neal? As usual, I am
just greedily grasping at suggestions based on a few
lines in a newspaper article, but to my ear the following sounds mighty familiar:
In dealing with his new principle, Mr. Burns has designed a motor car which he believes will operate successfully with
one initial charging of compressed air. No further attention being required by the machine except oiling and replacement
of parts as they are worn out in the natural use of the car.
The hood of the new motor car will conceal a large high pressure, chambered tank, equipped with pressure gauge and
automatic valve to keep down too high air pressure. The tank will feed two cylinders which are housed in the rear
part of the car, and which supply the power to the shaft which enters the differential, supplying power to both rear
wheels at once, instead of one. This shaft will in turn operate a revolving pump, of Mr. Burns' design. This pump is
located immediately beneath the storage tank, and turns off the shaft to supply compressed air to the first chamber
of the tank.
The secret of the process, which will remain a secret, according to Mr. Burns until he is fully protected by his
patents throughout the globe, is increased power of the air in the various cylinders to provide the tremendous power
which he plans to utilize in the operation of the machine. Mr. Burns and his associates declare that 100 per cent more
power will be generated by the motor, than is necessary for the operation of the car.
This secret process utilizes the air by the adjustment of gears and a system of valves and inlets to the high pressure
The rotary pump was evolved in the search for a simple and efficient air pump which can be cheaply manufactured and
which, when in use, would require little attention as casing is packed with grease. The pump pistons are designed to
have a diameter of two inches, with a stroke of either seven or eight inches. The volume of air consumed by revolutions
would be very low, and would require very little power for driving on account of cam drive acting like a screw's motion.
The pump is so designed that there is little opportunity for dust or dirt to get inside the housing. The inventor
declares that it will require no more power to pump 100 pounds of air with his device than to step on the starter.
Mr. Burns admits that details remain to be dealt with and patiently worked out, but he is a firm believer in the
soundness of his principle and the complete originality of his device for utilizing the air in the tanks and
creating greater pressure than the rotary pump, located on the drive shaft, can possibly supply.
(St. Petersburg Times, September 13, 1925, Section 7)
Willard Ernest Truitt, 1903 - 1989
Bringing us all the way back to the main point--a series of check valves that somehow let low pressure air enter a high pressure
tank--here comes Bill Truitt, who preceded Bob Neal when he built an air car with his brother Harley H. Truitt and their father
Horace Vital Truitt in 1920. The family owned a service station in Huntington, West Virginia, just over the border from southern
Ohio where Horace had moved the family while on assignment with the YMCA. You see how quickly I veer from the main point? But to
me, a big part of the main point is that these ideas did not--and will not--have a life of their own unless real people put
their brains and
their bones behind the happy thought that there is life after Standard Oil. As I was about to say, Harley stayed in Huntington
where he owned a manufacturing facility, and Bill moved to a farm near Pittsburgh where his father quickly lost interest in
farming, and bought a boarding house in North Pittsburgh near the river.
I've told parts of the Truitt story before and intend to tell other parts of it when I can devote a whole chapter to the project,
but for now, remember this part: Willard Truitt was born in Willard, Ohio. Ohio being the key point. Willard, aka Chicago
Junction on account of a railroad that passed through there, is 80 miles west of Akron in northern Ohio. In the 1940s, when
Bill wasn't busy trying to invent things for the US Army, he lived only a few miles from Daniel Burns and even Lee Barton
Williams, whose air car ran on the wind it made while passing through the atmosphere. Williams lived another whole five miles
further away from Bill and Daniel. But we have no evidence that any of them ever met.
But what I started out to say was that
Truitt's description sounded like a purposeful hybrid of Neal and Burns. Like Neal, Truitt's key to everything was a top secret
leakproof valve that worked like a heart. Like Burns, Truitt's low pressure piston pumps ran off of the differential gears
with some kind
of worm or screw device for better efficiency, putting air into the main tanks at all times even though this is clearly
Truitt's tanks held a minimum of 1000 psi at all times. There are other parallels, but why would I continue beating that
dead horse? If they never knew each other or if they did, the purpose of this rant is to inspire one--just one person--to carry
on where George Heaton, Bill Truitt, and the others left off.
Bill Truitt started in air cars as a teenager in 1920. He never stopped talking about air cars his whole life. He got a girl
pregnant in West Virginia but the baby was not well and did not survive, and they didn't get married. Bill called himself a
bachelor inventor the rest of his life, but the facts are more complicated. He did marry the mother of his only child, but
continued to live alone in boarding houses his whole life. His wife had to help him pay his rent, because he was a dreamer of
the die-hard brand, and unfortunately he was dead drunk most of the time. But in his early 60s, Bill quit drinking forever
and never touched another drop.
A few years later, when his daughter Jean headed off to
college in another state, she had not, up to that point, seen any
sign of a real air car; just the old Buick with a Rolls Royce ornament screwed to the hood, and valves taped to the
dashboard with little notes saying what the thing was supposed to do. Living in an upstairs room on a veteran's pension
was no way to finance an air car building project. But it didn't stop Bill from constantly publicizing his project, and while
Jean was off at college, from all appearances, he found a partner and "finally got the bugs worked out of it" in the early 1970s.
