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Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 12:01 am

A simply innovative career

Ron Earley’s latest inventions

Ron Earley
PHOTO BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN

 

When Ron Earley sees something, he thinks, “How can I make that better?”

The Springfield resident has been designing, building and selling inventions that began as his own ideas since the 1960s. Some of them have made it to buyers’ homes; others never made it past his garage doors.

Earley has faith that his ideas can help improve people’s day-to-day lives. He sees a large picture window and thinks, “That could use a set of solar-operated blinds that open in the sunlight and close in the dark.” He steps on a sweet gum ball and thinks, “This could be shredded and used as yard fertilizer.”

Such thinking is how Earley’s latest invention has come to be. Simply put, it’s a bedsheet. Earley has rigged it up, though. He’s taken one millimeter of padding, folded it over and sewn it at the end of a flat sheet. It creates an air pocket that then serves as insulation.

The purpose of Earley’s “Blanket Socks” is as simple as its design: it keeps your feet warm with your own body heat. And the inventor doesn’t hesitate to admit it’s not a complex creation.

“It is ridiculously simple,” he said.

How he happened upon the idea is similar to the origin of other ideas on his invention list. Last month, Earley was in the hospital. His feet were cold, and there wasn’t a simple solution. Socks made his feet sweat, an extra blanket would fall off of the bed, and the list went on as Earley looked for alternatives. When he couldn’t find a solution, he created one. Blanket Socks was the result.

Not all of his ideas are quite so simple. For example, when an acquaintance of Earley’s burned her arm on a stove, his first thought was that silk sand massages burn wounds. He filled a box full of the fine sand, attached hair dryers underneath, and pieced together a system so that she could place her arm in the box and have sand gently blown to massage the tissues. The nerve endings were sensitized, but not rubbed or scratched.

Whether it’s a fixture to help someone with injuries or a change to the common bedsheet that Earley claims “can start a whole new field for sheets and bedding,” creating things that fit a person’s needs are what the inventor looks at first before pitching an idea.

Before a manufacturer or company buys an idea, though, there must not only be a need for it, but it has to be practical, convenient and economical, Earley said. Those features are what factored in to some of the inventor’s better known creations. Earley has had three inventions go “national.” The mobile home insulated roof was patented in 1983 and manufactured in Springfield after Earley came up with the idea to create an inexpensive and easily installable cover for his own home. In 1986, he patented the “Lighted Cane,” a walking cane which has a flashlight attached that illuminates the path of a user. Two decades later, in 2006, another one of his ideas, the Grip ’n Rise knob, which helps cane users push themselves up, hit the market.     

Earley has about 60 inventions on his list. Some have been patented, and others are ideas he’s pitched to manufacturers only to be shot down.

Since 2006, his list of creations has nearly doubled, with ideas such as using unwanted Asian carp as fertilizer for farms and gardens, and the “Finders Beepers Luggage Finder” that helps people find their bags on the luggage carousel via keychain, lights and a beeper.

The 76-year-old said one of his least favorite things to hear is “You should be rich,” reminding him of a career full of ideas that hasn’t made him much money. Yet one reason he continues to make new things, despite frequent rejection, is because it’s nice to hear people say “that was clever.”

“An inventor is like a prospector. He keeps looking for … the biggest gold strike there is, and there’s no bigger kick for an inventor than to walk into a store and see what you made out of your garage, your basement, whatever, and think, hey, I made that.”

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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