Driven to Invention

| April 07, 2005

Like many over-the-road drivers, George Hartline worried about his retirement. He didn’t think it would ever be possible. He missed his family and horses in Fort Payne, Ala., and didn’t see a better future anytime soon.

But three years ago, Hartline retired at the age of 58, and now he spends all of his time at home. His retirement fund is padded with the profits of his invention – a portable shower for truckers.

Hartline is one of several drivers that Truckers News profiled who put his time, experiences and ideas on the road to good use.

“I prayed to God to send me something for retirement because I was a trucker and didn’t have much social security,” Hartline says.

His prayers were answered, he says, when he designed the shower in 1999. By trusting in God, Hartline says he was able to come up with the design, find a manufacturer and make payments.
“Geraldo Rivera has one,” he says. “Some people put them in their office buildings. People in horse shows use them.”

The list of users also includes campers and the military, says Hartline.

The shower, which folds into a 36-inch round plastic casing, comes with two six-gallon water tanks, a shower curtain with hooks, feeder and discharge hoses, a heating element and two water pumps. The shower extends to almost seven feet tall and fits in the back of most condo cabs. Water is heated and pumped through the first tank by two external adaptors. After it runs through the shower, water is pumped into the second tank. No tools are required to set up the shower.

“I tell people to cut out a 36-inch circle of cardboard and stand on it in the back of their trucks. If they fit, the shower will,” Hartline says.

Hartline is praying for a deal with a truckstop chain. In the meantime, the portable showers are sold from Hartline’s website, www.truckshower.com for $345. The shower stand is an additional $58.50. He also sells power adaptors and an independent power source. The curtains are sold in blue, white and camouflage.

Side-View Mirror Cleaner

Gary Waters, a retired regional driver from Lee County, Calif., says he spent his entire driving career having to pull over on the side of the road to clean his mirrors.

“I drove a truck over 30 years. When I’d go over the Sierras with all that snow and dirt, whenever someone drove by, it’d cover my mirror in slush,” he recalls. “It’s a safety issue. You have to pull over on the side of the road and clean your mirrors. You have to make sure the shoulder of the road isn’t too soft for the load you’re carrying. And you lose time stopping so much.”

After Waters retired, he decided to do something about the problem. He designed a sensor-activated automatic side-view mirror cleaner. The device uses a rubber squeegee blade on two vertical tracks to slide up and down the surface of the mirror. The mirrors are sprayed with solvent via tubing connected to a truck’s windshield washer fluid container.

Waters was granted a patent in December 2002, which allows him to manufacture the device for use on such things as boats and ships, high-rise building windows, security cameras, airplanes, fire trucks and other places.

“Anyplace a window wiper can go, this can do better,” Waters says. “Any application that someone has to clean can use one of these.”

But the patent is only the first step. Waters must now find a manufacturer. He has talked with several manufacturers worldwide, but must generate enough interest for them to consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

“I’ve mailed letters out to mirror manufacturers, GM, Chrysler, World Trade Group,” he says. “All the endorsements I get help out.”

To find out more about the product, call (800) 747-3109.

Safer Tow Hook

Floyd Martin, a retired trucker from East Earl, Penn., and his brother built a tow hook that he says is much safer and easier to use than big rig tow hooks.

“I’m 62 years old; I’ve used the old-fashioned fifth-wheel model too long. It’s too dangerous,” Martin says.

He designed a triangle linkage that is completely hydraulic, he says, and quick and simple to both hitch and unhitch. Through Martin’s design, the weight is directed to the road, which helps maintain normal steering conditions. The tow hook puts pressure on the tractor instead of the trailer. This is much different than standard towing rigs that tend to have a lighter front end while under tow.

The triangle linkage makes turning safer, as well, he says. “It allows you to turn at a 90-degree angle,” Martin says.

Another advantage to this tow hook is that it does not require the removal of lights, bumpers or other parts of the disabled tractor. The device can also be folded up for traveling.

