One could spend hours with Wilford Roberts in his garages and probably learn just a fraction about his hobby and collections.
A self-taught welder, Roberts has a four-car garage that’s home to his unique inventions and workspace. The garage also houses some of his antique blowtorches and fire trucks.
One of his welding projects, which he calls a “people mover,” features the front of a car that’s attached to a frame of welded steel, atop which riders sit in church pew-style seating. Roberts built the contraption about three years ago for passengers to ride during events like cemetery walks and parades. He outfitted it with handrails and made it low to the ground so older individuals could ride it.
There’s also his “bug squasher,” a three-wheeled riding machine made from a bicycle frame and inner tubes from trucks. While fun to ride, it has a tough time taking corners, he says.
His hobby welding has involved a lot of trial and error over the years, says Roberts, who started welding at about 14. He became more interested in welding after helping build several of his family’s greenhouses.
Over the years, he’s made the practical (various agriculture-related equipment) to the more whimsical (a self-propelled toilet that his grandson, who owns a sewer- and pipe-cleaning business, rode in Perry’s Fourth of July parade).
“I keep busy,” says Roberts, smiling.
In January he had a defibrillator and pacemaker put into his chest. As a result, he can no longer use his electric welder because of the electromagnetic force. But, he says, he can still use an acetylene welder, which uses gas.
Roberts also has some interesting collections housed in his garages, including fire trucks. Roberts was with Perry’s fire department for 35 years and was fire chief for nine years.
He also has a collection of about 200 antique blowtorches displayed in his large garage and the smaller garage attached to the where home he and his wife, Winona, live.
The blowtorches remind Roberts of his dad. When his father died, he had three of these types of blowtorches, which use unleaded gas and operate through a self-pumping system, he says. They were the kind of blowtorches used in their family greenhouse business.
“I wanted to keep them as souvenirs of my dad,” he says.