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Mysterious Deaths: Tom Ogle, Inventor
Technology used in the automobile has advanced tremendously over the century, allowingvehicles not only to provide a comfortable and relaxing drive but also to save on gasoline. Today,many automobiles are run by electricity or other alternative fuel sources.
About 40 years ago, a young El Pasoan developedan astounding system for fuel efficiency to be usedin any automobile. Even though Tom Ogle was not the first to think of the basic idea, his device did have unique differences that simplified his invention. Tom Ogle created a vaporized fuel system which allowed a car to travel over 200 miles on two gallons of gas. He decided to follow through with his invention, even though it led to many conflicts, and perhaps even his untimely death.
Image caption: Ogle makes adjustments to his “Oglemobile” in 1978. (Photo courtesy of University of Texas at El Paso Library, Special Collections Department, El Paso Herald-Post records)
Thomas Venor Wolfgang Peter Dinglestaedt Ogle, like many other inventors, started his invention by being curious. According to the article “Auto Gas Fume Invention May Save US” in The El Paso Journal by William C. McGaw, Ogle was born in Pirmasens, Germany. His parents, Hans and Helga Venor Dinglestaedt, had three children: Tom, Kurt and Ralph. Hans, an electronics engineer who was described as “a brilliant, inventive man — a near genius” by his mother-in-law, left Helga while the boys were still young and the couple divorced.
According to McGaw, Helga met Lieutenant Clarence Ogle, an American soldier stationed in Pirmasens. Clarence proposed and Helga agreed to marry the soldier only if he adopted her children, which he did. Returning to the United States, the military family was stationed in Oklahoma and then El Paso. < p />
Ogle earned a graduate equivalency degree at Irving High School, according to El Paso Times article “Tom Ogle Wants His Invention to Help People” by Gregory Jones, who wrote extensively on the inventor for the Times. Ogle explained to Jones that he had constantly been repairing home appliances, fiddling with combustion engines and even fixing a truck at the age of 10. He also attended an automotive trade school for three years in Morgantown, W. Va., according to McGaw.
In the El Paso Times article “EP Fuel Systems Inventor Claims 160 Miles a Gallon,” Jones reported that Ogle had attempted to replace windshield wipers with pressurized air but failed. In 1971, Ogle moved on to a four stroke lawn mower. That is when he discovered something incredible. Ogle stated in the article that while working with the mower, he accidently punctured the fuel tank.
According to Jones, Ogle removed the carburetor from the mower, out of curiosity, and placed a hose that connected the fuel tank to the carburetor intake jet, allowing the mower to run off gasoline vapors.He claimed that the mower ran for 96 hours.
Ogle began to experiment with the same process in a car, failing in several attempts to convert the basic idea into a device that would work in ordinary cars. Jones wrote that Ogle finally succeeded in converting one of his own cars, a 1972 Thunderbird, and racked up 60,000 miles powered by the system, getting more than 100 miles to the gallon. This early success motivated Ogle to seek help in further developing his invention which omitted the carburetor and the fuel pump and replaced them with a complicated system of hoses and filters.
Ogle met El Paso businessman James Peck, then owner of Peck’s Automotive Service in Northeast El Paso. Peck granted Ogle access to his shop and provided the necessary equipment for Ogle’s vaporized fuel system experiments, including a 1970 Ford Galaxie.
On April 30, 1977, a Times reporter, the young inventor and his assistant drove the experimental car equipped with the vaporized fuel system to Deming, N.M. The goal: to prove that with his system, a car could travel 200 miles on just two gallons of gas. On that Saturday, the 24-year-old did just that.
In an article entitled “Ogle Fuel System — No Hoax,” Jones wrote that before the test drive, “reporters and onlookers witnessed a mechanic at Peck’s empty the special, pressurized gas tank, and pour two gallons of fuel into the tank after it was empty.” The car was also inspected for any hidden fuel but none was found. The inventor had succeeded in taking the 1970 Ford Galaxie, weighing almost 5,000 pounds, on a 205-mile drive on two gallons of gas! The “Oglemobile,” as it was dubbed, put Tom Ogle in the public eye.
On May 18, 1977, The El Paso Journal announced in the article “Ogle’s Gas System Rejected by ERDA Expert, R.W. Hurn” by Burny A. Paca, that the young inventor would get no support from the governmental agency Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) because Hurn reported that Ogle’s system was “not practical.”
