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Inventors’ paradise

Citizen Staff

Cochise County’s patented warm weather a big draw to Chicago inventors.



Trivia question of the day: What do a lock washer, a diaphragm, an autopilot and an anticounterfeit system for self-adhesive labels have in common?

Cochise County.

The inventors of all four settled there within 30 miles of each other after having made fortunes in their fields. Curiously, all made their fortunes in the Chicago area or its environs.

Rufus Riddlesbarger perfected a female contraceptive device in the 1930s. He settled in the county about 1939, buying an about 3,000-acre ranch south of Sierra Vista.

Three years earlier, Arthur H. Thompson, who invented and patented lock washers and lock nuts, bought a large spread, Rancho del Rio, east of Hereford, along the banks of the San Pedro River – about a dozen miles from Riddlesbarger’s ranch.

About 1947, Alick Clarkson, who made a fortune as inventor of the Clarkson boiler – widely used on railway passenger cars – and later invented the Clarkson Autopilot, purchased 2,040 acres of grassland 14 miles west of Douglas next to the Mexican border.

A more recent arrival is Gerald Chouinard. Holder of a patent that precludes counterfeiting of labels for electronic gear and other applications, he, along with his wife, Pat, acquired about 1,000 acres and built an impressive mountainside home and nondenominational chapel. It’s about three miles east of Riddlesbarger’s old ranch.

Thompson, Clarkson and Riddlesbarger all are dead. Arthur H. Thompson Jr. still owns and raises cattle on the family ranch.

The Riddlesbarger ranch has changed hands a few times since he left the area in 1948, and now is owned by Evans and Olga Guidroz, who are offering for sale 65 acres, the main house and two guest houses. The buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Clarkson’s son Anthony, another inventor, moved to Tucson after his father’s death in 1965. The son died in August, and his widow, Betzy, still lives here. The Clarksons’ spread, Rancho San José, has changed hands since the family owned it.

What brought the inventors here, though unacknowledged, undoubtedly was the weather. Chicago winters can be brutal.

While Clarkson, Thompson and Riddlesbarger apparently were not acquainted before moving to Cochise County, they probably got to know one another later, as neighbors do.

If so, they probably had some interesting conversations – about diaphragms, lock washers and autopilots.

Are these the only inventors to invest their wealth in southern Arizona? Almost certainly not. Rumor has it that the Mars Bar candy creator, who amassed a fortune in the food industry, built a mansion outside Patagonia several decades ago.

And that a Bisbee-area resident devised and patented specialized cable television gear.

And that Microsoft multibillionaire Bill Gates or his partner, Paul Allen (no relation to the reporter, unfortunately), depending on which version one hears, has built a magnificent, $14 million mansion “somewhere south of Tucson” in the Santa Rita Mountains.

The winding trail of rumors says it has a $1 million pool with a panoramic view, separate servants’ quarters that house 40 and an elevator used by them to access an underground tramway that takes them three miles to the main house. Hmmm.

Southern Arizona has more than its share of intriguing secrets.

Rufus Riddlesbarger: diaphragm inventor

Rufus Riddlesbarger perfected a female contraceptive device in the 1930s and marketed it through Lanteen Products Co. in Chicago.

With some of the wealth produced by that venture, Riddlesbarger established a ranch 16 miles south of Sierra Vista along State Highway 92 known as Lanteen Ranch, later called “the old Hershede place” and currently known as Kinjockity Ranch. It featured an adobe home embellished with much interior artwork, two guest houses and a nine-hole golf course.

It also included an aircraft landing strip and an adobe hangar with a 50-foot span. The inventor is believed to be the same Rufus Riddlesbarger who was an Army Air Corps pilot in 1920 and who after his discharge flew for seven months as an early day airmail pilot.

After making his fortune, Riddlesbarger was involved with breeding Arabian horses in southern Arizona, and in the late 1930s, through the Lanteen Arabian Foundation, purchased the famed stud Antez from its owners in Poland and returned it to the United States, where it had been foaled.

The horse originated on the Pomona, Calif., horse ranch of the Kellogg family of cereal fame, and eventually was returned to Kellogg ownership through Riddlesbarger. The horse later would be credited with saving the life of the Kellogg patriarch, Will K. Kellogg. Said to be a poor horseman, Kellogg reportedly was riding the exceptionally gentle Antez when he made an error and caught his foot in a stirrup of the stallion’s saddle and fell off – an often fatal mistake that can cause a frightened horse to panic and run, dragging its rider to his death.

Antez, however, was so well-trained that it stood patiently, awaiting help, until Kellogg could be extricated. The cereal magnate, it’s said, saw to it that Antez was pampered for the rest of its life.

