One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Cliché, yes, but a Brooklet man has spent close to eight decades proving the words to be true.
Just days away from 83-years-old, Julius C. James, Sr., said he’s been creating for as long as he can remember.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been making things, building stuff,” he said. “Out of any old stuff. I made my own toys, made my own wagon.”
James didn’t get the chance to stay a kid for long, though, and by the time he was 12, he began working for neighboring farmers.
“My father left home in 1940, when I was in sixth grade,” James said. “My mama had three kids to take care of. I had to quit school and go to work, working in the fields.”
When harvest season ended, James cut wood, weeded fences and did other odd jobs to help support the family. Over the years, James worked as a mechanic for an asphalt company in Savannah, where his responsibility was to “keep all of the equipment going,” and as a farm hand. He also worked at W.M. Sheppard Lumber in Brooklet and sprayed chemicals on corn and other crops.
James said he learned by listening and watching. “I do some of everything. I drove bulldozers, tractors, learned some of everything. When I work, I try to learn everything while I’m on the job. That’s how I learned welding, too.
“When I got off work, I’d find something else to do. Tinkering and piddling, making something.”
No longer working away from home, James keeps busy inventing, creating and fixing things.
Like the storage shed he built from scrap lumber for his wife, Maddie. When James’ son decided the shed was the perfect place for a pool table, James built another shed, the one he calls the “door house.”
“Made from nothing but doors and windows,” he said. “I didn’t have anything but a lot of doors to use. Didn’t cost me a thing.”
From junk to useful
James said he finds discarded items at the junkyard and dump and repurposes those items for his inventions.
“Sometimes, I turn off the television in the evening and just think,” he said. “My ideas come to me at night, and I think about the things I have that I can use. And in the morning, I start working. I can’t wait for daylight to come so I can get started.”
Like the go-cart he built.
“I had an old wheel chair. I looked at that thing and said, ‘What can I do besides junk it.’ I laid down at night, thought about it. At midnight, one o’clock, I was still thinking.
“Woke up the next morning, and I knew what I was going to do. In two days, I had it done.”
For that particular go-cart, James fashioned a wheelchair seat, a John Deere lawnmower base and a scooter handlebar and frame into a driveable vehicle. He added flashing red lights, headlights and a few other gadgets, too.
“It’ll go 25-miles-per-hour,” James said proudly. “Might run even faster, but I’m scared to go faster than that.”
In fact, one of the go-carts James built could top out at 50-miles-per-hour, but he sold it. “I was scared of that one.”
And yet another go-cart, made from iron bed railings, well, James said he doesn’t know how fast it will go. “I’m scared to run it wide open,” he said.
James said that, occasionally, he’s been told his ideas aren’t possible. “I like when people tell me that I can’t do something. It makes me want to make it work even more.”
“My boys call me the genius,” said James. James and Maddie have two living sons and one that passed several years back. They also have five grandchildren.
“I can fix most anything. When equipment breaks down, I can fix it.”
James created a workable chain saw that runs from jumper cable clips hooked up to a car battery. And a jig saw and drill that runs from a light cord plugged into a car or lawn mower battery.
James uses some of his creative ingenuity to add decorum to his property. “I made a little fish pool from an old tub, but I had to figure out how to get oxygen back into the pool. So I found a way to do that and make some music at the same time.”
That invention is comprised of an old tub, an oscillating fan motor and stand, a bicycle tire, old drinking mugs, wind chimes and running water. Never wasteful, James built the fish pool near his garden, so the run-off from the pool waters his vegetables and plants.
“I’ve got all these ideas in my head,” James said. “Mother wit, that’s what they call it.”
James gets a bit emotional when he said his creating days may be over. “I knew I had a heart murmur, but it got worse. I had a pacemaker put in about three weeks ago. I’m moving kinda slow now.”
James wishes he had a wheelchair to get to his pond and garden, on the other side of the lane from his house. “I get over there and I’m give out. I can’t get back.” James suffers from COPD, as well.
His friend, John Page, recently retired assistant principal and athletic director at Southeast Bulloch High School, stopped by to share some okra from his garden with James and assured him that he’d be back up to speed in a short amount of time.
For now, though, creative ideas swirl in James’ head, just waiting to emerge as a new invention.