Seventy-seven-year old Richard Sine and his wife Betty live in an attractive home on a hill south of Harbor.
A winding driveway to the house passes through a garden-like growth of flowers and native plants. The couple’s living room and outside deck provide gorgeous views of the ocean.
For many retirees, the setting would encourage a life of leisure, perhaps sitting on the deck in summer months enjoying a glass of iced tea and the contemplative surroundings.
That’s not Richard Sine’s way.
Each day finds him investigating the inner workings of some mechanical device or another. He’s an inventor, and he never stops wondering what makes things tick – and what new product a little tinkering might produce.
“The problem I have is, if I look at a pen I have to take it apart to see how it works,” he said.
Sine never needs an instruction book to re-assemble something, and it’s likely the item will operate better after he’s done than it did before.
“It’s scary,” he said. “I never quit. I lay in bed at night thinking about things to work out. It drives me crazy.”
A few years ago, he invented a collapsible wheelbarrow that he intended to market through Sears. But Sine said the company asked for 20 wheelbarrows for each of its 20,000 stores and he didn’t want to pay for that kind of inventory, so he abandoned the idea.
He enjoys showing visitors a prototype, however.
Another potential invention is a variation of the classic perpetual motion machine.
“I think I can make an engine for a car that will run without fuel and never wear out,” Sine said.
These days he’s focused on his biggest project of all. It’s a levee protection system that he has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into designing and patenting.
He got interested in levees when several were breached after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana.
“I got to thinking of something to keep that from happening,” Sine said. “I thought, ‘How the heck would I stop that?’”
His answer is the EroShun Levee Protection System, a relatively simple approach that relies on barriers made from recycled tires.
Sine says 96 percent of all levee failures are caused by rodents that tunnel into earthen levees. Water seeps into their tunnels, the soil erodes and the levee eventually collapses, according to a product description booklet Sine wrote.
His protection system uses a series of interlocking rubber panels with wire mesh. The panels form a rodent-proof barrier in the center of earthen levees that would prevent the animals from digging through to the reservoir.
The system also includes a rubber membrane that can be placed just below the ground’s surface on the slope of a levee facing land. When water goes over the top of the levee, the membrane would prevent it from scouring and eroding the levee slope.
Sine hopes to sell his patent to someone who would build a factory in Oregon to produce the panels. He has talked with representatives of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, the South Coast Development Council and Southwest Oregon Community College’s Small Business Development Center.
“We have been looking into resources for him,” said Arlene Soto, director of SWOCC’s business center.
She said the center has asked for help from the South Coast Inventors’ group, which is an arm of the college business center that takes inventions from concept to commercial stage.
Jon Barton, chairman of the board for the South Coast Development Council, believes Sine’s idea has significant merit.
“It would be particularly useful for the U.S. Corps of Engineers or an engineering firm,” he said.
What the inventor needs now, Barton said, is a good business plan.
“We have been steering him in that direction,” he said. “There may be some state money available if he has a viable business plan.”
So far, nothing concrete has emerged but Sine is continuing to plug away. He believes the coast is a prime spot to make the product, possibly converting former logging mills into factories.
“What better than a mill that can’t get any logs anymore?” he asked. “I could darn sure get this made in China, but we’re talking about getting jobs in the United States.”
Sine, who has a full head of snow-white hair, knows all about the American can-do spirit. Born in the steel-producing state of Pennsylvania, he learned to weld while serving in the U.S. Navy and later became supervisor of welding operations for Cape Kennedy space vehicles.
He moved to Reno and formed a welding company before starting to manufacture truck bodies. He sold the latter and retired in 1990.
The business experience not only left him wealthy, but spurred the creative mind that Sine now puts to work on his inventions.
Money is not his motivation. He wants to see a coastal production plant for the levee system – possibly in Coos Bay – to boost the U.S. economy.
California could be a prime customer, he said, because the state has 1,200 miles of levees.
“Whoever helps me, there’s a lot of money out there I would split with them,” Sine said. “This is going to be big.”