Robert O. Snyder, 89, engineer and prankster, created roller coasters

July 21, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Robert O. Snyder had an affinity for toys -- especially big ones. He built roller coasters of varying degrees of daring at his homes, created a mini-motorcycle for his children and an electric car for himself.

All of the concoctions worked, and no one had more fun playing with them than "Pop" Snyder, as relatives and friends called him.

Relatives said Mr. Snyder lived each day of his 89 years with gusto, exuberance and purpose. He died Thursday of cancer at his Annapolis home.

Mr. Snyder was an engineer, an inventor and prankster supreme. He designed and built airplane engines for more than 40 years. He spent a lifetime on his inventions, and his gags never ended, especially the old whoopee cushion or buzzer-in-hand bits.

"He always had a lot of mischief, a lot of adventure in him," said his daughter, Roberta Watcher of Goldsboro, N.C. "He was thinking and doing all of the time."

Along with designing and building backyard roller coasters, his creations included a motorcycle with a wooden body, a 28-foot model car race track (where people from throughout the country raced models at speeds of 120 mph) and a portable, pushable three-foot duck to help toddlers walk.

His creations were unique, and he received some notoriety for them, including articles in Popular Mechanics.

"All of the things he worked on worked at one time or another," said Robert Tuberlow, a friend and former neighbor.

Perhaps his most innovative inventions were his roller coasters. Raised in Randallstown not far from the old Gwynn Oak amusement park in Woodlawn, Mr. Snyder was a regular there and a roller coaster lover.

As an adult, he built roller coasters at his homes in Lochearn, Hagerstown and in Bay Ridge. His roller coasters ranged from one that was 15 feet high and about 40 yards long to one that dropped about 30 feet into Lake Ogleton at his Bay Ridge home.

"He always liked excitement as a youth," his daughter said. "One of his favorite sayings is that he should have been dead long before he was married."

Mr. Snyder graduated from Randallstown High School in 1926 and attended the engineering school at the University of Maryland.

He worked as an aeronautical engineer for Glenn L. Martin Co. in Baltimore in the 1930s and 1940s; Fairfield Aircraft Co. in Hagerstown in the 1950s and 1960s; and Duvinage Co. in Hagerstown in the 1970s.

He was a mechanical engineer with Greene and Seaquist in Annapolis in the late 1970s, and later worked in the copy center at the State House in Annapolis. He retired in the early 1970s.

While working his jobs, he was

always creating when he came home.

In the late 1960s, he built and used a white, two-seater, convertible electric-propelled car known as the King Midget. His car was not just for show, as he drove it to work and about town for eight years.

"He thought it was dumb to spend money on gas and all of the pollution," Ms. Wachter said. "With the car he built, he didn't have to worry about that."

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge of Pikesville and a longtime member of St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1120 Spa Road in Annapolis, where a memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday.

In addition to his daughter and wife, the former Evelyn M. Strauss, whom he married in 1930, he is survived by two sons, John W. Snyder of Wilmington, Del., and James R. Snyder of Davidsonville; a brother, Carroll Snyder of Randallstown; a sister, Dorothy Kemp of Milford Mill; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Donations may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society, 1041 Route 3 North, Gambrills, Md. 21045 or to St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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