Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Christmas so here's some of the Most Ridiculous Old Transportation Innovations of all time

Nobody was ever more crazy than old-time inventors. The same semi-diseased minds that gave us the light bulb also dreamed up vehicles so bafflingly ludicrous that it seems their inventors learned the fundamental principles of physics and engineering from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

That's why, if you crack open an issue of Popular Science from 80 or so years ago you see that every issue featured a bizarre transportation gadget seemingly designed to murder you and everyone you love. Like ...

The Gas-Powered Baby Carriage (1922)

Amazingly, in 1920s England, motorized baby carriages briefly caught on as a novelty, because apparently nothing soothes the frantic sobs of an infant like the sputtering backfire of a primitive internal combustion engine. A "nurse-chauffeur" would stand on two footrests in the rear of the carriage and use the handlebars to steer the contraption at a top speed of 4 miles per hour, which doesn't sound fast enough to ramp something, but we'd be willing to try.
The carriage was also constructed so that "no engine vibration can possibly reach and disturb the sleeping or irritable child," a phrase that here means "British nannies don't need a machine to shake children to death." It even had a canopy to block the sun's harmful rays and helpfully keep the suffocating exhaust fumes collected in a pocket at baby-face level.

The Family Bike (With Sewing Machine) (1939)

This ludicrous four-person bicycle/sewing machine was called the Goofybike. It was created by inventor Charles Steinlauf -- that's him and his family in the picture. Note that he has placed his daughter in a position to go flying off into traffic should they stop suddenly.
History will never know whether he spent weeks building this thing thinking that he could sell it, or if he just wanted to get his picture in a magazine at the mere cost of his time and his entire family almost assuredly getting crushed under a bus just seconds later. Note how Mrs. Steinlauf is busy sewing a blanket for the EMTs to lay over their mangled bodies after dislodging them from the underside of a Greyhound.

The Stilt Cycle (1934)

If you can't quite make it out from the grainy old photo, that is a man riding a very tall unicycle on which the wheel has been replaced by two mechanical legs wearing dress shoes. I can't believe there isn't at least one hipster riding one of these things to work right now.
The stilt cycle was built by a man in Los Angeles so that he could "sit down while walking" (call him crazy, but if you think about it, this line of reasoning has been the guiding light of all transportation technology throughout history). It also combines the breezy fun of a unicycle with the thrilling risk of traumatic skull fracture, all while making you look like a jackass. It is unclear whether the shoes were meant to help with traction or simply to satisfy the service guidelines of Montgomery Ward.

The Baby Walker (1939)

To prevent the embarrassment of watching his son learn to walk through the natural course of human development, a Swiss engineer threw together the baby walker, possibly with the mind to later sell it to horrible parents and/or aliens raising a stolen Earth fetus. It's essentially two pairs of wooden poles strapped from an adult's shins to a toddler's calves, the idea being that every step the adult takes would force the child to do the same, thus teaching him how to walk.
The problem is, the poles translate the graceful, smooth movements of an experienced walker into violent, stabbing shoves that are guaranteed to knock over anyone attached to the other end, regardless of age. If you latched a kid into this thing, you'd spend the day dribbling his skull across the ground like a Harlem Globetrotter (which admittedly is a powerful lesson).

The Poochmobile (1939)

The poochmobile, built by an 80-year-old dog trainer named Z. Wiggs, was an admirable attempt to wean people off of oil back in the 1930s, although it was destined to fail because Wiggs made the understandable mistake of confusing "hilarious" with "practical."
Sharp readers may notice that a German shepherd couldn't push a full-grown man any distance, let alone a full-grown man in an H. G. Wellsian contraption. Based on the photograph, we assume that the idea was to let Dust Bowl farmers get a few more miles out of the family hound before it succumbed to hydrophobia from a raccoon bite. You could do little else with this vehicle besides hand-painting "Redneck Time Machine" on a sandwich board and charging admission.

The Roadplane (1934)

No, that is not a flying car, if that's what you're thinking. When the headline says "half auto and half plane," that in no way means that it has any of the advantages of an airplane. What they mean is "It's 1934, and malnutrition has driven us mad."
The roadplane was invented by Professor T. Edward Moodie for reasons that can best be described as "nonexistent" and never made it beyond the testing phase. Once his "half auto and half plane" got up to speed, the front wheel, and only that wheel, lifted up into the air, balancing the car on two wheels and allowing the driver to steer using a yoke to control the vehicle's rudders, providing an advantage over standard road travel that no one has yet been able to determine. All we know is that there's no way you'd be able to see out of the windshield with the thing popping a permanent wheelie.
Wait, why the hell didn't he just call it the wheelie car? We'd have bought that.

Merry Christmas all, and an Innovative New Year!

(Right, I'm off down the Pub on my Rocket Propelled Skateboard, wearing my new Invisible Santa Beard, to read my 1936 December addition of Popular Mechanics. Cheers!!!)

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