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Claflin inventor changed future of car design
new kl Jim Vance
Jim Vance of Claflin stands in front of the plaques he has received for his inventions, as well as for his graduation from the U.S. Air Force Acadmey.

CLAFLIN —Prior to 1980, vehicle repair involved changing four v-belts to run each engine accessory, including air conditioning, alternator, water pump and air pump. Jim Vance, currently of Claflin, knew there could be a better way.
“Cars were evolving,” he said. New accessories were being added. Jim made a chart with what he knew and what he didn’t know about the process and put it in a drawer. He had a light bulb moment by the next morning, and started to work.
He invented the serpentine belt which drove all accessories in 1974 and received a patent  for his efforts all while working for Gates Rubber Company in Denver.
At the time, he pitched the belt to General Motors to no avail.
The 1978 Ford Mustang was a V-4. It didn’t sell well. “They need to retool to a V-8,” said Vance. He showed them how they could use the serpentine drive belt without making modifications to the engine compartment.
They built 10,000 Mustangs with the belt. By 1980, 100 percent of the Mustangs had the belt, which Vance said undoubtedly saved the company an enormous amount of money.
By 1982, GM decided to go to the serpentine belt.
“Now you can’t buy a car or truck without a serpentine drive belt,” said Vance. He never received much compensation for his design though because of the contract he had signed with Gates.
With an innovative, organized mind, Vance, by the end of his career, had received 34 patents, primarily for oil field equipment. His patents included the inflatable packer hose, the inflatable downhole packer and the reinforced inflatable packer.
Vance was born in Coldwater and graduated from Bazine High School in 1953. He attended Fort Hays State University for a couple of years when the enrollment was 600, then received an appointment to the Air Force Academy.
After graduating, Vance was an instructor pilot in Oklahoma. In his spare time, he raced Volkswagen Beetles.
During his time in the Air Force, he also was based in France and Germany. He and his family would travel the continent, choosing interesting  places to visit, including the base in Germany for the one-eyed pilots at Ulm, from World War II.
Vance flew the T-33, T-38, the Spooky, and the Phantom RF4C on reconnaissance missions during his military career.
He spent 13 months, seven days and six-and-a-half hours in Vietnam during the war.  Knowing they would send him back to Vietnam or in his words, “some other garden spot,” Vance decided to leave the military.
He built a house in Castle Rock and lived there for 16 years.
After retirement, Vance wanted to come back to Kansas.
“People are innocent” here, he said. “They are the salt of the earth. There is a real sense of right and wrong here. Families participate in church and the community supports kids.”
Jim’s sister lived in Claflin, and so he decided to look around the community for a home.
“I drove into the yard, and I  knew this was it,” said Vance of his current home in rural Claflin. He was particularly pleased that the home was engineered well. It faces south to capture the winter sun and the roof trusses are bolted to rebar to remain safe in high winds.
Lively, inquisitive and ready with a joke, Vance still thinks outside the box. He has built two kit airplanes and five replica cars, including a Lamborghini.
Jim also believes in giving back. For 11 years, he has gone each week to the elementary school, and listened to the children read as the official second grade grandpa.
“It recharges my smile batteries,” said Vance. “They are so sweet.”
For the future, Vance is planning a walkabout to Arizona and further study of Native American religions.