When asked what makes an inventor, Thomas Edison said: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Dennis William Wilson has both.
The imagination was a blessing or curse that began in childhood, when Wilson would wonder what made things work. Upon discovering what made an object work, he would attempt to create something more efficient.
By the time he was 19, he was a working construction engineer, following the career of his father. Now that he’s 65 and retired, Wilson has piles of junk that are bigger than they once were.
And so are his inventions.
“Inventors are thinking about things when they’re sleeping,” Wilson said. “If you’re midway through a project, it won’t leave you alone. It’s waiting to be worked out.”
Wilson and his wife, Debbie, live on acreage in Spanaway in a lovely home, though Wilson is rarely in it.
Instead, he’s perpetually prowling an industrial-size garage with workbenches, engines, cars and piles of parts and pieces of one machine or another. In the back of the garage is a large room, Wilson’s man cave.
From the ceiling hangs an airplane frame he built a few decades ago. In a curio cabinet is one of his few patented inventions — a socket that tightens with a small screw, allowing it to change sizes.
“It was a great idea that you can now find in any hardware store,” Wilson said, holding up a packaged socket. “I didn’t have the money to advertise, distribute. That’s what happens to a lot of inventors — they invent something but don’t have the money to do anything with it.”
Still, money has never motivated him. Two things usually do.
“Thinking of a way to solve a problem drives me,” Wilson said. “So does being told an idea won’t work. You give me a challenge, I don’t quit.”
At the front of that huge garage is Wilson’s latest and largest invention, something he calls a freedom hydraulic cylinder impulse motor. It’s connected to a 24-volt gas engine that’s dwarfed by the machine it starts.
“Here we go,” Wilson said, firing up that small engine. Slowly, a pair of perfectly timed hydraulic cylinders began moving, with four different colored light bulbs flashing.
“Those two cylinders are powered separately, independent of one another, but they come together as one,” Wilson said.
Then a pair of chains began turning different-size sprockets, and the torque created electricity that reached the generator. Once the whole thing was running smoothly, Wilson unplugged the 24-volt engine.
“The engine is now powered by the generator,” Wilson said. “What starts with a 6-horsepower engine increases 10 times before it reaches the generator.”
Mick McGuire, a Bates Technical College heavy equipment mechanical instructor, walked around Wilson’s machine as it ran, touching this hose, then that, using a penlight to study the machine.
“It’s like an old steam engine,” he said. “It’s a matter of torque multiplication. How did you time the cylinders?”
Wilson explained in terms McGuire understood but some writers never will.
“That’s impressive,” McGuire told him.
Later, in his man cave surrounded by four guitars, a drum set, an organ and eight-track recorder — yes, Wilson is a musician, too — he was asked what possibilities he saw with his latest creation.
“I’ve spent much of my life trying to create free energy, and I think I’ve come close,” Wilson said. “With very little fuel use or emissions, I can multiply power generated by 10 times.”
How long did this invention take?
“Five years, probably $50,000,” he said. “I wanted to quit a hundred times, nearly pulled my hair out. I’ve taken it as far as I can. This is a prototype, and it works.
“The Wright Brothers’ first flight was, what, something like 700 feet? That’s where this machine is, like that first plane. It needs refinement, more engineering.”
Wilson is hoping to find investors willing to back the project, or someone who wants to buy it outright.
“I’d sell it as long as I went down as the inventor,” he said. “If someone wanted to partner with me, I’d only ask 25 percent of whatever it makes.”
What did McGuire think?
“The tenacity needed to do this is amazing. I see industrial potential in the hydraulic timing,” McGuire said. “His goal was to make power, and he made it. It’s an impressive monument to his endeavor.
“I’d like to see Metro Parks exhibit it, or maybe a college or university — show just what a man in his garage can do.”
To learn more about Dennis William Wilson — his inventions and his music — go to williamwilsonmusic.com.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638