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  • October 30, 2013

Before the Story With Walter Boggs

“I’m crazy, I know that. But it’s a useful crazy, it turns out.” —Walter Boggs

Walter wouldn’t describe himself this way to me until several months later, but I think I began to understand what he meant the first time we met. I was taken down to the basement to meet Walter in his workshop during my first few weeks at National Geographic, while I was still getting to know everyone. He was surrounded by drawings and scraps of metal and tools that I had never seen before, and he was completely engrossed in a remote-control car he was working on. I would be surprised if he remembers that first meeting—our introduction barely slowed him down enough to say “hello” before he was back to his work and his concentration was completely back on the car.

Walter is a mechanical engineer at National Geographic. Thirty-two years ago, he answered an anonymous advertisement in the Washington Post for an engineer. Unsure of exactly what he was interviewing for, Walter brought along a crossbow trigger he had built to give an example of his capabilities and was offered the job on the spot.

His task is to make the gear that can’t be bought. Photographers come to Walter with a technical problem or need, and he builds the solution—from underwater camera housings to remote-control cars to a life-size hippopotamus. Anything a photographer needs to get the shot, Walter finds a way to make it.

No kits, no directions: Walter throws himself entirely into the project at hand—almost to the point of obsession. He just picks up a pencil and paper, sits down at his worktable, and begins to sketch, as if he has blueprints stored in his mind and is just deciding which to put on paper that day. And from the sketching to the prototype to the finished product, Walter has a singular focus that rarely breaks throughout the process.

Like many people at National Geographic, Walter has a creativity that is completely unique to him. I asked him on more than one occasion what kept him going—why he kept building and creating for all these years. I think the question caught him by surprise, but he thought about it for a while, and the best answer he was able to give me was this: “I just have to.”

Shannon Sanders is an Arkansan at heart, a consumer of all things visual, and a video producer for National Geographic magazine. She enjoys the exploration of culture and is always looking for new ways to share those experiences through visual storytelling. Follow Shannon Sanders on Instagram and Twitter.

There are 61 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. altagracia
    August 25, 2014

    This is so inspiring for a student like me who’s also taking mechanical engineering and unsure of my course. But this, this is simply inspiring. ;) im looking forward to know more of this stuff and works. ;D

  2. cindy
    December 28, 2013

    I wish this were closed captioned, or open captioned even. deaf accessible

  3. Fred Johnston
    December 3, 2013

    Interesting. However, playing with a near sighted hippo could be dangerous. Does his craft have seat belts.

  4. Edgar Lim
    November 30, 2013

    I’d love to see the finished project that Walter did, like the hippo.

  5. saroja
    November 19, 2013

    amazing

  6. Blanca Hernández
    November 18, 2013

    I like it, so much!

  7. Per Kele
    November 18, 2013

    Note to NG: Pay close attention to Walters answer to the last question. Anyone who just “has to” really DOES have to. Don’t EVER retire Walter. Always give him something to work on. I don’t care if he’s 93 at the time and slowing down— just make sure he has something to do and that it CHALLENGES! That’s it. Thank you.

  8. Scott Roberts
    November 18, 2013

    Boggs is “da best!” He’s doing what I would do in another life, and what I like to show my students as an example of applying math and science know-how to ones imagination. NG’s what a cool place to work.

  9. Rahul Gaikwad
    November 18, 2013

    An inspirational story.

  10. Rick Alberto
    November 17, 2013

    passion,work and play,that’s “the formula”…luv it

  11. Edward C Nepinak
    November 17, 2013

    Walter is a natural born adventurer and every challenge is an adventure of the mind…which is why he is probably always available to the NG staff…

  12. Skip Faulkner
    November 17, 2013

    My Dad was a lot like that. He could make or fix anything mechanical. My grandfather was Edward J. Faulkner an inventor who still has two of his patents you can find on line. God gives us talent, it’s up to us to make the most of them.

  13. Saurabh
    November 17, 2013

    great to see a bit of the bigger picture.

  14. Nancy Ott
    November 17, 2013

    I’m blessed to know you, Walter. Keep up the good work! :-)

  15. Tony Jones
    November 17, 2013

    He highlights the difference between a fitter and a true engineer. My father in law was a man of his ilk, sadly taken by Alzheimer’s. RIP

  16. Marina T.
    November 17, 2013

    Amazing! Applause to the designer! Thank you for the article. Live and learn.

  17. Martha
    November 17, 2013

    The story is too short – I want to know more!

  18. Mak Mercer
    November 17, 2013

    Lucky guy! Someone pays him for doing what he loves to do!
    He is by no means unique however. Over a thousand volunteers in the UK enjoy creating a huge variety of
    devices for disabled people, some simple, some highly technical.

  19. Benske
    November 17, 2013

    NO use for CAD. This man is incredible. Love the way he works around a cluttered workbench.

  20. Wilson Rose
    November 12, 2013

    Truly inspirational. I bet some of those amazing creations end up in the Smithsonian…..or eaten by a lion.

