Tuesday, March 18, 2014

52 Ancestors - #11 Lionell Burris Mitchell - The Inventor of the Stooley

(Thanks to my brother Terry for the Stooley story which took place between 1959 and 1961 – I was only 6 or 7 at the time.)

“When we lived in John Day, Oregon, Dad’s pride and joy was his 1957 Mercury Montclair with the Turnpike Cruiser engine. Unfortunately, it was also our eldest brother Marc’s pride and joy when it came to setting speed records (he was in high school at that time and we were surrounded by curvy mountain roads and long flat desert roads.) One morning after Marc had been out with the Merc the night before, Dad came into the house and demanded to know why Marc had been driving at a certain (excessive) speed. In spite of Marc’s denials, Dad insisted that he knew exactly how fast the car had been driven.  This went on for some time, and Marc asked Dad how he knew how fast he had been driving. Dad’s answer was that he had installed a ‘Stooley’ on the car.  He explained to Marc that a Stooley (short for stool pigeon) was a device trucking companies used to record all kinds of data on how their trucks were driven.  I don’t know if there was such a thing nearly 50 years ago (all cars basically have them now), but Marc was convinced.  Off he went to the local service station. He put the Merc up on the hoist. He looked everywhere he could under that car, under the hood, anywhere he could think to look. No luck. He could not find the fabled Stooley. Finally, in desperation Marc asked Dad to show him where this magical device was.  Dad explained that it was all very simple: He took the car out on the road, drove it at various speeds, and after each run at a particular speed, he would look at how long the bug splatters on the windshield were.  Armed with this information, Dad could always tell exactly how fast Marc had been driving.  I don’t recall whether Marc started washing the car more often or not.

Dad was really quite an inventor (as was his father), and the Stooley is a prime example of how his mind could work. The Stooley was a marvel of invention: no moving parts, very reliable and accurate, and completely undetectable.”

Even more remarkable was that everything that Dad knew was self-taught. At this time he was an electronics technician for the US Forest Service stationed at the Malheur National Forest. In 1961 – he was transferred to and put in charge of the Mt Hood National Forest communications in Portland, Oregon – and of all fire communications for Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. He continued to invent a number of things and managed to save the US Forest Service hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, the move to Portland was not good one for the 1957 Mercury Montclair. Our brother Marc stayed in John Day for a couple of years and then joined us in Portland to attend college. I-84 proved to be flat, fast, and too tempting for Marc going up the Columbia River Gorge one night and he managed to put a rod through the engine and then continued to drive it until it was dead. This was the summer of 1964 and we were leaving the next day for a family vacation to the coast. I was totally humiliated and wanted to duck my head as we drove into the resort in a ghastly ancient 1940 something loaner car with the trunk tied down with rope. The mechanic was not able revive the Merc.

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