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Made in Lassen: 6 Interesting Things Invented Right Here in Lassen County

By Jeremy Couso

Over the last 140 years residents of Lassen County have invented some pretty neat things! From our county’s very first patent application in March of 1877 local folks have consistently come up with some great ideas to make the world around them a better place. Some were more lucrative than others, some ahead of their time and some solved problems that have disappeared into the far distant past.

Most of the earlier patents had to do with agriculture – time and labor saving devices to help bring in the crops with less hassle and expense. As we approached the 20th century local inventions turned more to technology and communications. During the heyday of the local lumber mills many patents revolving around the timber industry were filed and used throughout the world.

George Kelley’s 1877 invention for easy unloading and stacking of hay and grain.

March 13th, 1877
George Fox Kelley
Improvement in Devices for Unloading and Stacking Hay

Lassen County’s first patented invention was a nifty mechanism for unloading wagons rapidly as they came in from the field, at the same time piling hay, grain or straw up in a stack. The massive operation was performed completely with horse power and required no effort once the material was loaded on to the netting.

The inventor, Milford resident George Kelley said, “The arrangement also comprises a method of depositing hay or grain at one operation into a barn, which is done by rolling the load from the wagon on to a peculiarly-constructed car, which conveys the load, up into the barn and dumps it in the proper place.”

According to an article in the 1878 Pacific Rural Press, “The whole operation is performed rapidly and with very little labor, so that the time occupied in either stacking hay or grain or putting it into a barn is very small as compared with the methods usually practiced.”

A.W. Lane's self-regulating windmill
A.W. Lane’s self-regulating windmill

December 15th, 1885
Andrew W. Lane
Self Regulating Windmill

In 1885 Janesville farmer Andrew Lane helped solve a problem that had plagued farmers and ranchers in wind-prone areas for as long as wind power had been in use. His new self-regulating windmill, by use of brakes and clutch on the main drive shaft and adjustable blades, could be set to rotate at a specified RPM no matter what the wind speed, “thereby rendering the device automatic and self-regulating and at the same time placing it under control of men.”

Lane’s patented design was improved on and used in construction of windmills by a variety of companies until the turn of the century when newer designs eclipsed his invention.

Noble S. McKinsey and A. R. Nelson's selective switch for telephone systems
Noble S. McKinsey and A. R. Nelson’s selective switch for telephone systems

August 22, 1905
Noble S. McKinsey and A. R. Nelson
Selective Switch for Telephone Systems

McKinsey, who was Superintendant of the local telephone company, and A.R. Nelson helped revolutionize rural telephone systems with their patented ‘selective system’ which provided a way for any telephone to be selectively, “thrown on, rung up, and thrown off” without the need for an operator.

The selective switch was used on party and toll lines, exchange switchboards, intercommunicating lines for hotels and business switchboards.

“In fact,” explains the patent application, “it shall be applicable on any lines where telephones are used.”

McKinsey and Nelson’s primitive phone switch formed the basis for modern communication networks and the patent itself was improved on, in different forms, for use in a variety of inventions over the following 100 years.

Frank Kelley invented this velocipede powered by the rider continuously standing and sitting
Frank Kelley invented this velocipede powered by the rider continuously standing and sitting

March 12th, 1901
Frank A. Kelley
Velocipede Driving Mechanism

This one didn’t work so well, but held it’s own at first in a sea of ideas for making two-wheeled vehicles move. At the turn of the twentieth century bicycles in several forms were all the rage, with new technology appearing frequently. Velocipedes were an early form of bicycle that used cranks, rather than pedals, to drive the wheels.

In Kelley’s unusual invention the weight of the rider, and a continuous standing and sitting motion, transmitted the power to the wheel through a chain drive. The rider stood on a pair of pegs attached to the bike’s seat.

Before long most bicycles adopted the pedal and chain combination and other designs fell by the wayside.

Keeping a horse's head in the proper position was easier using this device according to the 1906 patent application
Keeping a horse’s head in the proper position was easier using this device according to the 1906 patent application

February 27th, 1906
Joseph B. Williams and Ebenezer C. Brown
Support for Horses’ Heads

Sometimes, I have been told, it is necessary to use a checkrein to keep a horse from lowering it’s head. There are a lot of reasons – for safety a checkrein keeps the horse from dropping its head and snagging a bridle on the shafts of the wagon at speed. A part of modern tack, the checkrein or overcheck is used also for training and for younger riders who lack the strength to keep a horse’s head pulled up into position.

However, in 1906 Williams and Brown had a better idea.

“Our invention relates to an improved support for horses heads, the object of our invention being to provide an apparatus which will take the place of the ordinary checkrein, but with many attendant advantages as, for instance, it will be more comfortable than the checkrein, will give the horse the free use of his head, will increase his speed in trotting or pacing, and will also compel the horse to trot or pace rather than to gallop.”

The invention doesn’t appear to have been a financial success but was improved upon by several later patents and marketed again in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Wes Emerson's design for trash collection boxes with advertising for local businesses
Wes Emerson’s design for trash collection boxes with advertising for local businesses

December 13th, 1949
Wes Emerson
Advertising Trash Collection Boxes

It was a form of native advertising far ahead of its time, and one that would not look out of place even today on the streets of Susanville. The patent notably improved on the standard public trash receptacles by featuring a removable box that made garbage collection much simpler than earlier designs.

The true innovation behind Emerson’s invention were interchangeable panels that were used for advertising local businesses. Sponsorships were sold, the sides of the boxes were painted with the ads and placed around town. In the early 1950’s uptown Susanville had an Emerson designed trash collection box at each corner.

A newspaper article from 1951 states that several cities in California had purchased the cans, but little is known about the ultimate success of the invention.


Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor


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