A brief introduction…my matrilineal Great Uncle, Joseph Cyprien Béchard, was a very smart man – for someone who never went to school past 8th grade. Born in Québec, Canada in 1889 he moved to Massachusetts at about the age o’ 16. In those days, crossing that particular border was a small thing – if ye were a hard worker, they were happy to employ ye! Employed he was – having learned some trade skills from his Father & relations, he went on to be a Foreman at the building o’ the Vanderbilt Mansion – at 17 years of age!
Uncle Joseph returned to Québec briefly – I suspect so his Family could meet the woman he would marry later that same year. He lived in Fall River, Mass. for many years, only later moving to his final home in Gloversville, New York. His home in Gloversville was 3 stories, brick and heated from a single fireplace in the basement – that also baked bread. He also had heated water pipes under the long driveway to keep it from freezing in Upstate New York winters.
When I met him in 1977, he was 88, up a 15 ft. scaffold, hauling buckets o’ wet cement up one end and dumping into the foundation o’ the 4 car garage at the other end. He was raising the garage (by himself) a foot a day to make room for a second floor (where he built a hair salon for his daughter). The city had refused him a permit to use the appropriate heavy machinery, so he told them he’d do it himself…they sadi that would be impossible. His reply? “Watch me!”
In October 1927, Uncle Joseph applied for his first Patent. It was for a ship o’ unusual design – one perhaps inspired by Jules Verne… It was so unusual and advanced that news even reached the shores o’ Adelaide, South Australia in The Advertiser 26 January 1928:
This was 10 days after the birth o’ me Mum!
His Patent was granted 3 April 1928 and he built a prototype. Somewhere in that time, he was approached by the US Government. They were very interested in his design – enough that they offered to buy it from him. In the course of conversation and a meeting or two, Joseph asked what they intended to do with his design…here’s where the story is a bit foggy – I only met Uncle Joseph once (he was 88 then) and he didn’t completely explain what they told him. The gist of it was that they intended to make it a very destructive weapon – that would kill many people; which he didn’t agree with…at all. There was some heated discussion, offers of large sums of money, but Joseph flatly refused, stating that it was his name on the design and he wouldn’t be party to such destructiveness. The negotiations must have ended abruptly – and quite permanently – when Uncle Joseph not only withdrew his design, but destroyed the only prototype in existence!
In a strange twist, Uncle Joseph held two later Patents for “Safety Devices” – one for Aircraft and one for Submarines – which is still used by the US Navy (two further adaptations of the original design were made by the Navy in 1997).