Like many others, he was spurred on by the sudden stark realization that gasoline could double and triple in price at a
I do have one newspaper article in my collection which emphasizes that Bill's air car--the air car he had at that time--was
not real. But every other article makes
no mention of this oddity, even though it mirrors Jean Truitt's chief recollection of a topic that she had grown tired of as a
young girl. She
loved her dad but hated his drinking and the crazy times it made. If not for the drinking--and the obsession?--the family
had potential; they spent time together almost every day,
Bill ate dinner with his wife and child, then went home to his room. Jean, who is a radical worker for the rights of lesbians
gives her father credit for saving her from her mother's stifling Catholic religion. Did I fail to mention that the future Mrs.
Truitt, Elvira M. Ferguson, attended a Catholic boarding school right down the street from
Lee Barton Williams' grandmother? Maybe I should fail
to mention it, but I can't. These folks were neighbors, and neighbors used to talk to each other. Having spoken on the phone to
Bill Truitt twice, let me assure you that he did not need my help keeping the conversation alive and packed with information. A
young reporter who once interviewed him and wrote a great article about a real inventor of a real air car is now the executive
editor of USA Today. So Jean Truitt, because she is the one who had to live through the drunk rages, might be the only
person on earth who thinks of Bill Truitt as someone who didn't build a car that ran 3000 miles without stopping for
George Lafayette Heaton, Jr., 1926 - 2006
Two more stops in the Neal timeline: George Heaton of Portland, Oregon, and finally the promised trip back to New Orleans.
George moved his family to Portland in the late 1960s, after serving as the vice-president of the California Fuel Dealers'
Protective Association. During his long stay in Sacramento he had maybe-or-maybe-not known Roy J. Meyers, the most famous air car inventor of the
Portland was another one of those cities that seemed to attract compressed air lovers. It had been the last stop for the
famed "Professor Perpetual Motion", whose real name was Barzillai Bancroft Britts,
a.k.a. Barney Britts. Bachelor'd early in life by the death of his young wife, Barney did what he could with the rest of his
life in spite of the fact
that his unbuilt invention was driving him crazy. Finally at the age of 60, he fell down the stairs at his brother's
house in Portland, where
Barney had his own business as a locksmith.
Portland was also the first stop for a young inventor with a great hairdo, Charley Hornbeck, who lived in a hotel room with his
young wife while seeking investors via newspaper publicity for a revolutionary air machine he had hidden in the back of
the suite. He worked for the power and transit company in Portland
for a time, but spent most of his life as a gardener in Santa Clara County, California.
And Portland was the last stop for a William Sherwood, who called himself "The One-Eyed Blindman"; others just called him Blind
Bill. He was a disabled veteran who lived in a shack surrounded by nice houses and was eventually driven out by something like
a neighborhood association. Which suited his life's program because his hobby was protesting whatever needed protesting.
I met Bill on a sidewalk downtown when he was passing out a leaflet calling for tax protest and the acceptance of compressed air
as God's gift to mankind. Later, when he was thrown out of his home, in protest he stopped cashing his veteran's benefit checks
and lived at a bus stop. He was the darling of the press for a few weeks and then disappeared like a puff of smoke.
Portland might have been the last stop for George Heaton, but he started out in--you guessed it--Northern Ohio. His father,
George Lafayette Heaton Sr., had been a conductor on the steam railroad in Cleveland. George Jr. was a professional driver
his whole life. When I met him he was well-known to the mayor and the governor because they would request his limo taxi when
they needed to go to or from the airport.
But, despite the fact that George Heaton had the longest Cadillac on the force, the "Caddie Cabbie" was no snob. George had
learned diplomacy from five older sisters and a father who met people all day for a living. When you rode in his taxi, you
felt like royalty. George was the kind of person who made you like him without trying, because he was a participator.
He was alive because he wanted to be. He talked to you because he wanted to...if he wanted to. You could tell that
about him, or I could. But enough about me.
To get to the main point, I will repeat what little I learned from George in the short time I knew him. Words I've repeated
over and over, so let's get it over with: he and his friend could put low pressure air into a high pressure tank (his words).
Their car worked like a perpetual motion machine (his words). In other words...controversial. Sounds impossible. But this was
accomplished by means of loading the tank with pulses of air. Parts of his design sounded like Truitt, parts sounded
like Neal, and there is no doubt that he belongs in this timeline of the development of an idea. The conversation I had
with him changed the
course of my life, and maybe yours too, if you are reading this!
Now, back to the person, George. I met his daughter Anna this past year, for the first time since she was ten years old. Since
I'd given a large part of my life to his statement that he'd been able to "put low pressure air into a high pressure tank"
but couldn't remember how, I thought, why not try to get Anna and her older sister Cynthia to tell me whether
their dad was an honest guy. Or was he the kind of practical joker who would have met me as a young hippie with an obsession
led poor li'l me astray just for an evening's entertainment. Never suspecting that poor li'l me would still be wandering
in the same lonely pasture 34 years later, mooing, mooing...
