Monday, May 18, 2009



Closeup of box containing grandpa's wheel

Wheels of all kinds have always captivated me. In trying to find the reason behind this fascination, my thoughts go back to my grandfather. Benjamin Clarence Galloway. Grandpa Ben was an inventor. To make a living, he owned a custom auto body shop in Leavittsburg, Ohio, a little community on the outskirts of Warren. But he was an inventor at heart.

Benjamin Clarence Galloway

As far back as I can remember, "grandpa’s wheel" existed. He was born in 1892 and apparently had been working on the wheel since about 1935. He built many models of his wheel over a period of about fifty years. The wheel was metal with myriad gears, circles and other contraptions that I couldn’t begin to describe. Whenever he could, Grandpa Ben would corner my brother and me to talk about the wheel. He’d have us sit on the floor and he would pull out this tremendous blueprint. When we were children of about 6 and 9 years old, respectively, it was hard for us to comprehend anything about this blueprint, but he insisted we "pay attention." He told us that he was inventing a device for perpetual motion and that someday his wheel would be under the hood of every car in the world. No, he wasn’t crazy, but perhaps a bit overzealous and misguided. Ben had worked with gears and wheels for most of his life and knew a great deal about the workings of engines.

Various parts Grandpa used to assemble his wheel

One day, grandfather Ben called me into the room. He was shouting and very excited. His wheel had been running for over 3 days with no input of energy from anyone or anything since he had started it. His excitement soon turned to disappointment, however, when the wheel finally came to a stop.

Grandpa Ben worked on the wheel up until the end of his life. Each year, as he got older, the wheel became smaller and smaller. Parts were expensive and it was harder for him to lug them around each year. By the time Grandpa Ben reached his 91st birthday, his wheel had gone from three feet in diameter to a puny four inches. What had started as a five foot square blueprint was ultimately reduced to a sketch of the wheel on a small sheet of paper.

Box I created for Grandpa's wheel with diagram on left

My brother, Jim, and my sons, Charlie and Cameron, have pulled the wheel out of the box I made for it many times in a vain effort to reactivate it. We’ve all come to the conclusion that grandpa was on to something with his wheel, but we're not sure what.

Another view of the box I created for Grandpa's wheel. I wanted it to look as mysterious as all the gears and gizmo's inside. I used old locks, keys, an antique wine opener and handmade letters.

Grandpa Ben came by his inventiveness and eccentricity from his mother, Elizabeth Kennedy Galloway. For example, Elizabeth used to making a crinkling sound when she walked or rocked in her favorite rocking chair. When my mother asked my father why his grandmother made such an odd noise when she moved, my father replied, "Oh, that. My grandmother wears newspaper under her dresses. She believes the smoke from my grandfather's pipe is bad for her and she thinks that by wearing paper she will protect herself. She says that someday we will all find out that you should not inhale smoke or have it get near your body." She was a woman ahead of her time. She and my great-grandfather, Benjamin Lowe Galloway, actually both lived into their nineties just like their son, my Grandpa Ben.

My great-grandparents, Elizabeth Kennedy Galloway and Benjamin Lowe Galloway. They were Quakers from Marietta, Ohio.

Someday I'll build a sculpture that includes Grandpa Ben’s wheel. The subject of the sculpture will be an enthusiastic inventor who looks as though he has made a tremendous breakthrough in technology - which is the way I remember him.

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