Sonora Inventor: First Patent at 91

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson September 15, 2015 08:54

Ray Dambacher mounts a chipper blade on his milling machine

“I am insatiably curious,” says Ray Dambacher, 92. “My mind is constantly going.”

And what happens when his mind gets going?

“I’ll look at something and right away determine how it came into existence. And then I’ll start thinking how it could work even better.”

The Sonora inventor has recognized the need for and then designed tools, fishing lures and even parts for missile guidance systems. But not until 2014, at age 91, did he think to patent one of his brainstorms.

He hopes that his newest invention – a better way to sharpen chipper blades – will appeal to property owners, tree-trimming services and other brush-clearers in the foothills and beyond.

“I knew that manufacturers of the blades in wood-chipping machines temper their steel to make it tougher,” Dambacher explains. “But the blades eventually get dull, and traditional re-sharpening methods use magnets or clamps to hold blades against moving grinding stones, creating both heat and a shower of sparks.”

Clamping often misaligns the blades by more than a sixteenth of an inch, so more steel must be removed, and the heat takes the temper out of the blades. They soften, don’t hold an edge as long and need sharpening sooner.

“I thought to myself, why not use a milling machine where no heat is produced?”

Dambacher devised a method to hold blades perfectly straight, aligning pegs on the milling machine with holes already manufactured in the blades. Less metal is removed and less heat is generated so blades last longer.

Money is saved, but can money be made?

Dambacher’s business partner is nephew Kurt Dambacher, 66, who with wife Val lives a stone’s throw away from Ray on property that’s been in the family more than a century. Kurt has shepherded the sharpening idea through the patent process and now markets it.

“When I worked in dental labs, I helped developed a technique for making veneers,” Kurt says. “We never thought to patent it, but someone else took the idea and did.

“The guy who took the idea,” he adds with disgust, “told us we would have to pay $10,000 if we wanted to keep using his patented technique. I told Ray that could happen to him if he didn’t patent his design.”

They contacted a Sacramento patent attorney, who sent Ray’s idea to a firm that made the necessary drawings. In December, when notified a “patent pending” had been granted, they could finally relax. “It gives us the protection we want,” says Kurt. “No one else can take the idea and patent it.”


Dambacher shows the transformation

The patent, which could arrive months or even a year or two from now, will be in Kurt’s name for one simple reason, Ray says: “I’m 92 years old.”

“The idea was all Ray’s,” Kurt adds. “I’m convinced there’s nothing he can’t do if he puts his mind to it.”

Ray Dambacher lives in a small house 50 yards from the one he lived in as a baby. He attended Sonora Grammar School and struggled before graduating from Sonora High.

“I’m convinced I had dyslexia,” he says, “but no one knew what it was back then. I diagnosed myself when I was about 55. When I was studying Scripture, I’d get confused on the meaning of a word, so I’d look it up. I realized then that the word I saw and the one that registered in my mind was not the word that was actually on the page.”

After service in the Army Air Corps at the end of World War II, Dambacher worked in Southern California as a machinist for military contractors, including Cadillac Gage. Much of his work was on parts for missile guidance systems. “We worked with incredibly small tolerances,” he notes, “usually between 80 and 120 millionths of an inch.”

When he recognized a need for a better component or a better procedure, he’d start working on it. “I must have developed at least five different tools or procedures that could have been patented at Cadillac Gage,” Dambacher says. “But I didn’t think of it. We just used them.”

In the late 1950s, Dambacher moved to Mexico and for more than a decade did odd jobs, studied Christian doctrine and did what he describes as “missionary work.” The divorced father of six returned to Tuolumne County in the early 1970s and built a shop on the family property in 1978.

A more modern shop went up when the Sonora Bypass claimed the original one, and that is where Dambacher now works five or six days a week on all the ideas his mind can conjure.

Will either man become rich from Ray’s idea?

“It’s highly possible we could make a lot of money if we reach enough people,” the elder Dambacher says.

Tuolumne County is one of more than a dozen new customers who pay $1 an inch to hone chipper blades. So far, says Mike Young, a county vehicle maintenance supervisor, the service has been great. The county previously used a company that shipped blades to Minnesota for sharpening, which took at least a month.

“It’s too soon to know how much longer our blades will last because we’ve just started using their service,” Young says. “But it seems to make sense, and because he’s local, the turnaround time is much faster.”

Kurt stops to talk to anyone he sees using a chipper and scans the Internet to identify potential consumer or commercial markets.

The eventual goal: license the patented alignment design to others who will use it to mill cutter-blade edges.

“I think it can take off,” says Ray. “You know, chipper machines exist all over the planet.”

Are there other patents in Ray’s future?

“I’m messing with a way to sharpen the little carbide inserts that do the milling,” he says. “Right now we just toss them when they’re dull. I don’t know if that would be something to patent, but I’m working on it.”

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson September 15, 2015 08:54
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