Some of Henri's Inventions
The Myford Long Cross-slide.
During the war, Henri developed a new method of turning to cut down machining time. He thought, that he could take bigger cuts if he reversed the rotation and presented the cutting tool from the rear of the work. One advantage was, and still is, that the operator can see the cutting action and the resulting finish without craning over the turret or toolpost. The work-piece can be monitored without the danger of the operator's clothing being caught in the chuck. To do this, he made an extended cross-slide and mounted the tool-holder at the rear. When turning, I always use this method unless I am using somebody else's machine. Myford bought the idea from Henri after WW2 and patented it. At one time their high-speed and heavy duty models came with it as standard. When I ordered my ML7 many years ago, I specified it to include this slide as it can be used for drilling attachments. When I had a query on my machine, I rang Myford and asked to speak to an expert as I was having trouble with my new bed being tapered. He told me that Myfords were unable to leave the castings outside in the yard to stabalise physically due to the cost and shortages of materials. Consequently, they were moving after grinding. I was asked my name and asked to hold the line. Eventually, one of the Directors came on the line and told me he had known my father. We had a very enlightening chat about Henri. He was full of admiration for my father. I was very proud. Unfortunately I don't remember the man's name, but he told me the whole story and was very frank. He sent an Inspector down to check out my machine, and he verified my measurements. He went back to the factory and brought me a new bed and re-assembled my lathe. Thank you Myfords for your frankness and service. That was such a long time ago. I wonder if that sort of swift and excellent service would available now?
Semi-automatic Machines for the Optical Industry.
For the immediate post-war period we made semi-automatic machines which he designed for various purposes. At that time spectacles were horn-rimmed and heavy. The more expensive material used was tortoise-shell. Some of the plastics were becoming available and the lens frames were often cut by hand individually. We had a visit from Melson Wingate, the Olympic runner and the owner of one of the major high-street opticians in the UK. He asked us to design a method of cutting frames in quantity. Henri came up with a machine to rout out two frame-fronts from a pattern of any desired form. The pattern was clamped in a centre rectangular frame while a blank was anchored each side. A lever plunged the follower and routers down to carry out the penetration, then another horizontal lever control the profiling. This became a routine method for a couple of years until plastic injection moulded frames became developed. Henri's younger brother Keith was in the fore-front of that field at that time. He became the Chief Designer of Humphries and Son, one of the top injection machine companies in the UK, having worked his way up. A superb engineer, sadly died at the early age of 51 from a heart attack. We produced another automatic machine that made spectacle-frame-hinges. Brass strip was fed into one end and half-hinges came out of the other. Then I was expected to stand and assemble them with the hinge-pins!
The Easy Chairs from a Rolls Royce.
We had poor soft furnishing during WW2 so Henri asked me to go to Trent's scrap-yard (old car cemetery!) to see whether I could find a quality car with leather seats in good condition. I reported back that there were several. He went off and fetched back two matching leather Rolls Royce front seats in a beautiful tan Connelly Hide. To these he added a suitable frame to support them at the right height for lounging. They had fold down arm-rests and were about the most comfortable chairs that I have ever used. I have owned SAABs for over 30 years and I have been tempted to do something similar as SAAB seats are so wonderfully comfortable. (My dear wife says 'it will never happen')!!
The Variable Speed drive.
During the war, Henri introduced an idea to the works where he could adjust machine turning-speed quickly without stopping the machine being used. It was very successful. It was based on two cones with V-shaped belts. When peace came, he thought it could be used to drive a bicycle powered by an internal-combustion engine. He spent quite a lot of time and money following the idea through until a friend told him that Rolls Royce had patented the idea and used it in the first decade of the 1900s. Oh well! It was used later by DAF cars as a transmission fairly successfully.
The New Putter Revolution and Fluorescent Balls for Golf.
Henri was a very keen golfer but his clubs were all second-hand and with hickory shafts. One of his maxims was 'one on the fairway is the same as one on the green'. Consequently, he spent most of his available time practicing his short game. He considered the old blade-type putter was not the best club to put with as there was a turning moment applied during the stroke, so he developed a new style putter. It was more hammer shape and worked like magic. We cast a few in aluminium with lead balance weights added to suit individual needs. He named it the 'Club Putter' and I set off on my bicycle to hawk it around the local golf courses. They sold quickly and caused quite a stir. Unfortunately, the Rules Committee denied their use in competitions. So, that was another flop!
However, they could not stop him using another device he came up with to help him practice.
