At both his St. James home and his family's upstate farm, Joseph N. Reinhart II used his love of mechanical engineering to make things better -- and more fun.

He brought the farm out of the horse-and-plow age by installing mechanized potato harvesters and hay balers, said his son, Bill Reinhart. At home, his father built a playground with a merry-go-round, monkey bars, swing sets and a slide.

"Even a cable ride from one end of the yard to the other," said Reinhart, 56, of St. James. "It was just a great place to grow up."

The elder Reinhart, who raised 10 children and worked for the Town of Smithtown highway department for more than two decades, died Tuesday at home. He was 86. Bill Reinhart said he likely died from "old age" after recent heart ailments.

His family described him as an inveterate tinkerer and entrepreneur who started trucking and tree-spraying businesses, sold Christmas trees, operated a food distribution company with his late wife, Katherine, and welded automobile steering wheels on his children's bicycles.

"He always had something else going on," his son said. "He never stopped."

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At the highway department, Reinhart was "one of the first guys to figure out how to use some kind of hydraulic valve" so that trucks could simultaneously plow snow and spread sand, highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen said.

Reinhart, a foreman, retired in 1981. His son James, also of St. James, works for the department.

Bill Reinhart said his father was self-taught and had no advanced training. "He was fascinated with mechanical devices," he said. "He studied hydraulics on his own."

The hard work paid off with family Fourth of July parties hosted by the fun-loving Reinhart, who taught his children to be nice to everyone. "He worked hard so he could play well," Bill Reinhart said.

In addition to sons Bill and James, Reinhart is survived by another son, Joseph N. Reinhart III, of Coram; seven daughters, Mary Kate Reinhart-Munroe, of Lake Grove; Susan Debus, of St. James; Kristine Fitzpatrick, of Port Jefferson; Beatrice Murphy, of Goose Creek, S.C.; Lynn Reinhart and Helen Warner, both of Virginia Beach, Va.; and Karen Murray, of Essex Junction, Vt.; 20 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was to be said this morning at Sts. Phillip and James Roman Catholic Church in St. James. Burial was planned at St. James Episcopal Church.