Arlo Mudgett: Great satisfaction from personal inventions
Making your own tools to address problems that arise is one of the most satisfying things you can do; when the tool actually functions. My circadian rhythm has always been a bit different. I'm a night owl. As a kid, I could hear my parents watching television, so I'd try sneaking out into the hallway to watch along with them. After getting caught doing that a few times I came up with a novel solution. My Dad had worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a few years and had a room there, coming home on the weekends. When that job ended he brought home a small portable TV set that I commandeered. I rigged it up to an old electric blanket controller to act as an on-off switch and would watch the same channel as my parents late at night, leaving the bedroom door open to use their audio, keeping mine off. If I heard them coming down the hallway, I'd switch it off remotely to avoid being caught. It worked great for quite a while. Until I fell asleep one night and forgot to shut the TV off. They thought it was funny, but I still got punished.
I worked at the Dartmouth Medical School for a few years as a technician, and much of what I did was handle materials. While there I found a few efficiencies that required some small hand tools and other devices that I came up with. I was extremely fortunate to have the entire engineering department at my disposal, but only if the idea passed the muster of the director. It was amazingly gratifying work to see about 30 rooms in the building modified with one of my ideas to improve access to improve cleanliness. Other small victories made certain functions more efficient that were collaborations. Those were my favorites.
One of my best friends during my childhood was a guy a couple of years younger than me that I met in South Royalton. We both enjoyed projects that challenged our abilities to innovate. Together we started playing around with model cars and solid rocket engines. The cars were full of little innovations that we came up with to ensure safety while doing something that was not only unsafe but illegal, as we later learned. There weren't many electronic components to the project, but that was what my friend was most interested in, and I learned soldering and a few basics from him. He later became a medical doctor which seemed like a radical direction change from his love of electronics. That surprised me a bit.
Another good friend from South Royalton and I built a home radio studio. That friend went to R.P.I. and moved to Silicon Valley in the early 1970s where he became quite successful. I moved the little studio to my first apartment and made my low power (and fully legal) radio station from a kit. I would put on a record album and drive around Lebanon, N.H. listening to my station, determining what it had for range. It pretty much covered Coburn park downtown and had one listener. Me. It was a worthwhile project that taught me a lot.
When I have a project in mind I find that a simple plan works best for me. After designing my garage and having a builder put it up at my first house I decided I wanted a workbench. I didn't draw up any plans, I just went out to the garage one morning and started measuring, cutting scrap plywood sheets and two-by-fours and two-by sixes, nailing things together, and by the end of the day, I had a useful workbench. The next day I dumped a can of polyurethane on the surface and spread it around with a paintbrush and called it good. I got a great deal of use out of that workspace. My youngest daughter and her husband now own the house and I'm not sure if she even knows that I built that bench even though she grew up in that house. She was probably occupied with something else the day I built it and had no interest. I hope my grandson and her husband get some good use from it.
My projects and small innovations always gave me great satisfaction and I certainly hope that there are more of them in my future. Whenever I meet someone who does a lot of those things for themselves I am always fascinated. They are the things that give your life more meaning and fulfillment, making it that much more worthwhile.
The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett can be heard Monday through Saturday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3 and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 - 100.7
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