COOLIDGE, Ga. — Billy “Wild Bill” Willeby of Coolidge claims to have invented dozens of things.
The U.S. Patent Office acknowledges one of them in its online database, but the database can be searched by inventor’s name only back to 1976. Willeby’s been inventing things much longer than that, and he also claims a 1974 patent that couldn’t be verified through the website.
But the 81-year-old throws out lots of ideas that didn’t necessarily make it to the patent office.
His confirmed patent, dated Oct. 17, 1995, was for an attachment to a cotton harvester that uses pressurized air to lift the cotton into a better position for harvest. The result is more cotton in the harvest wagon and less left on the stalks or lying in the field.
Originally called the Boll Saver, the device was marketed through John Deere and Case Manufacturing, according to a Moultrie Observer article from 2012. But the original manufacturer died and Willeby was wrapped up in road maintenance work in Florida — his day job, so to speak. The economy sank before Willeby could get another contract to manufacture the device, and he gave up on it for a while.
But in 2012, another manufacturer showed interest in Willeby’s idea, and it resumed production. That effort also ended because of problems with the manufacturer, Willeby told The Observer recently.
The patent he describes that pre-dates the patent office database is for a device that injects molasses into a roll of low-quality hay that will make it more appealing for cattle. He said there’s a manufacturer interested in making the device and a distributor who wants to sell it, but no one’s signed a contract yet.
Willeby was one of several people who submitted recommendations to BP as to how to cap the oil spilling from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He said BP took elements of six of the designs — including his — to plug the leak.
Other inventions he described in a recent interview include:
• An attachment for boat trailers to keep them from going off the end of a boat ramp.
• A cooler that circulates chilled water to keep the contents cold.
• A device, powered by a WeedEater motor, to drive fence posts.
• A balloon watch. Swimmers would wear one on each arm, and if caught in a riptide they could press a button to inflate the balloons and use them to stay afloat until a lifeguard can get to them. This one’s still in the idea stage, Willeby said.
• An electrical device that combines a 12-volt car battery, an alternator and a power converter to produce electricity during blackouts. Willeby said the alternator would keep the battery charged.
• A retired school bus outfitted with a cotton harvester in the front and a micro-gin in the back. It would harvest the cotton and gin it at the same time, he said.
Then there’s the engine that runs on air.
Willeby is excited about this invention, which he said took him six years and 11 months to perfect. He said several companies were interested when he invented it some years ago, but he still doesn’t have an agreement to produce it.
The engine design starts with a 350 Chevrolet block, but it replaces gasoline with compressed air in a design Willeby based on a steam engine.
“Gasoline’ll kick the piston down,” he said. “Steam will kick the piston down. I figured, why not use air?”
Willeby claims an engine’s piston produces 135 pounds of air pressure but it takes only 50 pounds of air pressure to move the piston. He said his engine uses that difference and the momentum of the crankshaft to keep the engine running with no additional fuel.
“You really don’t have to stop at a gas station,” he said. “The only reason to stop at the gas station is to use the bathroom.”
Willeby showed drawings of several of his inventions during the recent interview, but he had only one prototype to show: The car battery/alternator combination that would provide electricity during a power outage — and it wasn’t hooked up.
Willeby’s next challenge is an electric scooter, brought to him by a neighbor, Blu Sealy.
A relative of Sealy’s had limited mobility after an operation, and Sealy came up with the idea for an electric wheelchair. He brought it to Willeby when he heard about Willeby’s inventions. Willeby helped him draw up the plan for it.
Willeby said the scooter would run on a 12-volt battery. The battery would power a drive wheel attached to the steering column. The scooter would have three wheels — two in the back, a wide one in the front — and when the driver would lower the steering column, the drive wheel would contact the front wheel and make the scooter go.
It’s reminiscent of one of the first things Willeby ever invented: an electric car on bicycle wheels. Willeby said the invention worked great and reached 15 miles an hour. But when he went to stop he realized he hadn’t put any brakes on it. A scrap pile helped him to stop.
“I kind of demolished it, the front end of it,” he recalled. “I took it over a little piece to the junk pile and that’s where I left it.”
But the new scooter, Willeby said, will be good for a lot of people. He said 11 people in his own neighborhood qualify for an electric wheelchair through Medicare, and this scooter could go off-road better than most wheelchairs. It could help people with limited mobility get through amusement parks or other attractions. Meter readers could use it instead of a pickup truck as they go through their routes.
He offered no estimate of when he’d have a prototype or begin production.