Riddlesbarger in 1946 sold the Lanteen Ranch to the Margaret W. Herschede family, which added it to its extensive cattle-growing operation. The retired Chicago multimillionaire moved to Tucson, where he gained some notoriety in June 1948, standing trial on a charge of statutory rape. He was acquitted, but details of his alleged dalliance with his 17-year-old housekeeper made headlines for several days in the Citizen.

The current owners of the ranch, Evans and Olga Guidroz, researched its history for listing it on the National Register of Historic Places. They were told by neighbors who knew Riddlesbarger that the victim’s family decided to drop a $520,000 civil suit against the multimillionaire after he bought a house for them. Neighbors said he left the country soon after the Tucson trial. “He just took his marbles and left,” said Guidroz.

The main house, two guest houses and 65 acres of ranchland are once again for sale, Guidroz said.

Arthur H. Thompson: lock washer inventor

Arthur H. Thompson, another inventor with a colorful past, arrived in Cochise County in 1936. He bought Rancho del Rio on the San Pedro River east of Hereford, acquiring several thousand acres with wealth he accumulated as inventor of a variety of lock-washer and lock-nut devices. Marketed as “everlock” washers and nuts, they were designed to prevent the fasteners from working loose due to vibration.

Holding patents on those and similar inventions, as well as a self-adjusting micrometer, he established Thompson-Bremer & Co. in Chicago. He visited the working cattle ranch periodically before retiring there full time about 1949, according to his son, Arthur H. Thompson Jr., who still lives on and has a cattle operation at the ranch.

“My father was a trapeze artist in his late teens and early 20s, performing with the Barnum & Bailey Circus,” said the younger Thompson. His father, before his death in 1968, maintained sufficient stature in Chicago that he served as a board member of the city’s Lyric Opera.

Alick and Anthony Clarkson: steam boiler, aircraft autopilot, steam car inventors

Alick Clarkson was born in Great Britain, moved to Canada with his family, and established himself in the Chicago area before retiring to Cochise County.

One of a long line of engineers (Clarkson ancestors were heads of university engineering departments at Edinburgh, Scotland, and London), he had developed, as part of the Vapor Heating Corp. – the “Clarkson boiler” – used as power sources in railroad passenger cars.

With the wealth from that venture, and steam-related equipment he patented and installed in the Houston oil fields, he purchased 2,000 deeded acres of land in the Paul Spur area between Bisbee and Douglas, including eight miles fronting the United States-Mexico border.

While there, Clarkson was displeased with the autopilot system on his Navion aircraft, and decided he could build a better one himself, according to Tucsonan Betsy Clarkson, widow of Alick Clarkson’s son Anthony. He did so, adding yet another patent to the 127 he would register in his lifetime.

Alick Clarkson established a factory at his ranch and built some 500 of the units before the company was bought out by a California firm. He died in 1965.

The younger Clarkson, also an engineer, followed in his father’s footsteps, working as a consulting engineer at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and designing equipment used on some of the early space shuttle missions.

At the time of his death in August, Anthony Clarkson was working on a wind-powered generator designed to “harvest” winds as low as 15 miles per hour.

An earlier father-and-son collaboration on design and construction produced a modern-day steam-powered automobile the Clarksons unveiled in 1963 at Douglas. Revolutionary for its time, it boasted an aluminum engine block, special alloy pistons, a speed of 65 mph and mileage of 65 miles per gallon.

The steam car never went into production, though the Wisconsin-based Waukesha Engine Co. had voiced interest in the engine design.

The family’s ranch near Douglas was sold after Alick Clarkson’s death.

Gerald Chouinard: anti-counterfeit system inventor

A more recent arrival to Cochise County is Gerald Chouinard, who moved there from Illinois in 1990. Chouinard holds the patent on a device that prevents counterfeiting of, among other things, the self-adhesive labels attached to the backs of computers and other electronic gear.

Profits from his northern Illinois business, plus “hard work and wise investment in the stock market,” he said, allowed him to build an impressive, multistory house on the mountainside overlooking Ash Canyon Road, within sight of Rufus Riddlesbarger’s former ranch south of Sierra Vista.

During their time in Cochise County, the Chouinards have acquired about 1,000 acres of land.

They also commissioned and had erected a 70-foot-tall Celtic cross and 30-foot-tall Madonna figure near their home, along with a nondenominational chapel overlooking State Route 92.

The cross alone cost about $500,000. It is the second cross designed. The first didn’t meet the Chouinards’ approval and was donated to a monastery in St. David.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by RANDY HARRIS/Tucson Citizen

CUTLINE: CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Alick Clarkson, steam boiler, aircraft autopilot, steam car inventor; Arthur H. Thompson, lock washer inventor; Gerald Chouinard, anti-counterfeit system inventor; Rufus Riddlesbarger, diaphragm inventor.

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