The inventor next door

    Ira Stahl is an electrician. And an inventor. And a magician.

    But mostly, at heart, he’s an inventor.

    Stahl was about 12 when he came up with one of his first inventions.

    “Where I lived we had forced air heat and I couldn’t take the dry air every night. So I came up with like a little reservoir and some cloth. And I put it over the vent so when the air blew over it, it would take the moisture out of that and put a little moisture into the room.”

    He’s got a long list of things he’s invented or improved upon, mostly to make things easier for himself or his electrical contracting business.

    He’s patented three of his inventions. A wire dispenser he sold to a lighting guy in Connecticut, a hands-free hedge clipper he says “was just a little before its time.” And his proudest invention so far: the K9 CarFence.

    It’s a car safety fence for small dogs that was inspired by his Pomeranian poodles Peanut and Bear.

    Stahl drives a lot for work. Peanut and Bear are usually in the front seat. One day he was forced to stop suddenly and the dogs ended up on the floor. They were fine. But it got Stahl thinking…

    “I came up with this netting system. I used cargo netting and pipes and bungee cords, anything I had in the garage. And I put it together and I noticed it worked.”

    One of his neighbors stopped by that day, and left a little confused.

    But after three and a half years of long nights and weekends hunched over his trusty sewing machine, Stahl had a winner. Now the K9 CarFence is manufactured out of Amsterdam, N.Y. and available on his website and soon, he says, in stores.

    It’s a huge hit with dog lovers he knows — including one very relieved neighbor.

    “He looked at it and said, ‘Oh my God, I have to tell you something Ira. When you showed me the first product I went home to my wife and I said, ‘There’s something wrong with our neighbor. You should see what he’s trying to build.’”

    Stahl laughed. Inventors get that a lot. When we talked at his Glenside, PA office, Stahl recalled a life of taking things apart to see how they worked. Radios, TV’s, speakers. Sometimes he’d put them back together. Sometimes not.

    “I’m not always the first one to make it, but I’m always thinking about ways to make things better.”

    Like the light box he made at school with flashing lights that played disco music. It was good for partying – which brings us to an invention of Stahl’s he only very reluctantly shared.

    “Because you’re forcing me to tell this story,” he joked. “And as one of our presidents said, I didn’t inhale.”

    It’s a good story. “When I was smoking pot with my friends we would always burn the furniture and our shirts and make a mess. So I made a thing called a roach tray. What it was was a roach clip and an astray all in one, so when you were smoking and passing the joint around you wouldn’t get ashes and burn marks on your shirts. And I didn’t have a lot of money back then so burning a shirt was very important for me not to do because I needed to save my money for the product that you used for the roach tray.”

    He had two versions, which he gave away. “Every one loved them,” he said a little sheepishly.

    Now the 60-year-old is all about his business and his inventions. And, oh yeah, magic.

    Stahl was at a Vegas magic show with a friend a few years back. And as he’s known to do, he thought he could improve some of the tricks.

    “I have a lot of fun with magic because it fits my mindset that you need to think outside the box,” he said.

    These days, with his busy business and his K9 CarFence taking off, he mostly practices on accommodating employees, the residents at his mother’s assisted living facility and if you ask nicely, visiting reporters.

    As he prepared to show me a couple of tricks, I had to ask: Does he consider himself an electrician/inventor/magician or an inventor/electrician/magician?

    “Well my mother would say, ‘My son’s an electrician not a magician!’ But I would say I’m more of an electrician, inventor and just part-time magician. I just do it to make people happy.”

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