Someone like George Heaton who was out there living among
the herd, well, I find this fascinating, a matter of study. I've seen movies about people like that.
Let me try to describe
what kind of person can put low pressure
air into a high pressure tank as a summer's entertainment, and then just forget about it because the price of gas is so low.
Cynthia (mumbled): George was a con man.
Anna (emphatic): No! That's not the right word.
(Some hemming and hawing. We are all three trying to think of the right word...)
Anna: He was a player.
And so it is decided: George was an honest, wonderful, practical joker, an empathetic and sympathetic participator
whose sense of purpose and integrity was not allowed to interfere with his sense of humor. He would
talk to anyone. The opposite of a snob, because he didn't have the fear of disapproval that a snobbish person has.
In direct opposition to today's Yuppie Ethic, he didn't judge
people, because he was naturally uninhibited, didn't care what anyone thought of him. It had never occurred to him to not
bother enjoying life, which to him in large part meant enjoying the people he met. He drove a taxi in the scary part of
town, talked to everyone
from the mob to the governor, and if someone was doing something that
George wouldn't have personally done himself, so what? He was just the driver, it was none of his business, and, what the
heck, if someone needed to get something done, then George was there to help someone get where they needed to be.
a perfect description, but it will have to do for now. Why does it matter? Because he said he had been able to
put low pressure
air into a high pressure tank, so it does matter what kind of person he was, because if he was a big fat liar, then
I for one want to know.
I once got a job at Broadway Cab where George worked, years after
losing touch with him, but the scene was too scary for me. Why did I quit? Because I am not a participator, but a leaf
in the wind.
The sorts of
things I encountered on my first and only night of driving a taxi... I knew I would just get sucked in.
As a parent, George was not perfect. He sometimes ignored his two daughters, but Cynthia, who he raised, was "not his".
The truth will
never be known, and everyone tells a different version, but one day he showed up on a sister's doorstep with a baby,
saying he was doing a friend a favor, and could she please raise this child for him? Later when
he got married, he ripped the child away from her loving aunt and took her home with him. But when Cynthia had moved out
as an adult, and her husband was using her as a punching bag, George barged into his house taking off his belt,
ready to show the young man
what happens if you mess with George Heaton's daughter. When she needed to get out of town, George found a thousand dollars to give
her so she could escape.
George and his wife--his third wife?--had two daughters, Anna and her little sister. Little sister got spoiled to death by
her adoring father, but Anna felt neglected and could do nothing right. Anna was aware that her father was an inventor. She
still shudders when she remembers her father telling her, "Go get the Clean-All". He had invented a cleaning substance
that was edible, could be used for cleaning upholstery as well as children's teeth, and Anna did not enjoy being the test
subject. But when George was run over by a truck, it was Anna who took care
of him for the next twenty years while his body slowly stopped living.
In studying the history of this family I have seen numerous examples of the family taking on an extra challenge when someone
needed help. Anna Heaton is still a caretaker of people, in spite of her own hardships. She taught me my favorite new
in reference to people who talk the talk but don't walk the walk.
Robert Bernard Hammett, 1930 - 2001
And now for that promised trip back to New Orleans, where Homer Busby spent the last 36 years of his life. Based on the notion
that there can only be so many basic categories of methodology for keeping an air tank full for free, let's say that the thesis
of this page--a thread of a developing notion--is more or less on track. Valves and vacuums, valves that act like a heart,
mechanisms that allow pulsations to enter a higher pressure tank, chambered tanks with air pumped from chamber to chamber,
double check valves--I think I have not gone over the line by including these
few inventors on the same timeline. But if only someone had written down the recipe, a theoretical guide to this technology, a
framework for the secret so it would no longer be a secret. Well, as you and I wish had been done, it was done.
The wandering inventor Homer Busby had been living in New Orleans for 17 years when Bobby Hammett was born there. Like all
inventors, Bobby was a little different. He was from a cultured, well-educated New Orleans family. I was able to find numerous
of all his brothers and sisters in the university yearbooks, because they joined everything and participated in everything,
natural-born leaders in their chosen fields. Bobby, who went to the same school, seems to have been allergic
to cameras and group activities. He was a flying enthusiast, so he joined military organizations that allowed him to be around
flying. He was extremely intelligent. He never married, and worked as a career inventor for a huge corporation his whole
life. He kept an office in a bank building, but he had few patents in his own name. One of these is for an internal combustion
engine that saves and utilizes the waste heat that most engines throw away. He sued the US Government for not taking an interest
in this invention, and lost. Another of his inventions, a double valve device that compressed air with sound waves, could
have been a distillation and upgrading of
everything he might have
Homer Busby about magical valves that keep air tanks full for free.
Anyway, it's possible.
In closing, I'd like to pass on one of George Heaton's favorite jokes,
by his daughter Anna, who claims that
she is "just like George".