Area inventor creeps toward record book
Wellsville ? From fast-food to computers, it seems faster is better. But one man is intent on taking things at a more relaxed pace with an invention he hopes will set a new standard in slow.
Six years ago, retired jack-of-all-trades T.J. Bivins invented what he believes could be the world’s slowest machine and is hoping to secure an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
“If you ask me what it does, I’ll tell you: nothing,” Bivins said of the glass-encased chain-and-sprocket gadget that resides in his garage. “It’s absolutely worthless in every respect. It’s a conversation piece.”
The machine consists of two parallel rows of eight shafts each turning a sprocket, all powered by one 120-volt motor like those found in sewing machines. Most days it sits unused, but Bivins will turn it on occasionally to demonstrate its workings.
There’s a 10-to-1 reduction in speed from sprocket to sprocket. The first makes more than 815,000 revolutions in a year. The final of the sixteen sprockets takes 3,800,007,600 years — that’s 3.8 billion years — to make one complete revolution.
Despite its lack of a practical function, Bivins said, the machine piqued the interest of curious Kansas residents across the state even before it was finished.
“Every day someone came along trying to help,” he said, though he claims responsibility for nearly all of the work. “I don’t know how many people came by to look at this thing.”
Among those who have marveled at the creeping contraption were engineers at Kansas State University, who transported it to Manhattan soon after its completion to share with other department members and calculate its exact speed.
Bivins said he calculated the speed himself with the help of a family friend.
The inventor said he had been inventing things all his life, but until now, his innovations all served a specific purpose. In the 1950s, he and friend Elmer McDaniel, a welder, created a special device for hauling dirt that could travel along train rails during construction. They later sold the idea.
Today, he has built three houses and his residence employs steel train rails set in concrete for support. In his garage, a common yard sprinkler lies modified and mounted to the end of a steel pole to reach the tops of tall plants in his yard.
But the idea for an essentially useless machine came to him after years of work assisting with engineering projects, which included tearing down bridges in Leavenworth and coordinating relief in Lawrence after the 1951 floods that left much of the city’s northern regions submerged.
Time taught him that a little torque — meaning anything causing rotation or tension — goes a long way.
“I was thinking one day, ‘I could get a lawn mower to pull a bulldozer,”‘ Bivins said. “Torque to torque, all you lose is friction.”
World records exist for a variety of the world’s fastest, tallest and shortest machines, but it seems possible that no one else on Earth is vying for the title of “World’s Slowest Machine.”
But it seems Bivins has some torque of his own to maintain if he hopes to gain Guinness recognition, which he has pursued for three years.
During that time, he said, he and his wife, Pat Bivins, have been corresponding with the United Kingdom-based global authority on record-breaking achievement via postal and e-mail.
“It’s quite a procedure to get it certified,” he said.
The international communication is sometimes frustratingly slow, Bivins said. He must also establish media documentation of his achievement, a necessity for making it eligible for consideration.
But he said once the application process was complete, the device should bring something entirely new to Guinness.