The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 2, 2013

Woodvale man creates miniature incline from scrap

In the spotlight

Tom Lavis

JOHNSTOWN — It’s no exaggeration to say that Herbert F. Beas is the MacGyver of Woodvale.

Just like the resourceful television hero, Beas solves problems with everyday materials he finds at hand, along with using his own ingenuity and creativity.

When the inventive Beas decided to build a replica of the Inclined Plane, his first priority was collecting the mechanicals.

What parts he couldn’t find in scrap yards or from his stash of items in his garage or basement, he made in his workshop.

Beas and his wife of 59 years, Betty Ann, have lived in a modest home in the 600 block of Woodvale Avenue for 49 years.

The well-kept home is filled with a lifetime of memories surrounding the lives of the couple’s four daughters, who have blessed them with nine grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.

Mr. Beas spent 44 years working as a mechanic at SCM Metal Products Inc. at 101 Bridge St. in Johnstown.

He has ridden the Inclined Plane several times and was fascinated by how it ran.

“I never saw a replica of the Inclined Plane, so I decided to build one,” he said.

The inner workings of his contrivances are second nature to the novice designer.

“The only things that aren’t handcrafted on the Inclined Plane are the motor and gearbox,” he said.

From the old lumber and plywood to the bearings and bushings, his Inclined Plane and cityscape were made pretty much from scratch.

“During my first attempt, I used a sprocketed bicycle chain to move the cars of the incline up and down, but it was too noisy,” Mr. Beas said. “I converted it to a rubber belt system.”

The display consists of the two movable cars on the Inclined Plane, complete with lights; a cityscape with 28 Matchbox cars meandering the streets, two trains, a trolley system with two cars and two airplanes circling the tower at the airport.

The display is arranged on the sunporch of the Beas’ home.

One trolley is slightly faster than the other, which intrigues their grandchildren.

“They always put the faster trolley ahead of the other and watch how long it takes for it to catch up with the slow one,” Mr. Beas said. “They watch it for hours.”

While the grandkids appreciate the movement, they may be curious to learn how things are powered.

The incline runs off a one-quarter horsepower motor salvaged from an old washing machine.

Mr. Beas found a gearbox, which regulates the speed of the incline’s cars, in a junk pile at a scrap yard near Prospect.

“They were going to throw it out, so I took it,”  he said.

Other parts were made from a hodgepodge of wire, paper clips and a recycled seatbelt.

When he couldn’t find the correct diameter pulleys for the drive belts, Mr. Beas fashioned his own out of wood using a drill press and a hole saw.

He wouldn’t even guess at the number of man-hours it took to build.

“I’m retired and I worked on it when the spirit moves me,” he said. “I have a lot more to do, like adding mountain-print paper to give it the appearance of the area around the incline and adding more buildings in the city. If I had the room, I would build a replica of Point Stadium to add to the authenticity.”

Along with his odds and ends, Mr. Beas used a lot of imagination.

“Doing all these things keeps him off the street,” his wife said, laughing. “Take a close look at the fencing to the Inclined Plane cars and you’ll see that he used toothpicks and painted them brown.”

Rug makers recycle

Mr. Beas also has two weaving looms in his basement where he makes rag rugs.

“We obtain used rags and fabric, mostly all cotton or cotton polyester,” Mrs. Beas said. “I sew the edges and Herb weaves.”

They can use anything from old sheets to worn shirts.

 “We never use wool or anything that’s stretchy,” Mrs. Beas said. “We remove the buttons, cuffs, collars and pockets from old shirts and cut them into strips.”

The looms have places for 17 spools of various colored threads. Each spool holds 100 yards of thread and must be precisely filled to allow for uniform production.

“I also made a device to fill the reels,” Mr. Beas said. “It actually has a counter on it to make sure each spool is filled right.”

The rugs are 29 inches wide and can be made to any length.

The couple started making rugs as a hobby.

“We started by making them for family and friends, and the word spread and others want the rugs,” Mrs. Beas said. “If we do sell any, we charge $8 a yard.”

The two looms are tucked into one corner of the Beas’ basement.

One of their daughters, Betty Lou McClelland of Nottingham, N.H., entered several of her father’s rugs in the 2010 and 2011 Deerfield Fair in Deerfield, N.H.

“It’s a huge fair and is touted as the oldest fair in New Hampshire,” she said. “I was tickled pink when the rugs were awarded blue ribbons.”

The rag rugs were entered under the arts category of rugs and weaving.

McClelland is particularly pleased that the judges took time to write comments to go along with a nominal cash prize and ribbons.

“They said they were well made and incorporated good use of color and pattern,” she said.

McClelland has a real treat for the judges at this year’s show, which is held in September. Along with some new rugs, the display will include a fully functional miniature loom created by her father.

“My dream is to have my dad bring the Inclined Plane and his city scene to New Hampshire to share with people at the fair,” she said. “I think people would be enthralled to hear how he created this and see a demonstration.”