Claude Brown arrived for lunch at Felten's Topaz restaurant but warned he could not linger.
Seems that managers of a nuclear power plant on the East Coast were scrambling to fix a busted part.
The plant operators were hoping a Nevada contractor could figure out how to do the repairs.
And the Nevada people, in turn, were relying on Claude Brown.
"It will be a busy afternoon," he said.
Problem solver. Inventor. Entrepreneur. Claude Brown is all of these things and more. When he is not creating ingenious machines, Brown is a tireless volunteer for worthy causes.
He spends many hours as part of a cooking crew that prepares meals for fund-raisers in the Lodi area. Brown and company have served as many as 1,000 people at a single event, providing portable barbecues, food, labor, and table service.
Brown also helped lead a fund-raising effort to create a new agricultural equipment center at the University of California, Davis.
"He has a big heart," said Nick Spanos, a friend and member of the charity cooking crew. "It seems he does everything for everybody. I don't know how he finds the time to run his business sometimes."
In recognition of both his inventive acumen and his volunteer contributions, Brown is being inducted into the Lodi Community Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. Also being honored are Warren "Duffy" Lamb, Robert Mullen, Annette Vaccarezza Murdaca, Alice Reimche, Dr. Walter Reiss and the late Ben Schaffer.
Brown is married to Marilyn Brown and they have a daughter, Mia.
Brown enjoys a deceptively casual image. His business attire typically consists of boots, denims and a T-shirt.
Though his appearance is no-frills, his creations are often both sophisticated and elegant.
Brown holds several patents. He is an adept engineer, welder, electrician, machinist and surveyor.
Mainly, he is an idea man.
"We work on things nobody else wants to work on," he said.
In fact, Brown and his colleagues at AIM, Agricultural Industrial Engineering, work on problems nobody else can solve.
When grape growers wanted a machine that would harvest grapes without harming the vines, they turned to Brown.
When a paving contractor mistakenly left a curb too low, he hired Brown to invent a machine that would add the necessary height.
When water officials needed a portable contraption to divert water flow and attract migrating fish, Brown was hired.
Brown has also invented a machine to set and move concrete roadway dividers, like the ones that switch lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge.
He also invented a machine to extract oil from chrysanthemums, used as a natural pesticide.
"He approaches everything scientifically," Spanos said. "He is extremely well organized and he can do a dozen things at once. He is really a genius in his own right."
Brown was born in Petaluma and graduated from Rio Vista High School. He graduated from San Joaquin Delta College and took courses at UC Davis.
And, from an early age, he worked.
Mostly, he worked on machines, figuring out how to build or fix or improve them.
As a teen-ager, he supervised a crew doing electrical work. One of his projects: Running wire and conduit up one of the soaring TV towers near Walnut Grove.
"If you dropped a set of pliers from up there, it was a long ways down," he said.
His mechanical wizardry led him to Lodi's Holz Rubber Co. where he worked his way up to vice president for manufacturing. When the firm was sold to out-of-town interests, Brown decided to team up with a friend, Paul Burkner, to start AIM.
Burkner crisply summarized Brown's qualities as a business associate: "He's got a good business sense. He's fair in his dealings. He knows how to treat the customers and the employees. And he has a good engineering sense."
Brown also has a sense of community.
Numerous times each year, Brown and a group of friends do the cooking for fund-raisers. They range from dinners for the Micke Grove Zoo to banquets for Ducks Unlimited. A few times each year, Brown and friends prepares wild game dinners that are auctioned off at fund-raising dinners - sometimes for $5,000 or more.
The crack team of mobile cooks specializes in barbecue, serving up tri-tip, chicken, oysters, hot dogs, burgers, salmon, even duck.
"For us, it is more fun than work," Brown said.
The inventor was instrumental in the construction of a new farm equipment center at UC Davis. The Western Center for Agricultural Equipment allows students and farmers to learn about the latest in equipment in both classroom and field settings. Brown played key roles in both designing the center and raising money to make it reality.
Over the years, he has been involved in numerous community programs and organizations.
He helped Lodi police officers in creating the department's equestrian unit.
"He provided pasture for some of the horses, free of charge," said Richard Dean
He has served on the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce Industry Group; the Lodi High School Ag Advisory Committee; the Board of Advisers of the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis; he has served in leadership positions with several industry groups such as the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
Brown finished lunch. It was time to go fix a power plant.
There was just one more question: Has he ever been stumped?
"I don't think of it that way," he said. "If you have a problem, you just have to look for ideas.
"And I never seem to run out of ideas."
For further information about the Hall of Fame dinner set Saturday night, contact the Boys and Girls Club at (209) 334-2697.