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Dunedin inventor Alan Houghton dies

All inventor Alan Houghton ever needed was an idea. Before you could finish telling him, he would have a design. And it would work.

The son of James Houghton and Amy Fisher Houghton, who immigrated to Dunedin from England just months before he was born in November 1921, Alan Houghton helped build the world's first commercially accepted citrus peeler. He died Saturday (Sept. 9, 2000) at Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater.

John Webb, another inventor and Clearwater businessman who met Alan in 1972, called him "an innovator, very clever."

While working for a California firm, Webb designed a sectionizing machine for grapefruit. When that company wasn't interested, he came to Florida, where he still owns and operates Webb's Machine Design on Sunset Point Road in Clearwater.

"I was looking out the window of the first place I worked down here," he said. "I saw the dragonflies moving among the fruit on one of our trees and began to think, "There's got to be a better way to peel a fruit.' And I began to wonder, is fruit electrically conductive?

"Sure enough, when I put a meter to it, I found out it was." Webb said. "Now all I needed was an electronic whiz to make it work. That's when I learned about Alan."

A successful relationship was born. Years later Coca-Cola Co. paid the two men $5-million for the machinery and tooling to produce the peeler _ an electronically controlled high-speed tracer that peels 80 oranges or grapefruit per minute.

"We did 4,000 metric tons a month just for Japan," Webb said. "That was before Coca-Cola went out of the fruit business and Brazil took over."

Houghton's last project was completed just two weeks ago, when he designed and supervised the construction of a sump pump for Wynwood Assisted Living Facility, Dunedin, where he and his wife have living since 1997.

"He supervised the staff in the repair and construction," facility administrator Stacey Stanish said. "He built our butterfly garden. Mr. Houghton was a special soul."

Mr. Houghton was a ham radio operator from the age of 12 known among other operators by the call sign 24MTI.

He built his family's Dunedin home on State Road 580, two miles from downtown Dunedin, in the early 1950s. He used only hand tools for the construction.

Although he grew up as a member and a former acolyte of Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin, after he was married he became an active member of First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Claire; his son, Dunedin lawyer Eric Houghton; three daughters, Ann Houghton, Roanoke Rapids, N.C., Amy Guthrie, Tallahassee, and Nancy Penney, Lexington, S.C.; and four grandsons, John and Thomas Guthrie, Tallahassee, and Adam and Luke Penney, Lexington.

Memorial gifts may be made to Religious Community Services, 1855 S Highland Ave., Clearwater. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, at Scotland Street and Highland Avenue. National Cremation Society, Largo, is in charge of arrangements.

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