Harold Austin: always a new idea

Harold Turner Austin, a machinist who helped invent dozens of aircraft-enhancing parts in his 40 years with Boeing - including a ridged nose wheel that revolves in the wind to soften landings - didn't cap the creative juices when he went home for the day.

Instead, he'd head for his welding shop and work on private projects, such as a portable gurney with pop-down wheels that still is used in ambulances and hospitals.

Mr. Austin died Tuesday (Feb. 8) of heart failure. He was 85.

He liked to buy and tinker with aluminum, tin and other surplus materials after World War II.

"In addition to his work at Boeing, he was always chasing his dreams," said his son Alvan Austin of Puyallup. "His imagination (was) endless, and then there is his support of `causes' - the environment, politics, humanity."

To delight his son, Mr. Austin once welded together two oil cans and mounted them on a beam bolted to a hub, thus creating a prototype for what became the Jet Plane carnival ride.

In the late 1940s, he and several other Boeing employees developed the finished product, which starts vertically like a Ferris wheel and rotates to the horizontal while planes orbit the center. He also created other carnival rides.

"He was very industrious and inventive," said a former colleague, John McFarland. "He was always entertaining us with his ideas."

Mr. Austin recently invented a plow that makes cup-like furrows to hold water and thwart erosion. He also pioneered a motorized wheelbarrow with a clawed wheel that climbs trees and banks.

"Harold was right on the fringe of greatness," said McFarland. "We used to say, `If we're so smart, how come we're not rich?' Truth was, he was an idea man, not a marketing or business man. But he was happy and led a good life."

Born in Midland, N.C., Mr. Austin moved as a teen to California. In the mid-1930s, he worked in Seattle as a logger. He got the idea for the broaster while watching a steam donkey as he gnawed a dry steak sandwich for lunch. He quit his job and put together an oven that blows pressurized hot air into meat to cook it in seconds, retaining its juices.

According to McFarland, Mr. Austin sold the idea to Col. Harlan Sanders, who worked in a Seattle restaurant in the 1940s before founding his fried-chicken empire.

Mr. Austin became a Boeing machinist in 1940, doing his own work on the side. He retired in 1980.

Also surviving are children Harold Austin, Marion, Ohio; Mary Ann Spies, East Wenatchee; and Robert Austin, Seattle; sister, Anita Brooks, Midland, N.C.; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His wife of 60 years, Marie Austin, died in 1999. His daughter Karon Barton died in 1996.

Services are at 1 p.m. Sunday at Yarington's Funeral Home, 10708 16th Ave. S.W., Seattle.