Asked what kind of knowledge it would take to tamper with the motorcycle, Cheney offers a wan smile: "You'd have to be a mechanic."

"What Cheney uncovered needed to be uncovered and needed to be addressed," then-Muni general Manager William Stead told the Examiner in 1988 about rampant overtime abuse. "He's very bright and has some real good ideas — it's just that most of them can't be absorbed into the system because they hit like hand grenades."

Stead took exception to Cheney's public accusations of extortion. Yet, within that '88 article, he admitted offering Cheney the option of being brought up on character-tarnishing charges or having them dropped and accepting a higher-paying job — on the condition of press silence.

Cheney in a 1988 Examiner article titled "'Pit Bull' Hounds Muni Management."
SF Examiner/Katy Raddatz, 1988
Cheney in a 1988 Examiner article titled "'Pit Bull' Hounds Muni Management."
Mike Cheney hopes his wind energy device inaugurates "a new age of sail."
Photograph by Gil Riego Jr.
Mike Cheney hopes his wind energy device inaugurates "a new age of sail."

"Muni needs people like him. But a family unit and everyone around you is not one big Muni," says Michelle Cheney, Mike's youngest daughter. "If you're always on the lookout for flaws, you will find them. But people get tired of that. And they don't stick around."

Mike Cheney has spent his life repairing gears, but his personality has none. He runs at one speed. Schnurr, his erstwhile wife of 24 years, thinks of him whenever she reads their youngest grandchild The Little Engine That Could. "Mike isn't going to stop for anything," she says. But then she stops smiling. That's the problem: He isn't going to stop for anything — or anyone. "Mike was always right about Muni. But people don't like to be fixed. I don't know if he realizes that."

He does. He realizes what he's doing. But Cheney — twice divorced and separated from the third future former Mrs. Cheney — can't help himself. He isn't going to stop. He simply doesn't know how.

"I understand I'm unrelenting. Having the manic depressive disorder and doing the work I do, I know I wear on people. I don't blame them!" he says.

"Sometimes I'm difficult to be with when I'm alone."

Mike Cheney sits at the handcrafted drafting table where his abortive coloring book and air traffic controller stamps first took shape. He gazes out his window as the sun dips lazily behind the wooded hills of the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. For any San Franciscan born or made, it's hard to imagine a better view. And, for Cheney, it's hard to imagine a better place. "This ain't a bad way to live," he says. "I am exactly where I want to be right now."

And that's because of the latest item created on that drafting table.

Watching Cheney explain the SailWing to engineers, newspaper photographers, or random folks at the cafe who profess a fondness for sailing is a bit like watching a foreigner asking for directions. If Cheney's conversation partner isn't conversant in mechanical and nautical terms, he does what many people do when confronted with a language barrier — talk louder.

During a recent conversation with an engineer fluent in both tongues, however, the conversation didn't get louder, but faster. Terms the non-mechanically inclined only hear on Car Talk — "solenoids!" "torque converters!" — spun out of a back-and-forth exchange that soon reached the velocity of screwball comedy pitter-patter. And then, a pregnant pause: The engineer exclaimed, "It's an engine!"

And Cheney just melted.

Cheney likes to quip that he's devised an internal combustion engine sans the internal combustion. But, at first glance, it looks exactly like the gargantuan fixed "sail wings" protruding from the AC72 America's Cup yachts flitting about San Francisco Bay. Except instead of being mounted to a boat of questionable seaworthiness, the SailWing Engine will connect to a series of unseen gears which, in turn, "will generate hydraulic power like gangbusters." Taking a break from a highly technical explanation, Cheney adds that "hydraulic power kicks ass."

Imagine a landscape of 100-foot-tall SailWing Engines swinging rhythmically in a horizontal back-and-forth resembling the beauty queen wave. Beneath each, a series of gears force synthetic oil through an ever-shrinking series of portals. This is a "positive displacement pump," and it generates incredible amounts of hydraulic pressure. This, in turn, could be converted into electrical power by turning generators akin to those at a hydraulic dam. Or you could use the hydraulic pressure to pump water and then you could spin generators with that. Possibilities abound; port a series of SailWings to a generator — "or even a dynamo!" — and "you could fire them off like pistons in an engine — boom, boom, boom!"

While the gears whir below ground, what you'll see on terra firma is the SailWing turning perhaps 180 degrees before shutters resembling the slats on venetian blinds open up, "de-winding" the metallic sail. The device will disengage from the gears, allowing the SailWing to spin back to its initial position. The gears will be engaged once again, initiating another "power stroke." Cheney likens the process to an oar powering through the water, then "disengaging" and being returned for another stroke.

The vision of rolling hillsides dotted with hulking, louvered metallic sails oscillating hither and yon in the breeze is an exotic one. But every system mentioned above — and many more that were excluded in the name of expediency — are already employed in cars or even bikes. (There's even a shutter system in the grill of the 2013 Dodge Dart.) Paraphrasing Archimedes, Cheney says that "if you give me a lever large enough, I can lift the world." He pauses. "This is a pretty big lever."

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Cheney may be a maverick , but his way of not helping those mechanic"s after him to carry the flame of hopeĀ  does continue. Instead he took a couch deal and let all others to be \harassed and not follow the contract. The supervisors' are the ones that do not follow the contract that are fellow 1414 IAM union members.


Cheney is quite a remarkable person. It's unfortunate SF isn't a city that values improvement nor is CA a state that cares about how it's rotting. It's not until SF becomes a Detroit and CA becomes a MI that it matters - but by then everyone that can will have left. It's currently advantageous for the tech industry to be located in SF, but someday that may change - just like the car companies no longer felt it was needed to be in Detroit. But, nothing changes until rock bottom - until then people dislike "gentrification".


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