Archie Blue

Years ago, long before the advent of magnetic tape, Archie Blue devised a way of recording on steel wire.

He applied for patents in America, Britain and New Zealand. "Got them okay," he says, turning a screw which tightens a wire on his latest invention.

"I went to the States and tried to get the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor and then HMV Victor in England) interested.

"But it wasn't a commercial proposition. You could only record the one wire at a time, whereas with discs they could make as many as they wanted off the one die.

"So I left it. If I'd worked on it further, I would have come up with the tape," he says with a laugh.

There's a fair bit of humor deep down inside Archie Blue, an inventor since he was about nineteen. An electrician by trade, he's applied for dozens of patents, including one which was granted him and his friend Ross Wood in 1939 for "improvements in or relating to TV or like apparatus."

Another, which has been used a fair bit, was for a round corrugated disc to keep speaker cones in shape. He sold the design for an automatic switch to an American company, years ago.

There were other things, too. So long ago it's hard to remember them all without getting all the papers.

"I've made hardly anything from my inventions," he says.

But he hopes to make something from his latest, a device originally intended to be a source of cheap fuel... He's applied for separate patents for that.

"When I started work on it, four or five years ago, I was investigating the use of hydrogen as fuel for a heater. And then I thought "I might as well try to drive a car with it.'"

From The Sunday Times.

May 14, 1978

All the evidence says Archie Blue's theories are correct. He says he's proved they are. He came back to Christchurch from Guernsey just before Christmas. There, helped by three retired millionaire friends, he had fitted his device to a small van and driven it around, using only water for fuel. The skeptics had a field day. Scientists admitted it was possible to get the hydrogen from water and use it as a fuel but the cost and equipment needed made it completely impractical. Newspaper reporters, as is their wont, made Archie headlines.

Several, though, took his claims seriously. The motoring man for the Daily Mail, Michael Kemp, made two trips to Guernsey to satisfy his curiosity. He didn't get far the first time. But his second visit of three or four days dispelled initial skepticism.

He reported on the paper's motoring page on August 19 last year that he drove the van himself, in normal traffic, at speeds up to 35 miles an hour. Until the air blower burned out, the engine was "lively and powerful," he wrote. The Royal Automobile Club man on the island, one David Hooper has taken a keen interest in all the proceeding and is convinced of its success. Since his return Archie has worked steadily away in the cramped shed which is his workshop to make a similar device to show New Zealand.

Amid boxes of tangled wires, innards of old radios, bits of television sets, gramophones, Archie has soldered and welded. He's cut copper piping, fitted it to a large jar, set it up with the air-cleaner and pump on a base. That little red pump will, say Archie, eventually blow hydrogen through what was once a conventional carburettor [sic]—now cut down, float removed, new controls affixed. Hydrogen is produced in the jar by electrolysis.

"It takes very little juice, about l!/2 amps," he says, stopping to point out the virtues of his modern multi-function lathe.

It reminds him of the time he lived and worked in New York. In the late fifties, he says, taking off his fur cap to scratch a smooth head, he went to America with one of his inventions. He was working with a German who offered to get him a job so he could stay on and work on the thing. ("It never came to much.")

"It was a machine shop job, turning out one small airplane part only.

"The factory was going broke, but the bank kept it going until the contract was over. Then they sold the lot, lathes and machinery went for next
to nothing."

With what money he had saved, he rented a general store on 8th street,

"just down the road from 14th Avenue."

The rent was too high, though, and he barely made a living. After three or four years, he came home. Home to Christchurch, where Archie Blue was born nearly 74 years ago. Educated at Sydenham Primary, later Christchurch Tech. After working for a while for the Post Office, he took up an apprenticeship with the M.E.D. where he had all the wires he wanted to work with.

"You do the lot, switchboards, meters, wiring before you get your ticket."

Later he would move on to State Hydro and the Railways as an electrician in the signals division.

Never had a day's serious illness in his life, he says. Still he was turned down for overseas service with the Army during the war. He served with the Home Guard and later, when he was with the Railways, he did territorial service, going into camp for a fortnight or so each year.

He was attached to a battery as a signaler. More wires as he set up communications between the guns and observation posts and the like. He says the worst part of all was being called out in the middle of the night to run out some wires.

"Most of the time, I'd get up when called and then head straight back into the tent." He says he wouldn't have liked the job in a real war... "right out there, under fire from both sides."

The life story momentarily forgotten as Archie spies an old film projector poking out from under the rubble. He's fixed it with an amplifier so it can take "talking" films. Then an explanation of the secrets of an even older magic lantern.

Strong hands rub a bewhiskered face, lift the glasses over the forehead. Just about time to get the tea on. Archie lives alone in his conventional weather-board home in a typical Spreydon street. Hid wife died about two years ago, just before they were to set off for Guernsey where Archie could work with his "retired millionaires."

In we go through the cluttered porch, resting place for the moulds from which Archie Blue makes plaster figures and ornaments ... witches, dog's heads, reclining ladies, classic heads, wall hanging-type things, clowns, Snow White, even. It's a hobby he took up while in America. Now the painted models—and a lot as yet untouched by the brush—take up space in every room of the house.

He finds making the pieces and then painting them restful.

"Even when I'm taking a break, I've got to do something. I'm not an idle person."

Amongst all the models in the lounge, a huge silver trophy is proof of the young A. H. Blue's athletic prowess. He won it at a long-gone South Island championship meet at which he won the 100 yards, the 220 and the 440 yards. ("They don't have them now, do they?")

Stuffed inside with a lot of other clippings there's a faded piece cut from the Sun (or was it the Star?). Browned and fragile now, the paper suggests that with a coach, Archie Blue had a great future in the sport.

"But I had too much on my plate to take it up seriously," he says.


Any money he might eventually get won't mean all that much to him. He says he could take another trip (he's off to Guernsey again soon any-way) but he'll always come back to Christchurch. That's where his family is. A daughter lives just along the road. He has four grandchildren.

He reckons Guernsey is a dead place most of the year; New York is far too cold in the winter.

After a couple of postponements, Archie Blue hoped to have his device ready for its New Zealand debut some time this week. He's not too fussed by all the publicity, but says that because TV and the papers have asked him to, he cooperates.

"But I'll take my car out here without an audience first. Just to make sure all's well," he says.

And when it's all over, he'll be off again.

Could the device be manufactured here?

It could, but,

"we're not bothering to," he says. "I can't sell the rights here, or market it without my partners. And they don't want to mess about with small concerns. It's too big for that."

What about using his partners' resources to start a factory themselves?

"That would cause far too many headaches. For a start, look at what strikes have done to the big motor firms like Leyland. "Young men can take these things. It would be pretty hard for us at our age."

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