WOODY PEDERSON is waiting for people to jump on his bandwagon. That he is pretty much the only guy on the bandwagon right now, oompahpahing cheerfully all by himself, does not discourage him."I'm not dead yet," laughs Pederson, who is 75.
For 20 years he has been trying to convince folks about the merits of ideas he says will solve the country's social ills. The first idea is a TV forum-style talk show called "The People Speak." The second is a vending machine that dispenses hot and cold food, displays video advertisements and entertains customers with a "Thought for the Day."
He figures that profits from the vending machine company could help employ, house and feed the needy, and also help pay for the talk show. The talk show, he figures, would enable ordinary citizens to come up with solutions to the nation's problems.
To accomplish this he calculates that he needs 50,000 people to contribute $20, 5,000 people to give $50 and 2,500 people to give $100. This does not strike him as outlandish.
He has rewritten his proposal for "The People Speak" a great many times, trying to get it just right, because sometimes his sentences have a tendency to clog up like an old sink. Sometimes the ideas get lost in a swirl of verbosity such as "interaction communication" and "visual involved perspective."
Pederson is working on paring down the proposal from seven single-spaced pages to a couple of double-spaced pages, and then he is going to mail it to 1,000 potential contributors, whose names he gleaned from the mailing lists of several local political candidates.
He has also sent other versions of his ideas to 30 foundations, and sometimes he goes to see influential people in person.
A faithful reader of letters to the editor, he sends his proposals to people whose letters hint that they might be receptive to his ideas. That's how he met former Utah Attorney General Robert B. Hansen, who now sits on the board of trustees for "The People Speak."
Most of the people he meets are struck by the sincerity of his intentions - although they tend to be a little baffled about just exactly how he plans to carry them off.
In 1945, WHEN S.W. Pederson was stationed with the U.S. Army in Berlin, he had an idea to save the free world.
He had a friend back home send him 30 Mickey Mouse watches. The watches cost $3.95 each, so Pederson added two zeroes and moved the decimal point. He laughs heartily at the memory of this scheme. For every Mickey Mouse he handed over, he says, the Russians let five or 10 East German families move to West Berlin.
He also sold cigarettes, candy bars and cameras. The cigarettes were $10 a pack, except for Pall Malls, which were $15. "I always sold Pall Malls," he remembers, laughing again. By the time he got back to the States he had sent home $22,000.
When he was 12, he built a chicken coop with floors heated by oil he got free from nearby gas stations. He says his friends paid him for the privilege of helping him build the thing.
The 12th in a family of 13 children, he figured out early on that it never hurt to have a business. He sold bows and arrows, rabbit hides and skis made out of packing crates from Granite Furniture.
"I'd see an opportunity, and I'd try to do something with it," he explains.
During the Depression he joined the Works Progress Administration and was assigned to build outhouses in Idaho. Pretty soon he had devised an improvement on the government's design. Instead of building the regulation toilet, he talked the farmers into buying his more expensive model. He also talked them into digging the holes.
After the war he did construction work and eventually was the construction superintendent on several shopping centers and an LDS stake center in California, he says.
He says he also invented the prototype of the Chicken McNugget. He says he thought of the idea for fused chicken morsels 12 or 14 years ago and that he showed the recipe to a McDonalds' employee who then made a fortune.
"I got snookered," he explains. "I've been a little bit cautious about what I've done since."
CAUTIOUS BUT not exactly full of self-doubts. He projects that the food processing plant required to supply his hot-and-cold vending machines will produce an income of $46 million to $93 million a year. The recipes will be the work of "certified chefs." Within five years there would be 150 food processing plants in the United States, Canada and Japan.
"This will provide the implement for the balance of trade," points out Pederson with characteristic optimism. He also wouldn't be surprised if "The People Speak" TV talk show became such a success in Salt Lake City that it would quickly be a national sensation.
The way he envisions it, "The People Speak" would be sort of Oprah by way of Thomas Jefferson. Other talk shows just define the problem, he explains. The People Speak would solve problems. Video segments would highlight possible solutions in areas ranging from over-crowded classrooms to the national deficit. The research would be done by volunteer civic groups. Citizens would find out how they could help. It would be a TV show "of the people, by the people and for the people," he says.
The process, he explains in his proposal, is designed to "enlist the participation of every concerned person in the policy-making process of solving community problems by setting goals and implementing small local pilot projects. Hundreds of these projects can ultimately be implemented and operational at the same time, involving thousands of people in a virtual beehive of community improvements."
Woody Pederson's expectations are as uncomplicated as the man himself. He says he has already spent "$10,000 to $15,000" of his retirement money on the vending machine idea alone. But he's confident that any day now he will meet an investor who will set everything in motion.
He says he isn't after glory or money, and this seems to ring true. "I just want to help the people who are in dire need," he says. He has more faith in the public's lack of apathy than the public probably deserves.
"You might think I'm just going around in circles," he once told a reporter. "But I'm tightening the circle."
That this was three years ago doesn't discourage him all at.