Vernon News

DOCTOR ELECTRONIC: Self-taught Vernon inventor fascinated by everything

Garry Garbutt is also a ham radio enthusiast.

Dressed in a white lab coat with a long white wispy goatee Garry Garbutt looks every part the scientist and inventor that he is.

Standing in the lab he built on his property, located down a long windy road perched high on a hill overlooking Vernon, Garbutt is surrounded by an endless amount of complicated-looking scientific equipment.

Garbutt is modest when it comes to what he does, describing himself as an electronics technician.

The reality is very different.

He works in electronics, has a machine shop, does welding and chemistry. He's also designed, built and sold a few steam-powered boats. One currently sits in his driveway.

"My first invention was the digital remote control gas sign," he says. He approached gas stations, but in the 1970s no one was interested.

One of the many weird and wonderful machines on display in the lab.
One of the many weird and wonderful machines on display in the lab.

He will describe himself as an inventor and has a solid response when people ask what he does?

"I live in a little glass box on the wall," he says. "When that machine over there breaks down they run over and smash the glass box, grab Garry by the throat and put him on the floor (to) fix it."

Born and bred in Vernon, Garbutt owned and operated the store Doctor Electronic throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He also launched the second internet company in Western Canada, Okanagan Internet Junction in the early days of the web.

He's also worked as a consultant and invented more things than he can remember.

He’s vague on the dates when all this happened.

"(I'm) old," he says. "And cranky."

He's neither.

A spark gap transmitter built by Garry Garbutt.
A spark gap transmitter built by Garry Garbutt.

While age is a matter of conjecture, he's definitely not cranky.

Garbutt patiently, and without being patronizing, answers a serious of rather mundane questions about the many weird and wonderful machines and inventions that dot his laboratory.

The spark gap transmitter sends long-wave radio signals, the ion fan blows air without moving parts. He's built several Tesla coils because he's fascinated with them.

So what do they do?

"It's difficult talking to a layman when the depth of these things is so in-depth," Garbutt says.

A large cooper machine Garbutt calls "Big Bertha" is only to be used outside.

This he can explain to a layman.

"It throws over 10-foot bolts of lightning that will kill you," he says.

Exactly how a lab sure look.
Exactly how a lab sure look.

Pictures of his hero, scientist Nikola Tesla hang on the wall, overlooking Garbutt as he wanders around the lab demonstrating a variety of scientific machines that do all manner of peculiar things from generating electricity and sparks, to magnets that appear to have control over non-magnetic items. It's fascinating and confusing all at the same time.

One thing that Garbutt does not need to explain is that he's very passionate about this work. He's also passionate about sharing what he does with others.

"A good mentor is worth a thousand textbooks," he says.

In collaboration with the Okanagan Science Centre Garbutt is opening his workshop to the public Oct. 16 to Oct. 20. Space is limited and almost full.

A self-taught man with no "paper" to his name, Garbutt was never taught formally. He didn't go to university as it was too expense.

He did, however, build a telegraph system in his neighbourhood at age 12. He's also responsible for the restoration of Vernon's old Post Office clock. The huge structure currently sits in the Vernon Museum and Archives.

Over the last forty years, Garbutt said he's worked on dozens of projects for other people, keen to patent designs and make millions.

"The chances of being successful are nil and zip," he says.

He doesn't work out of a desire for financial gain, but rather out of fascination.

"I love solving problems," Garbutt said. "When I take on a job or a commitment I hate losing."

For more about Garbutt's workshop tours go here.

Garry Garbutt sits in his Vernon laboratory.
Garry Garbutt sits in his Vernon laboratory.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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