After Martin spent $8,000 on a patent, Pendu Manufacturing Inc. picked up his idea. He has sold 10 of the hooks by demonstrating them to customers, and Pendu has received several inquiries online.

Interlocking Panels

Robert Brand, a retired Navy man and driver from Ladson, S.C., created his invention mainly to keep soda cans from rolling around in the back of his wife’s SUV, but it’s also finding a use in truckers’ cabs. His adjustable interlocking panels are designed to fit together to make cargo organizers. They can also be used as shelving units.

Brand says he had a lot of trouble getting his product on the market. After waiting 25 months for a patent, he says he made some bad business decisions, including an attempt at radio sales where it was difficult for customers to understand his product without seeing it. The price of the panels fluctuated greatly, creating even more problems.

But now Brand has everything under control. He sells his panels through his own company, accessible at www.cargoape.com. For the first time, Brand says he’s making money from his invention.

“The company is finally paying its own bills. In January, we did really well because of good press in Entrepreneur magazine,” Brand says.

Some buyers use the product for its original purpose – to keep things from rolling around in their cars. The panels are also being used for shelving, barriers and stools.

“Some of the truckers I know put them under their bunks and put coveralls and shoes in there,” Brand says. “It fits perfectly under most bunks.”

His company is also accepting ideas for new uses. Every six months, the company gives away $100 to someone coming up with an original, practical use for the panels. The newest use for Brand’s product is as a wine rack.

Currently, the panels are only available online. Twelve panels sell for $44.95 on Brand’s website.

Driver/inventor George Muth has installed his blow-by oil catcher on several trucks.

Blow-by Oil Catcher

George Muth, a flatbed trucker from Chester, Ohio, works on trucks in his spare time. He used to hate trying to find oil leaks because blow-by oil would always be covering the engine.
“I was overhauling a truck and had this sludge clean up to my shoulders when the owner asked me to check and see if the transmission was leaking,” Muth says. “I told him we wouldn’t even be able to tell if it was because there was so much oil.”

Muth began thinking about other drawbacks to blow-by oil. It made the roads slick when it first began to rain. The runoff could get into ground water. Pets would play in it and then lick their paws, getting the oil into their systems.

He decided to create a device that would catch and reuse the blow-by oil.

“I made the first one and never even tried it before I went back and remodeled it. I experimented over a period of two and a half years,” he says.

Because of the changes he kept making to his device, Muth had to get two patents.

The mechanism he is currently manufacturing attaches to the breather tube of the engine. It catches the blow-by oil and separates it from the air. The oil is then recycled back into the engine, while the air is blown out.

“Our ultimate goal is to return the air back into the air intake and re-burn it, but we’ve got to make sure we get the oil out,” he says.

The device as it presently works catches between 98 and 99 percent of all the blow-by oil in a truck. It has a float in it that holds about one quart of oil safely before a light in the dash will go off. The one Muth uses in his truck catches about four ounces between oil changes.

“You figure four ounces between each oil change, 10 oil changes a year, that’s 40 ounces. Even if you drop it back to a quart a year, if you figure that times how many truckers there are, we’re saving a whole lot of oil,” he says.

To find out more about Muth’s invention, e-mail him at gmuth@eurekanet.com or send a fax to (740) 591-4229. His business phone number is (740) 985-3605.

Breezeway Screens

Walt Clavier’s wife and co-driver was the divine inspiration behind his cab window screens. She knew that idling their engine was not cost effective, and she was sick of the engine vibrations when she was trying to sleep.

“She told me if I didn’t make a homemade screen she wouldn’t go out [on the road] with me anymore,” says Clavier, a Delaware driver for North American Van Lines. “I took a weekend and made a crude one. Lots of truckers commented on it, so I sat down one weekend and made a drawing.”

The drawing evolved and in 1988 Clavier got a patent for $9,000. The molds to make the screens, however, were much more expensive.

“We put about $105,000 in the project without making any money,” he says. “Now we’ve sold 500,000 of the screens.”

