Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette
HOUSE NUMBERING AID
By Forest J. McComb
In 1955 it was discovered that Allen County had grown to a point where a system of house numbering was desirable. It would enable any location in the county to be quickly pinpointed. The Postal Service, sheriff’s department, fire departments, and many businesses would all benefit as well as citizens receiving the services.
There were 1800 miles of road to be covered and no money available for the work, so the Citizen’s Civic Association and the Citizen’s Council appealed to civic organiza-tions or anyone who might volunteer to help out. The Lions Club of Huntertown took Perry and Eel River townships as one of their many projects.
TAFT HEFFELFINGER, who owns and operates the Heffelfinger Nursery north of Huntertown on the Lima Road, is a charter member and willing worker in the Huntertown Lions Club. Taft saw at once that for men to walk, measure the land, and mark all the houses in the two townships was going to be quite a formidable task.
The story of America is one of men putting their inventive genius to work and making a machine that can do the work easier and better.
TAFT HEFFELFINGER is a man with much hidden inventive skill, and he started to think of a machine to do this work easier and faster. Part of the fun in developing such a machine came in the challenge to his creative ability.
The speedometer on Taft’s car was already a measuring device, so the problem was to arrange an extra machine working off the speedometer cable that accurately records the measuring, marking of houses and still provide for many new houses to come.
Taft bought an adapter to go in the speedometer cable and another cable that ran to a roller in the machine that would push out adding machine tape. The trick then was to figure the ratio and have a gear made for the roller to push out 30 inches of tape to one mile of road. Some of the parts were improvised from a junk box left from radio repair days, and some came from a torn-down player piano. The machine was made to clamp to the dash of the car and fit into a box that rested in the center of the front seat.
A ball point pencil, called a stylis, was fastened on an arm above the tape to mark the road in the center as the tape rolled out, and two switches were mounted to mark houses on the right or left side of the road. The switches were connected to the car battery through the cigar lighter.
After quite some spare time working and money spent, the device was ready for a test. WALTER KILL (KELL??) a member of the planning commission, a Huntertown Lion member, and a resident at the time of Eel River Township, went with Taft. Walter was anxious to get the work done and provided a tape measure to mark off a mile of road. They went to Eel River Township.
At first something seemed to be radically wrong. The machine was overrunning! They checked everything, including Walter’s 100 foot tape, and found the trouble there. It was measuring 90 feet instead of 100 – someone had cut off 10 feet.
Figures don’t lie, and Taft’s machine was proven to be absolutely correct. Taft then put in a call, and JOHN REINSCH and HENRY FORD of the Fort Wayne Engineers Club came out to see the machine and get a demonstration. They quickly okayed the device, and Taft and Walter covered Eel River township and turned the tapes over to EDGAR DeFOREST, a draftsman for the Planning Commission, who would allocate the numbers. The county numbers are simply a continuation of Fort Wayne numbers, with Calhoun Street the center dividing line.
They next did the work in Perry Township. It went off without a hitch and the Huntertown Lions project was completed.
The two-man crew, riding over the roads at ease, found they could attend to the work and still carry on a lively conversation. In fact, the machine was so simply contrived and did the work so well and easily that when some folks saw it work, they moved to say, “Why! Any blamed fool could do that!”
Some townships close to Fort Wayne did their measuring and marking the hard way, while other townships were showing little interest, and Taft was urged to contact the County Commissioners to see if they’d contract with him to get the rest of the county completed. Taft made the offer and, not hearing from them, he dropped into the office one day and was gruffly informed by P. E. HENEBRY that they had no legal right to make such a contract.
This left the unfinished work up in the air, and THOMAS RIDDLE called a meeting for the delinquent townships . Taft attended and explained what the machine could do, and offered to do the work for $1.25 a mile or $100 a township, whichever was proved out cheaper.
Eventually the Civic Association of Cedar Creek hired him for that township, and the Farm Bureau hired him for Monroe and Adams. As Taft went alone on these projects, they also furnished an extra man or two to work with him. The car speed was at about 35 miles per hour but in congested areas it was cut to ten.
Then the Conservation Club of Jackson Township got Taft to do their township and the Harlan Lions Club hired him for Springfield. As Scipio is a small township with no civic organization, the Harlan Lions cheerfully did that one, too, as well as the upper half of Milan Township. The Woodlan Lions Club had completed the work in their township as a project, but they hired Taft to do the lower half of Milan.
The Maples Lions Club hired Taft to do Jefferson Township and although it was the most mileage, this was an easy township to cover except where Casad Ordinance cut off some roads and they had to be back-tracked. Otherwise, it is level country and roads can follow section lines.
The rest of the townships had done their work by the chain method and the task of numbering Allen County houses was thought to be completed, until it was discovered some of Wayne Township was missing. It lay just outside the city limits of Fort Wayne, and as it was very important this be done, Taft donated the time, as also did THOMAS RIDDLE who went with him, and Allen County was covered from border to border. This made 11 townships Taft had worked in, and with people slow to act on a public project such as this, it had taken six years to complete from the time it was first proposed.
While working in the different townships, Taft had many different crews and became acquainted with many fine people. He also learned much about the county from them, and it wasn’t unusual to be invited to their homes for dinner. As it turned out, HENEBRY, who as commissioner had rejected giving Taft a contract, was the helper in half of Milan Township. He was very enthusiastic for the machine when seeing it in action, and invited Taft to his home for dinner where a toast was drunk to the good work they were doing. It was quite a contrast to the meeting at the courthouse.
Word had gotten around and Taft was urged to try for a patent on the machine, which he did, but it was denied on the grounds that it was too similar to other measuring devices. Still, there’s no other machine on the market that will do exactly what this one will!
With the patent denied and no further work in sight, Taft took an inventory of the venture. He’d earned more money with the machine than it cost, but not enough to cover the time designing and constructing. Yet, he’d made many new friends, picked up much Allen County History, had succeeded in doing what he had set out to do, and had the satisfaction of having rendered his Lions Club and fellowmen a valuable service!
One day, when talking to DAVID DRURY, Taft mentioned the machine and what it did. When Drury learned Taft had no further use for it, he asked for the machine. And that’s where it has found a home – at the Fort Wayne Historical Museum.