Walter Hammond Righter (1905 - 1982)

An Illustrated Biography by his daughter, Frances Jean Righter Tucker © 2005

Chapter 2. Like Minds

Last Updated : July 20, 2005

My father, once said to me...

"Every thing has had a beginning, and if I were to be asked when I first became interested in engines I would probably say it was when I was eleven years old when my father bought his first automobile. That was in late 1916. When the 1917 Ford Model T Touring Car arrived, we were all pretty excited I can tell you! It cost $417.50 delivered to our home. That was the price of the standard model. Ours had a few accessories, including an electric starter that added to the price a bit.


William J Righter's first car - a 1917, Model T Ford 'Touring Car'

Photo: Righter Family Archives - Click Image to Enlarge

In those days a 'Model T' had to have a valve grind about every 3,000 miles. When time came for our first top overhaul, my father made a deal with a mechanic to have me help him and learn what I could. I spent most of my efforts helping by scraping carbon and watching the mechanic. From that day on, I did all of the overhauls and I loved it.

During senior high school and junior college in Santa Ana, I rode motorcycles contributing to the delinquency of a 'Cleveland', two 'Indian's and a 'Harley Davidson' and of course I had to tinker with these to keep them running.

In the fall of 1925 I entered the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena selecting electrical engineering.

As it happened, the electrical and mechanical engineering students took identical subjects for the first three years specializing during the senior year only. During my junior year however, a professor took the two groups on a field trip to a large manufacturing plant.

The electrical group spent their time looking at the main switchboard and power transformers that weren't very interesting to me but I did notice that the mechanical group was watching parts being made on lathes, mills and drill presses. Right then and there, I made up my mind to change goals and immediately switched to mechanical engineering. I have never regretted it.


Kinner Airplane and Motor Corporation

Photo: Righter Family Archives - Click Image to Enlarge

Shortly after graduation in 1928, I joined Kinner Airplane and Motor Corporation and began work on engine design, which has been my major occupation ever since.


Walt, 3rd from left with Kinner employees

Photo: Righter Family Archives - Click Image to Enlarge

In 1936 I went into business for myself, did some engine design work for another company then developed a miniature engine for myself"

Fran Righter continues...Reginald Denny, the movie/stage actor and WW1 pilot, owned a well known hobby shop and after meeting Reg though Don Whittier (a financial backer of Reg's "Denny Industries"), Reg asked Dad to enter his new design in a miniature airplane engine contest. Denny wanted a reliable engine he could sell under his name in his hobby shop. Dad won the contest 'hands down'.

The up-shot was that if Dad could build and test ten of these engines to Reg's satisfaction and then convince him that he could mass produce them at a reasonable cost, Reg would buy them and sell them under the name "Dennymite".

Dad went home and started to build the ten engines. As it turned out he included me in this project as with nimble and small hands I could fit the tiny parts together with ease.

During the building time Reg decided he wanted each test run for at least 50 hours. That was quite an order as the noise would be a BIG problem for our neighbours.

Don Whittier saved the day by offering to let Dad use his back yard to do the testing. Don had a huge home on several acres of land in La Crescenta (just a few blocks from where I live now) so Dad was able to run the engines day and night without disturbing anyone.


Walter Righter testing the first ten "Dennymites"

Photo: Righter Family Archives - Click Image to Enlarge

After the ten test engines had run for the asked for 50 hours and were still going strong, Reg and dad 'went into business' but now needing to mass produce, Dad moved out of his 'shop' in the backyard to a much larger premises on San Fernando Blvd. in Glendale CA.

As had been the case with the first ten engines, Dad often took me to work with him so I could continue to help with the assembly of the production line "Dennymites" which I simply loved to do.

Dad ended up manufacturing over 10,000 engines under this agreement and gave the 10,000th one to Mom as a souvenir. After Dad died she gave it to me and I subsequently donated it the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) in Muncie, Indiana.

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