MOULTRIE — While driving to The Moultrie Observer building this week, “Wild” Bill Willeby took a wrong turn, before he was alerted to his error by a friendly police officer.

The story, one of many the Coolidge resident shared, exemplifies the 71 years he has spent blazing his own path and coming up with dozens of inventions along the way, along with his self-deprecating sense of humor. Those inventions include the patented Boll Saver that reduces the loss of cotton during harvesting, a rotary mower wrench and “lazy man’s tree climber.”

For Willeby inventing began early in life as he tried to use brain power to cut the use of manpower, that being his own, while working on his father’s farm. Willeby continues to farm and ranch and also operates a roadway maintenance and trash pick-up service.

“An invention is nothing but a mother of necessity,” he said. “My dad believed in working six days a week, sun-up to sun-down. He was always doing things the hard way. I was always looking for an easier way to save muscle power. I picked up them inventions very, very young.”

After finishing high school with perfect attendance through 12 grades, a feat also accomplished by his sister and adopted sister, Willeby said he turned down a state college scholarship and instead embarked on a series of jobs. Those included working with veterinarians, including Quincy Darbyshire and another in Thomasville, working as a mechanic for the U.S. Air Force at Spence Field, riding bulls and cotton gin mechanic.

Currently he operates Willeby Construction, B.W. Construction and B.W. Roadside Maintenance.

He has been in maintenance, construction and trash pick-up since 1976, and shares work loads with son Bill and grandson Joshua, who own their own businesses. They maintain roadways along interstate highways and in national forests and pick up garbage along 1,200 miles of roads.

“I’ve always been a mechanical-type person,” he said. “I can look at anything and if I can figure out any way to make it easier with less manpower, I’m all for it.

“I was always a mixed-up kid. I never had no direction in life. I don’t know why. I lost myself a long time ago and never found myself and am still looking for myself.”

Still driving a tractor doing roadside maintenance, Willeby said, gives him time to think. And for him that naturally means thinking about time- and labor-saving devices.

With a list of his inventions written on an envelope, he fired them off in rapid fire succession. Those include: a boat ramp guard to prevent damage to axles while loading and unloading boats, tomato stake driver, fire fighting device for cotton pickers, cantaloupe and watermelon pickers, a device that assists law enforcement officers to force fleeing drivers off the road, a lift commode for handicapped users, a swim guard for children that inflates if the child gets into trouble in the water, and many others.

After hearing a remark about the force of a rope on cattle, he invented a cattle rope that incorporates a Bungee cord to decrease the jolt on a calf’s neck. The list totals more than 40 to this point.

“To me it’s just a gift,” he said of his ability to invent. “My wife (Jenny) says I’ve got no common sense. I’ve built things that I don’t know that it was when I got through, but it worked.

“You can be riding down the road and thinking of something that makes things easier, and I believe in making things easier.”

In addition to keeping up a busy work schedule and his tinkering, Willeby said he started about five years ago adopting families to help out with food and other needs for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and also donates to several animal shelters. He and a fellow group of early risers discuss world events and problems, which they can usually solve over a cup of coffee before heading off to work.

“I’ve always had a life theory of working hard, and I’m a 100 percent Democrat — a working Democrat — not a half-working Democrat. I tell my friends if it wasn’t for us Democrats, I don’t know what would have happened to some of my Republican buddies. They would have had to go out and get jobs.”

Willeby credited his fish eating to keeping his mind sharp, and it’s a habit that may have him cooking a mullet at 3 a.m. if the mood strikes him.

“I eat a lot of seafood, and that’s what keeps me healthy,” he said. “My friends kid me (because) I eat a lot of mullet. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

Willeby said he is still as interested as he was as a kid in “anything that’s mechanical, anything that pushes, pulls, grasps or rolls.

“I plan on getting 100 inventions along the line before it’s all over.”

React to this story:


Recommended for you