A better way of doing things
● By J. Chambless
Tim McCleary in the barn workshop, where he works on a wide range of products.
By John Chambless
Five years ago, Tim McCleary was tired
of unlacing his work boots every time he came in from working
outside. “I would be in and out of my boots five times a day,”
McCleary said during an interview last week at his home. Today,
McCleary, 45, has invented a solution – Turbolaces – that not
only solves his boot problem, but may also make him a rich man.
McCleary, who lives and works on his family's 82-acre farm on the northern edge of Franklin Township, has always been a tinkerer. “Ever since I was little, I could make anything out of Legos,” he said. “I would go out and get brochures for combines and tractors at the tractor supply store, and I'd come home and put my Legos on the floor and build them without instructions. I had four-wheelers with independent suspension made of rubber bands, and drive shafts, so that everything would work. I can think in three dimensions and picture what pieces I'll need to get an end result.”
Four years ago, McCleary was plowing snow for his neighbor, Bill Hessler, who is a mechanical engineer. “He and I got started talking, and I said I had a couple of ideas for patents, but I didn't know where to go with them. He said he'd sign a non-disclosure agreement and look at what I had,” McCleary said. “We met over pizza and I showed him six or seven Lego prototypes and a couple of written ideas.”
Three years ago, McCleary bought a 3-D printer. “I brought it home and thought, 'What can I make with this thing that's cool?'” he said. “I had a list of about 40 ideas. On Aug. 7, three years ago, I texted Bill and said I had printed the part. He took one look and said, 'Drop everything you're working on. We're patenting that.'” Along with his list of innovations for farm equipment, car parts and home products, McCleary showed Hessler his idea for Turbolaces. Essentially, shoelaces are laced through the holes in the two-part device, locking the laces in place, so that from that point on, the wearer only has to flip the clip open to remove the shoes. Laces stay tucked away safely.
After some 40 versions and refinements, a new company, Tech Spark Innovations, was formed around the Turbolace product. Hessler prepared a patent (“It's 39 pages, in legalese,” McCleary said), and a third business partner was added –Jim Kimmel, Jr., another family friend who is a corporate attorney and an ethics professor at Yale. “I think if I could trust anybody, I can trust him,” McCleary added, laughing.
Today, he has 1,200 sets of Turbolaces in his home. They are made by Midgard in Quakertown, Pa., they come in seven colors, and retail now for $9.99 a pair. McCleary has sold plenty of them online, and he has presented them to friends and neighbors to try for themselves. He is just beginning to reach out to have Turbolaces sold in local independent stores as an entry into the marketplace.
McCleary wears Turbolaces every day. They work perfectly, and they hold up to tough use on the farm. There is nothing like them on the market. And the possible uses for them are open-ended and enticing.
He listed some of the possible markets for the invention: Construction workers, factory workers and others who have to work under OSHA regulations for their work boots; runners and athletes who need to keep their laces properly secured; children who are frustrated by learning to tie laces, or who have cognitive or physical limitations; children's sports leagues who spend a lot of time keeping shoes tied; senior citizens whose dexterity won't allow them to easily tie shoes; and fashion-forward companies that want to customize the Turbolaces. The flat panel on them could be marked with a logo, a shoe brand, a team color, or cartoon characters. They could be molded in any color, and decorated with any amount of bling. And the Turbolace is very simple to manufacture – both halves of the device are the same, so they only require one mold.
“I still can't believe I designed that,” McCleary said, shaking his head and demonstrating the one-finger flip that opens the Turbolace latch. “It still blows my mind.”
He's recently added two new innovations – a figure-eight shaped piece and “a dog bone-shaped piece” that anchors the ends of the laces and keeps them locked in place.
“If I end up making money on this, I'd like to donate a few hundred sets of them to Wounded Warriors,” he said. “I would definitely give back.”
During a walk around the farm, McCleary showed the barn garage where he comes up with many of his innovations. There's a wooden lock mechanism on a cabinet that is operated in a completely secure way. Outside, there's a log splitter device attached to a skid loader that can split logs twice as fast as a conventional splitter, and the operator never has to wrangle the logs. When McCleary ran over the gas cap for his tractor, he designed and printed a new one on his 3-D printer. His list of potential inventions is long, and getting longer.
“I have a lot of random ideas, but a lot of them make sense,” he said. “I have trouble sleeping, so when I get ideas, I sketch them out, print out a prototype, and I'm testing it the next day. I think in three dimensions, and eight steps beyond where I am now. And when I'm mowing, I have plenty of time to think about new ways of doing things.”
His ideas are on all scales – large and small. He taught himself to weld a few years ago when farm equipment would break down, and now there are carts and devices on the farm that exist nowhere else.
McCleary said he had thoughts of studying mechanical engineering in college, but he didn't end up going. Clearly, he didn't need to.
If some company offers to buy the invention design from him outright, “I think I'd miss working on it and evolving it,” he said. “I'd like to design different styles for it.
“A friend of mine said I was a genius,” he added, smiling. “I don't know. I just think differently than most people.”
For more information, visit https://www.turbolace.com.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.