We had more snow in the UK in those days, it seems. We would often play in the rain, but a white ball in snow was another matter. Fluorescent paint in strong colours was available through doubtful sources if you were lucky. He dipped the balls in different colours for each of our four usual players. No problem! It did not stop a cheat from stepping hard on an opponents ball to bury it!
The Un-pickable Lock.
One of the inventions was an unpickable lock. It was a fascinating barrel-shaped device. He would not tell anyone the secret release procedure. No-one ever cracked it and he died without divulging the code. I kept it for years, but I failed completely to crack it and I can't find it at all now.
The Fore-runner to the Flymo Mower.
Another project was to cut the lawn more easily. He thought that if he could control a mower with radio if it would transport itself at the right height. On the shaft of the old faithful diesel engine he fitted a steel rotor blade with a Durham Duplex (large and strong) razor-blade on each end of the rotor. This prototype was 'controlled' with a cable attached to a pin in the centre of the lawn. The lawn was quite bumpy and the cable gave way and the 'monster' came straight for Henri and cut the toe of his shoe before he could jump clear. Luckily it stalled the motor. Back to the drawing board! The next model had a rotor of sharpened hardened and tempered silver-steel . It had a much better chassis and did the job well. The radio-control idea was dropped, but the mower was used regularly. Not long after that the 'Flymo' was produced. You may think you are the first with an idea, but you seldom are.
The Fore-runner of the Wankel Rotary Engine.
I had a Pesco rotary-pump that I had obtained from a Government Surplus store with the idea of making myself a dope-sprayer for my model aircraft. Henri came up with the idea of converting it into a rotary internal-combustion engine. He did so successfully. It ran well, but wore the bore very quickly and so did not look as though it would be of much use commercially. Herr Wankel managed it though!
A Fore-runner to the Hovercraft?
Around 1950, when Henri was helping me with a problem multi-propeller rubber-driven flying-machine (well it didn't fly, that was the rub!) he came up with an idea which we had discussed. It was for a circular machine with a very large vertical rotary fan. We would drive it with an electric motor tethered to the centre point to the ground for safety. It was made entirely of Perspex (Plexiglass) acrylic plastic stuck together with acetone. On its first attempt, it rose from the ground. We increased the motor speed and it rose a lot further. We found that by adding a 'skirting' to the outer diameter it could be made to hover at a constant height. It was shelved for a while, due to the need to earn the daily bread. Henri approached Bristol Aircraft with the idea, but no hope there. Later, when I was working at Vickers Armstrongs Aircraft Division, I took the opportunity to raise the matter with the Chief Designer, Sir George Edwards, when he came to my desk to talk about my work. His reply was short, 'We do not make helicopters, we only make aircraft that fly', forget it then! Ok, I shouldn't have bothered, but Christopher Cockerell did have his success later with a similar idea.
The Thank You Sign.
One thing that is always desirable is being able to be courteous to other drivers on the road and hand signals can sometimes be taken the wrong way. Henri thought that it would be useful if the overtaking driver could show his courtesy by saying thank you after he has passed with the help of a considerate slower driver. He mooted a sign for the purpose. In those days cars were very basic so there was little help available from the factory-fitted equipment. So we started by making a pattern in box-wood, it was triangular in plan-view and rectangular from the rear. We had some red acrylic rectangular plates silk-screened in black to leave the words 'THANK YOU' bare in the red. A battery and a bulb was set into designed voids in the rubber housing and two wire tails were left to come through a vent. Two rubber suction-pads were on the sides to fix the sign to the window while the wires were threaded through to the dashboard where there was a simple button switch which adhered to the surface with a suctions pad moulded into the switch housing, very simple. We worked long hours and sold a lot to motor-factors around our locality, but the price was too tight for the hand-work that had to be done, so it was not a commercial success. Further, we failed to get paid for our orders.
The De-Bugger Device.
Before the clam-opening bonnets (hoods) on cars most cars had a gull-wing affair that had a hinge running from the windscreen to the radiator. This was the case with most cars during the 1950s. Windscreen wipers were very small and totally inadequate. Henri designed an accessory that bolted on to this hinged ridge with a deflector blade which stopped the windscreen from getting converted in squashed bugs. It was marketed as The 'De-Bugger'. We took a lot of orders from the motor trade and tooled-up to produce them. A well-known large car-dealer in Bournemouth ordered £500's worth of units. They demanded a tight schedule which we managed to keep, and I delivered them on time. We never received payment for these, so the whole project had to be dropped. Another sad saga really.
There were many other ideas that he had, but I can't remember enough about them to add them here.