What will he invent next?

  • By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
  • Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

LAKE GOODWIN — There had to be a better way.

Retired architect Donald Passow read a story about a guy who sold school textbooks in remote areas of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. The salesman would shove his heavy Vespa scooter up a ramp and into his Cessna airplane. It wasn’t easy, but after he put his plane down on rudimentary country airstrips, the guy had some wheels to get around.

Passow, who also owns a Vespa, believed he could design a more portable scooter that could be used by boaters, pilots and campers. He spent hours in the drafting room of his Lake Goodwin home drawing plans for a collapsible, lightweight aluminum scooter.

One day, Passow remembered plans in a Popular Mechanics article he used as a teenager to build his own scooter. Passow, who turns 90 on Monday, rolled through a lot of microfilm at the Everett Public Library before he found a copy of the 1938 magazine story.

With the memory fresh in his mind, Passow finished the plans for his scooter, then enlisted the help of his friend and neighbor Bob Spencer to build it. The scooter became a reality just a few weeks ago.

“It’s kind of cute, in an ugly sort of way. At least it has character,” Passow said. “It’s the LoGo Motion Scoot.”

During the Great Depression, Passow was farmed out to his great aunt’s dairy in Wisconsin to live and work. His father had died. His mother was having a tough go of it and needed help from her family.

The dairy farm had no electricity, no central heating, no indoor plumbing, no refrigeration and no school bus for a ride to town.

“No, nothing but imagination and will,” Passow said. “Back then kids did a lot more outside.”

The scooter in the magazine was called the Power Mouse. The project plans called for bicycle parts, an oak plank chassis, a V-shaped pulley for the brake drum and chain sprockets for drive.

Passow thought he could improve on the scooter design by adding clutch, kick start and variable speeds.

“This took more money, which was in short supply, and the project came to a halt when I joined the Air Force,” Passow said. His brother Harold finished the scooter, but then Harold, too, joined the war effort in Europe. The young men lost track of the scooter.

Passow had always loved making things work. During World War II he learned to fly, but became an important aircraft mechanic serving in England, France, Germany and Belgium.

After he war, he moved from Wisconsin to study at Washington State University and graduated in 1951 with a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering.

He worked for a number of private architectural firms in Seattle. Then he was employed by the state to inspect new school buildings in Edmonds and Mukilteo. Finally, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, designing military bases, dams, post offices and other federal building projects.

He also designed his house on Lake Goodwin. The day he retired 25 years ago, Don and his wife, Pat Passow, moved from Seattle to their new lakeside digs.

Modern, with a Northwest feel, the house has a deck overlooking the lake, a long galley kitchen, an atrium and rooms for his collections of old cameras and books on airplanes and architecture. It all sits atop an open hangar for his float plane. The Lake Buccaneer can be rolled out over the back lawn and right into Lake Goodwin for a quick takeoff.

Passow has written his own obituary. Not that he’ll need it anytime soon. He rides his bicycle each day, eats well and is in great shape.

The obituary outlines his life, but is primarily an account of his retirement years and volunteer work.

Passow has served as the county’s surface water management volunteer at Lake Goodwin. As “Lake Master,” he monitors the water level, adjusting the discharge so the lake is never too high in the winter nor too low in the summer.

“Don’s got a wonderful asset,” said Pat, tapping her head to indicate her husband’s brain power. “It’s fun to see what he comes up with.”

After Hurricane Katrina wrecked parts of the Gulf Coast, Passow designed a series of round, hurricane-resistant, one-, two- and three-bedroom homes. So far, the houses haven’t been built, but Passow stands by his idea.

Among many other plans and ideas, Passow wants to get a patent on is his Third Hand tool, which combines the functions of a pliers, a vise grip and Leatherman. He carries it on his belt each day in a horizontal leather pouch that he also designed and made.

Passow’s obituary reads: “He never found retirement boring.”

Passow designed and built his scooter at a cost of about $3,000, including a lot of trial-and-error materials.

The brushed aluminum body is accented with blue steel. It runs on an electric wheelchair battery, weighs about 150 pounds and stands a few feet high. The seat and the handlebars collapse for easy storage.

Passow hopes to market the plans to others who might want to built the LoGo Motion Scoot.

“I was glad when Bob Spencer graciously agreed to build the scooter,” he said. “I think we have a winner.”

Spencer, 66, another tinkerer, is a retired deputy chief with the Marysville-Lake Goodwin fire department, machinist and pilot. He’s worked on motors since he got his first car at age 13.

“It was fun to be a part of the scooter project,” Spencer said. “It’s a great idea and Don is quite a guy.”

Now Passow is running the scooter up and down his road, recording the scooter’s speed range and how long it can run before the battery needs charging.

“It goes faster than I can bicycle,” he said. “When you’re 90 years old, it’s time to sit back and relax.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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