Since idling wastes a gallon of fuel an hour, Clavier says the screens will save drivers money. “They sell for $33 a set and will pay for themselves overnight,” he says. “Most people don’t think about it, but when you’re idling, you’re polluting. In New England, you can’t idle more than five minutes. In L.A. and some port cities you can’t idle more than a half hour. Just walk through a truckstop – that’s a lot of pollution. The screens shut that down.”

The 69-year-old inventor recently decided to sell his idea to Patented Products, a company that also sells bunk warmers. Clavier still gets a royalty for the screens, which are available in many truckstops.

For more information call (800-548-4013) or visit www.breezewayscreens.com.


Abbondandolo’s shades come in five different designs. “My ‘Rebel Girl’ and the ‘Pride Eagle’ are my best sellers, but the ‘No Lot Lizards’ and ‘POW-MIA’ also sell very well,” he says.

Heart of a Clown
Driver using truck shade profits to help terminally ill kids

Thirty years ago, Mike Abbondandolo was at a truckstop and noticed two men in another truck looking around with binoculars. Not thinking anything of it, he went to sleep. He woke up to see the same men in his cab, trying to steal his wallet.

“They were waiting until they didn’t see movement in a truck so that they could break in and steal stuff,” Abbondandolo says. “I started hanging up T-shirts on hangers in my windows for privacy.”

Fifteen years later, Abbondandolo got a patent for his Universal Privacy Shades. The shades, which are made of flexible Tyvek, fit in the windows of trucks and are held on by suction cups. The lightweight shades fold up to fit in a glove box.

After fighting and winning a patent infringement case with AutoShades, Abbondandolo is back on the road hauling wholesale marine parts for Lewis Marine Supply. He sells his shades on the side from his home in Florida. He has decided to use all of his profits to build a fishing camp for sick and terminally ill children.

“Most of my life I was sick,” he says. “I know what it feels like to be poked and prodded, to just want to get out of the hospital.”

A fisherman himself, 51-year-old Abbondandolo has decided to open a resort where sick children can relax and have fun. “I love the serenity, the peacefulness,” Abbondandolo says. “That’s what I want to give to sick kids.”

Abbondandolo, who is also a professional clown on the weekends, hasn’t made enough profit from his invention yet to start the resort. But he keeps working on making this dream of his come true. Right now he’s planning how he can rent out places to stay at his fishing resort and use the money to fund the camp.

Motivated by the Elizabeth Smart case in which a girl in Utah was missing for 9 months, Abbondandolo is trying to put pictures of missing children on his shades. Ideally, companies would sponsor a missing child. Their logo would be sported on one side of the shade, while the child’s face would appear on the other side, he says. The company’s sponsorship would allow these shades to be given away for free.

“The shades fit RVs, trucks, pickups, nearly anything, so this would be a great way to get those kids faces out,” Abbondandolo says.

For more information, check out www.universalprivacyshades.com.


Husband-and-Wife Team Pen State-by-State Driver’s Guide

Don and Debbe Morrow were driving through Nevada three years ago when they ran into a problem. Their atlas said trucks were not allowed on a road where they could see trucks. The Morrows didn’t know if they were allowed to continue driving or not.

Debbe hit the phones, but says she was passed from office to office and found no one who knew about local truck rules. Her frustrations mounted, and she knew that other truckers must experience these same problems.

The Morrows’ solution? They published For the Long Haul, a state-by-state guide for professional drivers.

The couple spent two and a half years and more than 2,000 hours on the phone and Internet tracking down information from their home in Eau Claire, Wis.

The 92-page book includes detailed maps and state routes. It contains up-to-date information on access policies, road classifications, permit and lighting requirements, chain laws and weigh station procedures. It also includes phone numbers for the “right people to call.”
“There are 11 states with chain laws, and none of them are the same,” Debbe said. “There are unique signs in each state. Certain states let you park for eight hours in truckstops; some don’t. This book can help a trucker plan his route so that he can plan times.”

The book, which costs $14.95, can be purchased from Donde Publishing Inc., at www.dondepublishing.com, or by calling (715) 874-6584.

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