79 year old ex Quarry Manager invents Sandbagger

The punishing work of filling sandbags has been made quick and efficient by an energetic 79-year-old Manitoban who was driven ‘to improve the process’.

(ELIE, MANITOBA, Canada)  —  At 79 years of age, late-blooming inventor and former gravel-pit operator Guy Bergeron is likely responsible for filling more sandbags than any other person alive.
“Twelve bags every 7.5 seconds,” the Manitoban says proudly.

He’s talking about his invention, The Sandbagger, a tarantula-like machine that automates the backbreaking work of stuffing sandbags.

Over the past 19 years, his Sandbaggers have pumped out millions of bags and stopped millions of litres of floodwater from inundating towns all over North America.
Volunteers in Grand Forks, N.D., use The Sandbagger, invented by Guy Bergeron of Elie, Man. He drew the plans for the invention in 1990 while he was convalescing from open-heart surgery. ‘If you’re really moving, it can fill 5,700 bags an hour,’ Mr. Bergeron says.

Volunteers in Grand Forks, N.D., use The Sandbagger, invented by Guy Bergeron of Elie, Man. He drew the plans for the invention in 1990 while he was convalescing from open-heart surgery. ‘If you’re really moving, it can fill 5,700 bags an hour,’ Mr. Bergeron says.
The Globe and Mail

But millions of bags don’t necessarily translate to millions of dollars. Mr. Bergeron was about to retire the business this year until he got a call from North Dakota last month.

“It was Fargo,” Mr. Bergeron recalls. “They wanted one, maybe two machines. And they wanted them right away.”

With that call, the Bergerons quickly hauled two Sandbaggers to Fargo, where they played a pivotal role in helping avert a catastrophic flood last month.

“I’m not sure we could have done it without them,” says Terry Ludlum, an official who looked after sandbagging efforts in Fargo, where a second Red River crest is expected later this month. “And with this next rise coming, we’ll be cranking them up again quite soon.”

The idea for The Sandbagger first sprouted in Mr. Bergeron’s restive brain three decades ago. In the spring of 1976, the gravel-pit operator lent his hand to a sandbagging operation near Elie, 45 kilometres west of Winnipeg. The military was running a gravel conveyor belt that funnelled sand down a single stovepipe and into a bag.

“They were filling one at a time, barely faster than hand-filling,” Mr. Bergeron remembers. “I knew right then there was something that could be done to improve the process.”

To understand this inventive compulsion, one must understand Mr. Bergeron. He is a precise man who abhors inefficiency. He walks 6.4 kilometres every day. When poor weather cuts his strolls short, he paces around his basement, along a measured-out figure-eight, until he hits his 6.4-km goal. His current house, a grey rancher, took two years to build because “the builders kept getting it wrong.”

He bubbles with ideas. During a two-hour interview earlier this week, he conceived several new inventions and fashioned a long metal tool for opening locked car doors.

For 14 years, he harboured his idea for an improved sandbagging machine. In 1990, while he was convalescing from open-heart surgery, he finally found time to draft plans.

At first, his wife was worried. “After his surgery, the doctors took me into a room and warned that the drugs he would be taking could cause him to get emotional or angry,” Ria Bergeron says. “So when we get home and he tells me about this machine, I just assumed the medication had made him crazy.”

Within months, he had a working prototype that appears identical to his latest models. The whole steel mechanism looks like a massive 12-legged octopus. A conveyor belt transports sand to a rotating head four metres off the ground. Turning a full rotation every 7.5 seconds, the head funnels sand down 12 spouts, which trail off like tentacles toward someone holding an empty bag.

“If you’re really moving, it can fill 5,700 bags an hour,” Mr. Bergeron says. “In Fargo, we had them putting out 5,000 bags in the first hour alone.”

The Bergerons have sold The Sandbagger as far west as Abbotsford, B.C., and as far south as Minnesota. Winnipeg flood authorities own four and the province has several more.

They won’t say how many of the $30,000 machines they’ve sold in all. “You save one basement and it’s paid for itself,” says Mr. Bergeron, who has no engineering experience and dropped out of high school at age 14. “But I’m not a great salesman. Nobody really wants to think about buying one of these things until the water is up to their eyeballs. By then, it can be too late.”

That could change. Fargo officials have been singing The Sandbagger’s praises to an international audience. The Army Corps of Engineers has recently been in touch, as have flood experts as far away as Britain and Australia.

That interest may be too late. The restless Mr. Bergeron is already onto his next invention. “It has to do with truck tires,” he says coyly. “The application is already at the patent office.”


SOURCE:  www.theglobeandmail.com

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