Despite Hurn’s report, Ogle continued his research and testing with confidence. Meanwhile, critics consistently surfaced. Robert Levy, an unemployed El Pasoan with a Ph.D. in physics, challenged Ogle based on the laws of thermodynamics. However, two engineers in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Texas at El Paso, Dr. Garry Hawkins and John Whitacre, inspected and analyzed the vapor system in the test car. Hawkins said that Ogle’s system was “sound and feasible,” according to a May 4, 1977 Times article by Jones. The engineers made sure there were no hidden fuel compartments. Hawkins further said that Ogle’s fuel system, “has achieved what was intended for the internal combustion engine . . . to operate on fumes.” He added that problems with stalling-out could be fixed with “engineering refinement.” In response to the question why the system had not been developed before, Whitacre said, “Everybody’s been trying to make the carburetor work better.” A by-product of the system was clean emissions, an environmental concern that became important in the 1970s.
Jones wrote in the Times on Aug. 2, 1977, that Ogle had obtained a patent pending number on his system. While waiting for the patent, Ogle continued to refine the system and resumed independent testing. A computer test at Casa Ford showed that the device produced emissions cleaner than El Paso’s air, according to Jones. Ogle and Peck became partners and several other individuals, including two local automobile dealers, also provided funds for Ogle’s research and testing. Attorneys began work on an agreement between Ogle and his backers regarding possible royalties if the device were to reach the market.
The U.S. was in the middle of an energy crisis when the Oglemobile appeared, and many corporations, including at least one oil company and two car manufacturers, and even the U.S. Air Force expressed interest in buying Ogle’s device. On June 22, 1978, the El Paso Herald-Post announced “Ogle Sells Rights to a Gas-Saving Device.” According to the article, Advanced Fuel Systems Inc. (AFS), a company in Washington state, had bought the manufacturing and marketing rights. The contract sp ecified Ogle would receive an unspecified amount of advance money, 100,000 shares of AFS stock, six percent royalty on sales of each device, a monthly salary and the right to visit AFS, stated reporter Doug Lenzini.
About two months later, the Securities Exchange Commission filed a complaint against AFS as specified in the Times article “Complaint Surprises Ogle” also by Lenzini. The SEC charged that the Seattle company had violated provisions of the federal securities laws. Ogle and his backers became further entangled with legalities. Meanwhile, Ogle went ahead with plans to open a chain of computerized diagnostic centers and opened the first (and only) one in Northeast El Paso in April 1979. Before the end of the year, Ogle apparently had closed the site and the phone had been disconnected, according to a Feb. 24, 1980 Times article by Laura Hlavach. Ogle was hard to find.
In May 1980, the IRS came looking for Ogle, claiming that he owed more than $20,000 in back taxes. Ogle apparently had begun living the high life soon after selling the rights to his invention, including riding around in a custom-made limousine with all the perks. In April 1981, news about Ogle began to surface once more. Times writers Laura Hlavach and Patricia Tatum reported that Ogle had suffered a gunshot wound in his stomach near a bar in Northeast El Paso. No one was ever charged in the shooting, but police for some reason had officers guarding his hospital room.
Hlavach and Tatum reported that in other incidents, Ogle was arrested for reckless driving and for having an illegal firearm. In addition, he had sued a man to whom Ogle said he had been forced to sign over 22% of his royalties in order to pay debts acquired in losing a string of pool games, according to a June 20, 1981 Times article by Jeannie Kever. Ogle’s lawyer, Bobby Perel, described his client as a “26-year-old kid, a free target for anybody. … He’s scared of … a whole group of gamblers and others, just fleecing Ogle, getting him drunk and taking advantage of him,” according to Kever.
On Aug. 19, 1981, the 26-year-old Tom Ogle died of what medical examiners said was an alcohol and drug overdose, citing large amounts of Darvon, a tranquilizer, in his body. He had been at a Northeast bar drinking and collapsed at a friend’s house. Pathologists were uncertain whether the death was accidental or suicide, but many people, including some of his backers, believed it was neither. Even though Ogle had legal and money problems, his friends and lawyer refused to believe that he would have deliberately taken 20 Darvon pills in addition to drinking heavily.
For years after his death, more than 50 supposed financial backers were still battling over money derived from Ogle’s device. Although Ogle did not leave a will, his wife Monika won the right to oversee his estate. His invention? Forgotten. Dead and buried, like its young, naïve inventor. But perhaps not totally.
In 2008, Gashole, a documentary about America’s dependence on fossil fuels highlighted Tom Ogle’s invention, along with several others intended to increase mileage in the nation’s cars, some of which the film accused big oil companies of buying and suppressing. The Internet also has various bloggers and journalists who ask the question, “Why are we still oil-dependent when the technology exists to free us from this tyranny?” Tom Ogle appeared to have solved the problem of gas guzzlers and going to war to protect our oil supplies, but it was not to be. However, the fact that intelligent thinkers are still asking questions and researching the subject gives one a little spark of hope.