Veteran inventor inspiresRogenald Keller, the oldest resident of the Silver Bay Veteran’s Home, has always been an inventor. Ask him about himself and if you’re lucky you might get treated to a story about his time in Army’s Horse Cavalry during high school, service in the Marines during World War II, or tiger sharks encountered on deep-sea fishing trips. But he tends to bring the conversation back, one way or another, to the technical details of his many inventions.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News Chronicle
Rogenald Keller, the oldest resident of the Silver Bay Veteran’s Home, has always been an inventor. Ask him about himself and if you’re lucky you might get treated to a story about his time in Army’s Horse Cavalry during high school, service in the Marines during World War II, or tiger sharks encountered on deep-sea fishing trips. But he tends to bring the conversation back, one way or another, to the technical details of his many inventions.
That’s because the 97-year-old Keller is on a mission and he refuses to slow down one bit.
For over twenty years, he’s been working on a design for a safer boat. According to the Coast Guard’s 2008 Recreational Boating Statistics report, recreational boating accidents caused 709 deaths in the U.S. that year. Keller believes recreational boating accidents often blamed on driver error could be prevented with the use of a better design.
Instead of being concave like most powerboats, his boat has a flat deck with high railings. Keller believes this can prevent the boat from filling with water and sinking, known as “swamping.” “There’s no open area where a large amount of water could enter in a hurry,” he said. “So we can’t swamp.”
It’s similar to a pontoon boat in that way, but unlike a pontoon there’s a small, water-tight crawl space below the deck.
His design is also intended to increase driver visibility, since the boat’s seats are mounted high on flat deck.
His “inertia-control” seating was a crucial part of the design. The idea for that invention came to him while deep-sea fishing in Florida.
With a big catch on the line, Keller found his pivoting chair tended to turn in the wrong direction. The chair had to be “steered” by someone else in order to keep him facing so that his rod was parallel with his line. Keller patented a design for a chair intended to solve that problem in 1981.
The same principals were used in his inertia-control seats, which are designed to keep the passenger in the seat regardless of the boat’s motion.
“Even if you were a little drunk, you couldn’t fall out,” he chuckled.
Keller has a prototype of his design, dubbed “The Spirit of Silver Bay.” It’s stored in a warehouse a few miles from the veteran’s home, and he hopes to take it out on the water soon. He’s built other prototypes in the past, and tested them out near St. Peter, Minn., where he lived until about a year ago.
Keller contacted the News-Chronicle because he’s looking to spread the word about his design to manufacturers and change how small open pleasure boats are made. But even if you’re not interested in boat mechanics—and I’ll admit I’m no expert—I think there’s a lot to take away from Keller’s story.
“Everything that’s invented is simple,” Keller claimed. You just have to pay attention, he told me.
What did he mean by that? I wondered at first. And as I paged through the his 2002 patent for a “Boat with Swing Seating,” with its ten pages of tiny text and 14 pages of illustrations, I definitely didn’t think his invention seemed all that simple.
But as I listened to him, it seemed that what drives Keller’s inventing is a refusal to accept the status quo and a curiosity that isn’t satisfied until he understands how things work in his own way. He doesn’t just come up with new answers to old questions, he reframes the question entirely.
Sure, most recreational boat accidents can be traced back to some sort of driver error—but that doesn’t mean that a new boat design like Keller’s couldn’t make it harder for drivers to make those mistakes.
Look him up if you’re interested in his designs, or simply want to hear more about an impressive life.