The kind of man who is sued for allegedly seducing a Polish Countess, I suppose. Both stories are lovingly ascribed to family eccentric John Kruttschnitt (1887-1982).
According to family legend, Kruttschnitt spent most of his very long adult life in a quest to find the mythical Lost Dutchman’s mine, supposedly hidden in the Superstition mountains of Arizona. Since 1892 people have been vainly trying to locate the mine, which is reportedly cursed, or protected by enigmatic guardians, assuming it even exists.
John first turned to his brother, Julius Kruttschnitt, one of the most successful miners in American history, grandiously referred to as “The Man from Asarco,” to locate the mine. When Julius decided the search was fruitless, John hired another prospector and kept at it.
This is just one of several bizarre stories attached to John Kruttschnitt, the youngest son of Julius Kruttschnitt, Sr., and Elise Minna Kock. According to family legend, John, a pilot, stood and watched his unchocked plane with no one aboard fly off a runway and crash. That story can’t be confirmed, though we know from newspaper reports that John was a pilot.
If the enigmatic John did some wacky things in his life, he was also exceptionally bright. After graduating from Cornell University in 1910 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Kruttschnitt worked for many years as an engineer for his father’s railroad, the Southern Pacific. The holder of at least six patents, including one for making all-important doughnuts, Kruttschnitt invented things throughout his life.
Born at his parent’s home in New Orleans (275 First Street), John led a pretty protected life. After graduating from college, he lived with his wealthy parents, first in Chicago, then in New Canaan, Conn., and New York City until he was in his mid-30s. He was living in California by 1925, the year his father died. He may have gone there with his mother. Seven years later, in 1932, he was living with his mother in San Mateo, at 1004 Palm Avenue, according to the San Mateo social register. He would have been about 45 years old at that time.
It was seven years later, in 1939, that Kruttschnitt allegedly seduced Mrs. Olga Robers, who was known as Countess Utenski of Poland. She filed a $100,000 damage action, according to an Associated Press article that was picked up in papers throughout the country. The Countess charged that John Kruttschnitt and his mother conspired to seduce her.
In the suit, Olga alleged that Mrs. Kruttschnitt often urged her to marry John. Describing John as “a bit peculiar, but a sweet boy,” the Countess says that Mrs. Kruttschnitt told her she “should do whatever John Kruttschnitt desired of her.” John apparently did have his way with the Countess; she charged that he seduced her on March 9. My grandmother Meanie used to comment that it must have been pretty special event for her to remember the date.
“I met Uncle John when [my husband] was at Stanford” in the 1960s,” recalls one grand niece. “We met him through my grandfather and later ran into him at a restaurant. He was with a date about the same age. He was more interested in speaking with his date than visiting with us. When he got up to leave the restaurant, he left a dime for the tip.
“When my grandfather criticized Uncle John for wearing old boots at an elegant function, John responded to him, ‘I’m not a slave to fashion.’ My dad told us that he saw Uncle John at a buffet table helping himself to caviar by licking the serving knife.”
“John came up with an all-purpose cleaner paste called SAVVO,” recalls a nephew. “He said it was safe and demonstrated by eating it! It was very good, but he had no way to market it other than to family. Maybe he went door to door!”
(Interestingly, a European company currently markets a cleaning compound called Savo that comes in a paste form. It’s made from sodium hypochlorite, a common household bleach that’s often used to chlorinate pools. Savo says the compound contains the same chlorine found in kitchen salt. After a triggered reaction that converts the compound into oxygen, and burns anything around it, including bacteria and viruses, it reverts back its original state.)
Another widely shared, though unconfirmed family story, is that John “left an aircraft with ‘unchocked wheels’ at Mills field,” recalls the nephew. “Result…runaway airplane. He also spent much time with Gwyneth Woodhouse before she married into the Ware family.”
John’s draft registration card, dated 1917-1918, lists his occupation as a draftsman for the railroad. The card describes him as slender, with a medium build, blue eyes, dark hair, and slightly bald. (He had lost even more hair by the time the picture at right was taken.) He claimed an exemption by virtue of being diabetic and having a weak heart, which is interesting given that he lived to 95.
In 1920, at age 32, he’s living with his parents in Manhattan at 12 E. 87th Street, still working as a railroad engineer. A year later, living at the same address, he got a passport, which lists his occupation as an engineer in the oil and mining business. In January, he took a boat (the Sixaola) to Columbia and returned in April (on the Tivives).
If Kruttschnitt was peculiar, he was also very bright. An internet search reveals that he holds many impressive patents. Here in chronological order are some of them, along with a layman’s description of what they are for:
- Tier, October 1922. Kruttschnitt invented a simple tier for ropes, cords, and other cordage, including wires. Specifically intended to be used with the Blackwall hitch, it allowed this hitch to be easily cast off when the strain is relieved. But according to the inventor, the hitch will not become easily detached by unintentional relaxing of strain, as is the case when the hitch is tied to an ordinary hook.
- A locomotive whistle, March 1925. This looks like a Canadian patent and the substance of it isn’t available online.
- Valve-control mechanism, April 1926. The mechanism in question operates valves. It is particularly adapted to the operation of locomotive and other steam engine throttle valves. The invention avoids side strains on the valve rod, packing, and gland. It allows for a straight line motion, making it easier for the operator to open or close the valve.
- Balanced-plug valve, January 1927. This invention relates to the fluid controlling rotatable plug valves. It provides a means of balancing or equalizing fluid pressure on the rotatable member or plug so that it will be easy to turn, even under very high pressure. In this way, the plug and its seat will remain true, minimizing the possibility of leakage.
- Dough cooking machine, September 1935. This patent is for an improvement to Kruttschnitt’s previous patent for a dough cooking machine. A continuous strip or rope of dough is passed through a fluid cooking medium such as hot fat and subsequently cut into lengths suitable for sale. If it sounds like the machine was intended to make doughnuts, that’s because it was, though as the patent states it could also be used for “other fried cakes.” Yum.
- Automatic cutter, November 1936. This patent related to an automatic mechanism for cutting off successive pieces of equal length from the end of a continuously advancing strip of material. The machine makes a clean, rapid traverse cut, retracts knives instantaneously, and provides a means to adjust the length of the cut portions without changing the position of the knives. Brillant.
- Nail driving shield and set, August 1967. The idea behind this invention was to create a shield for protecting woodwork and other surfaces against damage by a hand hammer in driving a nail. A further object of the invention was to protect the woodwork when driving a nail in toenail fashion. The decidely utilitarian invention resembles no less than a flat plate with holes to drive nails through.
Uncle John Kruttschnitt is buried in the Alta Mesa Cemetery in Palo Alto, California.