85-year-old inventor and entrepreneur launches homemade vessel into Nashawannuck Pond
EASTHAMPTON — The huge American flag that hangs from a wire over the middle of Nashawannuck Pond was billowing in light airs on a warm Monday afternoon earlier this month, and, intermittently, so was the small mainsail (a plastic tablecloth with a stars and stripes motif) of the SS Wake.
The Wake is a 10-foot homemade water craft in catamaran style kept afloat by pontoons made of 4-inch lengths of PVC pipe stuffed with foam and plugged with plastic two-liter soda bottles and strapped together with alligator clamps. The pontoons are attached to the cockpit with an ingenious rigging of 1-inch PVC and various PVC fittings and elbows.
The cockpit is a 55-gallon plastic drum salvaged from the Coca Cola plant in Northampton and sawed in half with a saber saw. There is a chunk of Styrofoam in the middle of the cockpit on which sits the designer, builder and captain of the vessel: Easthampton resident Herbert M. Glazier, 85, of 108 Everett St., paddle in hand. The paddle is just one more exercise in playful ingenuity, a double ended oar made of 1-inch PVC joined at each extremity to the spade of a children’s plastic shovel.
The vessel took four hours to build and cost him $46 in materials, Glazier says. He says the whole thing can be assembled, or broken down into its components, in about five minutes. It packs neatly into his 1993 Dodge 250, the vehicle that brought the Chelsea native and widower to Easthampton from Florida three or so years ago to be closer to his family.
Efficiency, simplicity and minimum waste are his guiding principles, and, frankly, a matter of necessity for Glazier. He lives in tight quarters — an efficiency apartment in subsidized housing — and on a tight budget.
But even within such constraints, there is room for artful flourish. The prow of the SS Wake is comprised of the remainder of the Coke drum and a series of pails laid on their sides, into one of which the base of the mast (a 1-inch PVC) is inserted, and one of which serves as a cooler for beer. The cooler is a feature that especially appealed to one of the pond-side onlookers at the June 10 launch, who was enjoying the summery day with a cold can of Bud.
A tennis ball painted with bulging eyes serves as bowsprit. Danny Perras, 50, the onlooker, has been hanging out at the steep beach on the west side of the pond just below the cemetery since he was 12, and he says that without question the sight of an 85-year-old man assembling, launching, boarding and sailing a homemade plastic boat was the most interesting thing he has ever witnessed at this location.
Across the stern of the SS Wake, Glazier has emblazoned his logo, “G=EMC squared,” his own “equation for the universe,” which is familiar to quite a few people at the Easthampton Enrichment Center — the city’s senior center at 19 Union St. — where Glazier shows up almost every weekday morning to shoot pool and, with the slightest prompting, to hold forth on physical, astronomical and cosmological ideas suggested by the ricocheting of the balls.
He is the undisputed master of the pool table, a tribute to where his principle energies were invested during his adolescence and young adulthood. His formal education ended in 1946 with his graduation from Chelsea High School, but he says thinking is his hobby.
Glazier is a “daily presence”’ at the Enrichment Center, according to Easthampton Council on Aging Director Linda Talbot. She says every morning without fail she’ll find him shooting pool with a small coterie of other players who’ve become pals. He is dependable, usually quite audible, and always gentlemanly, she noted.
He’ll be yucking it up one minute and the next sounding off on politics, the economy or the sad plight of the old. When the place gets quiet, often as not there he’ll still be, she says, quietly bent over his laptop or using the center’s Wi-Fi Internet station to do research or communicate with friends here there and everywhere.
“I find him fascinating,” Talbot says. “He is unusual for his intelligence and his creativity. He’s really one of a kind. And I think he considers us his second family.”
Glazier says his fascination with science began with the gyroscope his mother gave him at age 8. “I love every type of science,” he says. A chance meeting with Einstein in 1950 at a house in Newton where he had been hired to build a deck was a seminal moment in his thinking career. He has one basic difference with Einstein, he says. They both agree the universe is curved (like the lines of a boat, say, or like a sail), but whereas for Einstein the curve is concave for Glazier it is convex. The “G” in the “G=EMC squared” equation on the stern of his boat, by the way, can stand for one of two things: gravity or God.
Glazier is the quintessential self-made man. He says his father died young and his mother eked out a living selling dresses at Lerner’s until — also at a young age, she died and he went to live with an aunt. He maintains he’s been self-employed since he set up a shoe shine stand when his age was in the single digits. He has never been anyone’s employee.
He’s a businessman, having made and lost money, mostly in the home improvement field — decks, additions, jalousie windows, porch enclosures — from coast to coast. The large letters “M&M” taped to the boat are an ad for “Mold and Mildew,” a mold removal business he brought with him from Florida. Treatment with a special formula comes with a seven-year warranty, he winks.
Glazier has not lost his entrepreneurial impulse. He’s got motive: he would like it if his income were less “fixed,” he says. He believes the Wake may have business legs.
It could be marketed as a kit in a growing number of areas susceptible to flooding. It could be quickly assembled and used as a float-away for families trapped by rising waters.
But if that doesn’t take off, the rig certainly made for an unforgettable afternoon on the shores of Nashawannuck Pond.