  21. Younis Salam
    November 5, 2013

    it is so nice good luck >> ^_^

  22. richard j. manzi
    November 3, 2013

    hi walter….yes igree with all the praise coming your way…there mut have been someone with your brain making the pyramids in Egypt….i’d sure like to see the trigger you made when they hired you…

  23. CARRIE HALL
    November 3, 2013

    GENIUS! AND USEFUL.

  24. syuaip
    November 2, 2013

    where every product is a ‘Mark I’, and they are all perfect for the job :)

  25. maria carmen
    November 2, 2013

    Que genialidad la de Walter es realmente impresionante…

  26. ASHIK
    November 2, 2013

    i like

  27. Sëë jön
    November 2, 2013

    it is genius story , it is so much amazing

  28. prakash vadlamani
    November 2, 2013

    the commitment and focus with creativity made walter. not just the need to do.

  29. drajatismanto
    November 1, 2013

    beautiful pictures. definitely need the technology and the spirit of courage?

  30. Donald Pelton
    November 1, 2013

    I like making things to solve problems myself. I designed a template set to make coats of arms (heraldry).

  31. Daw Aye Mon
    November 1, 2013

    That is good, Great Walter

  32. G. Patey
    November 1, 2013

    That’s a Dad. A mom tiger would not let the cubs near the object. O.k., Dad still has all his limbs. Its O.K. kids.

  33. Andrea Dowd
    November 1, 2013

    I am thankful for all the work/photography of wildlife that has been done, and is ongoing. Being able to see wildlife in it’s splendor and glory “was” only for the very rich and let’s face it…destructive folks. Thank you to every person whose put forth efforts to show the world the beauty of wildlife.

  34. ay
    November 1, 2013

    superb

  35. shackur
    November 1, 2013

    I studied meChanical engineering too but I can’t do anything of these things….sincerely, I feel bad about that cos I want to know!

  36. Abdoulaye GUISSO
    November 1, 2013

    Je suis Un Fan de NAT GEO.vous amenez les humains a connaître le monde qui.les entoure et surtout al’aimer et le préserver. Merci beaucoup

  37. frank conway
    November 1, 2013

    great story…a man who loves his job and loves to tinker..he would make a wonderful mentor

  38. Søren
    November 1, 2013

    This is cool, I so wish I had someone like that around to work with for some of my photography projects. Those NG photographers have it sweet.

  39. Antoinette Amegbletor
    November 1, 2013

    Walter is a genius, so amazing, his job just comes to him naturally. Thumbs up to you!! Keep on keeping on!!

  40. David Moore
    November 1, 2013

    Walter is an engineer’s engineer. To be able to design, fabricate – machine, solder, weld, etc., is truly a lost art. Here in Silicon Valley, we think of genius as writing code. Not even close.

  41. Sanjukta Dey
    November 1, 2013

    Stories like this and National Geographic in general keeps me motivated. Wants me to push myself against all limitations and odds.

  42. salimon
    November 1, 2013

    suuuuper

  43. Jessie
    November 1, 2013

    So inspiring! I love his answer to why he kept going. “I just have to.” That’s a man who loves his work.

  44. Tafadzwa Mudadirwa
    November 1, 2013

    Inspirational.

  45. Babak
    October 31, 2013

    Most software developers are this way too.

  46. Ola
    October 31, 2013

    I luv National Geographic. U people are doing great. I’ll like 2 work with u guys? Iam a kreative artist who worked in advertising agency in d brandin department 4 years. Can i be part of ur Magazin with lots of kreativity. I call it d unuser design. Pls do reply me back hopefully. Thanks u.

  47. ojo damilare abraham
    October 31, 2013

    he is my mentor,i envy him, nice one.

  48. Don George Thomas
    October 31, 2013

    Just to complete mechanical engineering. Nw in 7th semester.very interest in automobiles and machines nd also photography.

  49. Khaleel
    October 31, 2013

    That is good

  50. khaleel
    October 31, 2013

    I like this.

  51. Rashid
    October 31, 2013

    Nice story

  52. William Toh
    October 31, 2013

    I am also a hands on person, and did also the same thing of what you are doing, the only thing is you have the opportunity.

  53. Linda
    October 30, 2013

    Love National Geographic….for years and years

  54. Demosthene
    October 30, 2013

    Like Tesla, who never make a prototype befor he had solved all problem in his mind.

  55. dili mager
    October 30, 2013

    Nice ilike

  56. Renuka shah.
    October 30, 2013

    I like this.

  57. munther jazi
    October 30, 2013

    I,m studying the mechanical engineering ,and i will work for national geographic instead of him ( but i respect his achievements :D )

  58. kucala5
    October 30, 2013

    Love this story.

  59. clive
    October 30, 2013

    truly inspirational.

  60. teguh ali
    October 30, 2013

    ngeri banget bro

  61. Pushpender gujjar
    October 30, 2013

    I like this chanell

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