Matthew Piner calls it a "no-brainer" of an invention -- a device so
seemingly simple that it should have been perfected decades ago. But the
GoBagger, a durable, lightweight unit that enables one person to fill a
sandbag instead of the typical two, is the tool that has captured the
attention of officials with the state and Golden State counties -- years
after similarly well-intentioned inventions have come and gone.
Although they are low-tech, sandbags
have been a primary tool in holding back floodwaters in California for
decades. Private citizens have built sandbag walls to save homes, and
state officials have stacked them to keep levees from overflowing.
"You would think after all the years
people have been filling sandbags that something would have come along
to make the job easier," said Piner, a 43-year-old, self-employed
architect/contractor in Sacramento. "But a lot of ideas have been tried
and rejected. "A lot of things can go wrong . . . a lot more things than
State officials said they have
rejected scores of sandbagging inventions, and they, too, cited myriad
things that can mess up a would-be sandbagging breakthrough: If the
tool's material breaks apart after bagging a mere ton of sand, it's a
failure. . . . If a more durable material is too heavy and wears out a
worker, it's a failure. . . . If the invention has moving parts that
quickly clog with sand, it's a failure . . . and, well, you get the
idea. Piner said he developed the GoBagger over the past two years, with
a lot of help and advice from others. He believes his background gave
him the knowledge and patience to see the process through. His
architect/contractor roles familiarized Piner with various building
materials and the need to make a tool that did not create an undue
physical burden. "And I also do a lot of practical problem-solving in my
work on a regular basis," Piner said, noting that he has restored
Victorian-style homes in Sacramento.
Piner said one of his employees,
Stefan Smyle, came up with the basic concept of the GoBagger, and others
helped Piner develop it through his company, Pinerworks Product 3D. The
units are now being manufactured by RRS Industries Inc. in Sacramento.
On first glance, the GoBagger looks like a high-tech trash can with a
modern-art design. Actually, it's a lightweight piece of "linear
low-density polyethylene" -- LLDPE for short -- about the size of a
bread box. Piner noted that LLDPE is recyclable and extraordinarily
durable. GoBagger has grips on either end, and Piner said the ergonomic
design enables one person to fill sandbags with less of the muscle and
back strain associated with shoveling. Likewise, Piner said the nicks,
bumps, scrapes and blisters associated with shoveling also are negated
with the GoBagger.
GoBagger can pack any of the standard
burlap or plastic bags used in California to hold back floodwaters.
Filling a sandbag is a simple, three-step process: load and grip the
sandbag on the back of the GoBagger, scoop sand into the large-mouth
front end, lift and release the filled sandbag. Piner even incorporated
a design that allows GoBaggers to be stacked, which makes them easier to
store. "It's incredible all that goes into something like this," Piner
said with a chuckle. And it's still evolving. Pinerworks is working on
straps and other accessories that will make it easier to use the
GoBagger and switch it from right-side use to left-side use. Piner said
the fully evolved version of the GoBagger will probably sell for less
than $50. He has already sold GoBaggers to Sutter County, but the
statewide interest is where the vast potential lies. To that end, Piner
said he has traveled up and down California, demonstrating the GoBagger
to state and county officials and answering all manner of questions. The
California Conservation Corps will be handing out GoBaggers when it
trains crews later this month in Stockton. And the state Department of
Water Resources has held demonstrations for parties interested in seeing
the GoBagger. "We feel that it has its place. It saves manpower," said
Don Yeoman, chief of the flood project inspection section of the state
Department of Water Resources. "People in the counties . . . the
reclamation districts, the municipalities are the people we bring in to
see demonstrations." "I think one area where it could help is with
private citizens, who could fill their own sandbags fairly easily,"
Yeoman said. "In a flood emergency, you could have individual homeowners
come into a yard and fill their own sandbags . . . and we could have
(the California Conservation Corps) out working on a levee instead of
filling sandbags for landowners." Ideally, Piner would like to see
GoBaggers in the hands of state and county crews as soon as possible.
"It's always the same story with sandbags," he said. "When the
floodwaters are here, everybody wants to have sandbags filled right
away." Piner believes GoBaggers could be used by fire departments,
reclamation districts, private levee owners, levee-maintenance agencies,
the National Guard, erosion-control services and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, to name just a few.
Ultimately, Piner envisions marketing
and selling the GoBagger nationwide. More information on Pinerworks and
the GoBagger can be obtained by calling (415) 488-6291 or by
visiting the company's Web site at www.gobagger.com.