By Daniel L. Bamberg
Rufus A. Parker was never an ordinary man. He was born and raised in West Blocton, Alabama during the time of segregation but according to Parker he was the only black man to attend the white West Blocton public school system before desegregation.
“I left West Blocton in 1949. I got a little money and moved to Chicago with my cousin. I couldn’t stand it. The city was too fast for me. From there I moved to Cleveland, Ohio and drove a coal truck, but didn’t like it. So I decided to join the Army,” explains Parker.
After Parker joined the Army he was sent to Korea where his service earned him service medals and bronze stars. After his service Parker became the very first man in the United States to receive a small business loan. He used the money to purchase a Peterbilt tractor-trailer, which he drove for a six years. “I was the youngest black owner-driver in the country at the time,” explains Parker. I had to go to Chicago to get job runs because not a lot of people were hiring black drivers. I made my runs between Omaha and Sioux City.
Parker didn’t slow his adventurous life then. He sold his truck and bought a nightclub in St. Louis with blues legend Albert King. During that time he met Denver, Colorado Mayor Federico Pena and became his friend. Not long later, Parker chose to be Pena’s bodyguard. During the 1990s Pena was tapped by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In Clinton’s second term Pena became the U.S. Secretary of Energy. “He still calls me fairly regular to this day to see how things are going for me,” stated Parker.
In spite of the amazing stories in the lifetime of the 70-something year old Parker, he claims to have always been an inventor at heart. He’s been inventing things his whole life and many of those things maintain a U.S. patent. “I always looked at things to see how they could be improved. That’s where my inventions come from.” Parker suggests. Parker has been featured in several publications for his inventions including the Birmingham News, the Denver Post, and several magazines. He travels around to schools to show students his inventions and speak on the importance of inventing. He also takes great pride in being a black inventor. “Some of the most interesting inventions came from black men, and their stories are all unique,” says Parker.
One of his most well known inventions is the “oil jaw lock.” After a series of crude oil thefts occurred in Diamond, Oklahoma, an oil company sent for Parker. From there he went to Casper, Wyoming for six years to create a lock. By the time Parker’s jaw lock was ready and patented the oils wells in Diamond had been locked as the oil company chose to distribute Middle Eastern oil instead. “I was on my way to the top before that decision was made,” Parker explained.
The EPA passed a law in the late 1980s suggesting anything that flows through a pipeline with a valve on it, must be enclosed with lock and key. Since that point Parker has been ready to promote his jaw lock.
Parker has created a wheel lock for 18-wheelers built from A1040 carbon steel, heat-treated to 950 degrees. “Nothing will grip this. The only way to get this off is with a torch with a good tip. The wheel lock is used to prevent wheel theft from commercial tractor-trailers. The only way to remove a wheel that maintains this lock is with a special key Parker created with the lock. “I have sold a lot of these in California but I haven’t been able to get the money to make enough to keep selling,” Parker suggests. That is, not until he was made able to get a business loan, which he is currently finalizing. Parker will be going to China in late March to oversee the manufacturing of his inventions. When he returns he will be looking into distribution of a product he believes is necessary and suggests will be highly sought by companies once they see what it can do. He has created and patented several variations of his gas locks and wheel locks.
Parker proves after a long life full with various experiences that living outside of the box can be a rewarding experience. As he begins a journey to see his most notable inventions manufactured at a point many are looking back on their lives, he shows no desire to relax anytime soon.
These are the stories one discovers when they look beyond the surface of their community. Unique people are living and working everyday in Bibb, out of the box.