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A reprint from the Sacramento Bee...




A brand-new (sand)bag

Matthew Piner says his GoBagger, a plastic scoop device, lets one person instead of two fill sandbags. And it's easier physically, too, the Sacramento inventor says.

Bee/Owen Brewer

* *
owner Matthew Piner *
* Copyright © The Sacramento Bee *

A brand-new (sand)bag: Inventor hopes to revolutionize flood protection

By Mark Glover
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Nov. 16, 1999)

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 you think."

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

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