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RayBuiltIt.jpg

[Photo from Uncle Ray]

Long before my time, my grandfather Raymond Albert Sheffield, was messing about with cars. When I was about 10 or 11, we sat on a beach on Martha’s Vineyard watching the ferries come and go exchanging cars and passengers while he told me of the car that he had built in his younger days.

Apparently, not having enough money for a vehicle was not going to stop him, so he built his own version of what I recall was a Model A. Where the model name would have been embossed, he put his own name. During the winters, he needed to get his ride off the street, so he and his mates dismantled the vehicle so that it could be carried down the stairs to the basement of the house he and my grandmother lived in. I imagine that he spent the winter modding and tuning the components for a better vehicle in the following year’s driving season. In several of the pictures here, you can see the gleeful pride he had in owning and driving the vehicle that he made with his own hands. In this one you can see the excitement he had of driving his project.

My uncle Ray inherited the task of dealing with the room full of photos (no kidding!) after my grandfather passed on. He has since scanned and archived the decades of black and white photos that my grandfather shot, developed and printed in a darkroom located in his office.

My grandfather went on to become something of an inventor, tinkerer, and maker. Some time in the 1970’s, I recall being at his Cambridge workshop, Air Conditioning Engineering, and seeing all the metallic creations he was cooking up with the help of his staff. One that I recall was a tubed fireplace contraption that drew the cool air from below the fire and expelled warm air out the top of the tubes, increasing the efficiency of the average wood burning fireplace.

Much of my grandfather’s life’s work seemed to track back to the creation of his car, the RayBiltIt, and the practical joy of a useful project. We should all do what we can to cultivate this kind of competent pursuit of dreams in the young people around us. Who knows what can come of such interests? New inventions, new technologies, new solutions to the world’s problems, or maybe just some good wholesome fun with innovation?

If you have a father in your life who has nurtured your making spirit, you can share some stories with us in the comments, and if you are still hunting for the perfect gift, he may enjoy a discounted subscription to MAKE magazine.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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