OSU Student’s Invention Opens New Future for River Travel 

On Thursday, July 21, Jonathan Cordisco, a Senior in Mechanical Engineering at Oregon State University, stood on the banks of the Willamette River at Independence, Oregon, alongside his Professor, Dr. John Parmigiani, overseeing the installation of the first prototype of Cordisco’s new design of boat locker. This device is intended to allow people traveling along the river in kayaks and other small craft to secure their boats and other expensive gear while they step into town for a visit.  

Two men from the City of Independence Department of Public Works measured and drilled the asphalt and assembled parts of the locker. After an hour and a half of work under a warming sun, the locker was assembled to Cordisco’s satisfaction and ready for use – almost.  

“We’ll be having a soft opening on Wednesday,” he explained to television and newspaper reporters observing the process. “Until then, the locker remains closed with a combination lock. Once it’s officially open for business, visitors can read the instructions on a large panel, store their belongings and go into town with confidence.”  

A First Of Its Kind 

The locker is Cordisco’s thesis project, the culmination of his studies at OSU’s College of Engineering and in Parmigiani’s Prototype Laboratory.  

Watching the process with interest was Shawn Irvine, Economic Development Director for the City of Independence.  

“He did the hard work of being our first client,” Parmigiani quipped.  

The City of Independence was one of a constellation of groups which contributed to the project, including Travel Oregon, the Willamette Valley Visitors Association, Oregon State Marine Board, Willamette Riverkeepers, and the Independence Hotel which can be seen in the background of photos of the locker, as it’s one of the first buildings you come to after docking at Independence.  

“We’ll see if people are using it,” Irvine said with cautious optimism. “It’s fun working with students, but once it’s in the public realm, you’d better be prepared for the worst.”  

Irvine’s concern is understandable. Although the locker is similar in principle to the storage pods for people traveling on trails in state parks, and to boat lockers in use all over the world, there really is nothing exactly like it anywhere else.  

Parmigiani said he expected Cordisco to look at existing types of lockers and choose one type to modify to suit the needs of boaters on the Willamette. Instead, he found that there simply weren’t any that were made for easily stowing small boats and easily removing them after a few hours. Existing lockers were all built with wintertime storage in mind, not short stops in the middle of a trip.  

“He wanted a locker for day travelers who could stop for lunch, not for winter, easy in and easy out for a boat, paddles or floats,” Parmigiani explained.  

Irvine pointed out that Cordisco’s design was an important innovation for casual boaters. “We wanted people to be able use it while bringing the least amount of stuff – basically, just a padlock.”  

What’s Next For Prototype Lab 

Asked what the Prototype Lab’s next project was likely to be, Parmigiani said he hoped it would be “figuring out how to make a lot of these. If this takes off, we’ll be getting requests for lockers in Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, all along the Willamette, and then beyond.  

“After that,” he added, “we always have a backlog of projects. With COVID, we had a bit of a slowdown, but even so right now we have eight or ten students ready to work on their own projects.”  

Aaron Wimer and Cliff Nash of the Independence Public Works Department made measurements and then drilled into the asphalt pavement of the boat ramp to bolt the parts of the locker in place. They worked with the calm efficiency of long practice, but they, too, were happy to be taking part in the installation of something new.

When an onlooker admiringly referred to Cordisco’s prototype as the adult equivalent of an Eagle Scout project, Wimer smiled and said, “It’s fun to work with a student – this is a great way to transition to work in the real world.”  

“It’s all on paper until you get to this point,” Nash agreed, looking at the assembled locker.   

By John M. Burt  

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