If your hobby is beating dead horses...you've come to the right place!

Neal Compressed-Air Motor Corp stock certificate
Thanks to P. Westfall for scanning the stock certificate.
BUT I ASK YOU:    Are there not some dead horses, here and there, in an infinite universe, that clearly are begging to be beaten? Dead horses that will never rest till they get their fair share of abuse? Dead horses that should not be dead, perhaps? But what use is it to beat the dead, and pick their brains? Well, before I beat this poor analogy to death, let me get on with it.

I wrote a diatribe on a note pad the other day to the effect that I was announcing my retirement from giving a proverbial pig's ear about whether or not I had wasted the last 35 years of my life vainly seeking the solution of a problem that no one wants solved: how to get our cars running around for free, unpollutingly, while burying the monopolies in their self-made house of cards. The gist of my announcement was going to be that I was tired and wanted to find a new fantasy world to live in. While this is true, I hesitate to announce things. It is not easy to keep promises, especially ones that have been vocalized. And I cannot promise to quit trying to bang out the secret of the free range air car.

One thing I mentioned in my unpublished diatribe--written while sojourning in the hospital, but be that as it may--was that I would probably carry on with my investigations into the comings and goings of the inventors and wanna-be inventors who had taken this project on over the years. The project one might call "saving the world with compressed air". The word "revolutionary" has been bandied about in many newspaper articles over the years and has probably resulted in the refusal of many a patent.

I still plan (that's not a promise) to collect trivia about these apparently overly optimistic inventors, while Hollywood continues to pump out movies about inventors who are impractical, unrealistic, obsessed, anti-social, and... right! This collecting of trivia is still fun, maybe because it doesn't matter, and what tires me is the burden of caring about difficult technical matters of a revolutionary scope while being aware that things like the fate of the planet, the doings of energy monopolies, etc. don't matter to very many people. It's hard to keep caring and keep caring when the patient is probably dead.

Be that as it may, I have decided to whittle away most of another week of my life on this presentation of a timeline on "Neal". That name has become a shorthand reference to any means of keeping an air tank full without the usual grunting and groaning effort of squeezing the fresh air into the tank against its will. Which we enlightened ones feel is silly, when steam boilers have been receiving cold water without a water pump since 1852... at a pumping cost of zero. Which the skeptics seem to have finally stopped complaining about.
Neal Dawg to the rescue

Bob Neal was not the first.

Ed Russell about 1900
Edward Felix Russell began work on his
self-filling air tank as a young teenager.

Edward Felix Russell, 1882 - 1949

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.

EF Russell - Mary Haaven wedding photo by EF Russell
LEFT: E. F. Russell and Mary Haaven, wedding photo by E. F. Russell photo studio. BELOW: Pierre Rouillard a.k.a. Peter Russell, Dakota pioneer
Pierre Rouillard aka Peter Russell
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Rose Saunders for all the Russell photos.

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.

E F Russell and friend posing for a novelty postcard outside famous Hot Springs, Arkansas crystal mines

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 it 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

Homer Busby obituary 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 of Mt. Vernon and worked on a portion of the Capital in Washington. He was also descended from the family of Christopher Gist, Washington's scout during 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 including 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 financier usually 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)

illustration from Homer Busby's US Patent No. 943,000 of Dec. 14, 1909
Homer C. Busby's patented network of utility pipelines and air tanks
supplied by windmill-operated compressors.

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 Pennsylvania Railroad 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 - ?

air car inventor Daniel Burns in 1925
Daniel Burns, 1925

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, Pennsylvania. 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, everyone knew that 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.

St Petersburg Times, Sept 13, 1925, section 7

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.

illustration from Burn article 1925

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 tank.

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)

Annacloy, County Down, N. Ireland, 1950
What Daniel Burns left behind: Annacloy, County Down, Northern Ireland. Daniel left Annacloy in 1902; this photo is from 1950.

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 impossible, since 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 with his brother, sister-in-law, and parents
1940s family snapshot shows (BACK LEFT) Bill's older brother Harley Haskell Truitt and his wife, and (FRONT) Bill and Harley's parents, Horace Vital Truitt and Anna Elizabeth Doerfler. Lizzie Doerfler came to America from Germany as a young girl. We can see here that Bill and his mother seem preoccupied with something, while the others are staring straight at the camera. Thanks to Jean Truitt and Kathleen Dragan for the photo.

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 moment's notice.

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 and women, 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 a refill.

George Lafayette Heaton, Jr., 1926 - 2006

Anna Heaton, Scott Robertson, Cynthia Heaton, 2014
In 2014 I met George Heaton's daughters Anna (LEFT) and Cynthia (RIGHT) Photo by Anna Heaton.

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 1930s.

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.

sailor George Heaton
LEFT: This cocky young George Heaton is fixin' to get thrown out of the Navy for defending the honor of a young lady... against the advances of George's superior officer. One of George's first accomplishments as a civilian was to build air cars with a friend which they drove from coast-to-coast without regular need for a fill-up.

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 and flippantly 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.

That's not 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 word, "Hypo-Christian," 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.

US Patent No. 3034299 by Robert B Hammett, 1962
Click for full patent.

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 photographs 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 learned from 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, as retold by his daughter Anna, who claims that she is "just like George".

Scott Robertson