Tag Archives: retro-futurism

Journey to the Center of the Snowbank

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… or how failed railroad tech inspired scientific romance.

Railroads on a large scale only date back to the 1830s, but they ran into the problem of snow on the tracks the first winter. The earliest solution was the snow plow. Often called a Bucker (or bucker), it just relied on speed and plowing action to clear the tracks. If the snow got too deep, though, there was nothing to do but bring up crew cars with 200 men for several days of shoveling.

1884 brought a new high-tech solution: the Jull rotary snow plow, whose auger and blades chewed its way into the face of ten feet of snow and threw the result a hundred feet to either side, first going up thirty feet to clear the telegraph wires. Imagine a ten or eleven foot wheel spinning at 90 rpm, and you get an idea of the speed. (You can find way too many YouTube vids of North American rotaries in action. Really, the Europeans don’t seem to know how to really use them.)

Now, thanks to Mr. Orange Jull having secured good patent rights everywhere he could, and sold them to the Leslie brothers who built his first rotary (and knew a good thing when they saw it), nobody else could get in on the business.

(Fanfare, maestro!)

Enter the glorious failures, the screw-front snow plows.

Formally called augers, these ran into the basic problem that, however well they fed snow back to a blower, or cut into an iced bank, the horizontal pressures on the central shaft created insurmountable mechanical problems.

This “Cyclone Steam Snowplow” by E.P. Caldwell, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was constructed in 1889. (This is just a patent drawing of the lubrication system.)

The Cyclone Steam Plow, progenitor of the Cyclotram.

The Cyclone Steam Plow, progenitor of the Cyclotram.

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Iron Elephants and Electric Bicycles

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ElecBikeSmMy Early Dreamers reading is getting past the easy stuff. In the category of Invasion Literature, I am not only getting out of English language works or translations to English, I’m getting down to the nasty stuff: racism and genocide. What else can you call it when Jack London heroically describes the annihilation by bio-warfare of the entire Chinese race, and the hunting down of the few survivors?

Elsewhere, we have “Capt. Danrit” with his “thousands of white pages soiled day after day by a national hero of France” (he was killed early in WW1, 21 February 1916), who cranked out more patriotic victory before the war than anyone else from 1888 to his death in battle. His novels are just huge, and he dumped them out like some Franco-military Barbara Cartland. Read the rest of this entry

Crawling from the Waves …

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Was it an obsession of the public? Of inventors? Of  just Popular Science Monthly? They have so many covers in the Thirties, let along interior blurbs, on amphibious vehicles. It’s as if giant airships and helipads weren’t enough any more. They would give you plans for building your own boat, but surely the future held something more complex, more glamorous, than the hollow in the water that had been used for thousands of years.

The giant below, from April of 1931, is even accompanied by photos of the inventor in his prototype — a one-man craft no more than fifteen feet long.

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Sky Leviathans of Tomorrow

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PSMOct1923 Well, the tomorrow of October of 1923.

Another article from my favorite techno rag, Popular Science Monthly. Once again, a little overboard in the predictions and definitely in the realm of dieselpunk. This is not the Akron catching parasite fighters, but a full-bore — and way too small — landing strip on top of a dirigible. The article on page 30 gives more on the “dreadnaughts of the clouds” (if that wasn’t an Early Dreamers story title, it should have been).

And remember, folks, cut out those party balloons. It’s important to conserve our helium supply as a war material.

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You’d Think They’d Know Better …

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PSM1922JulWhen I began work on my Failed Flyers project, I thought I’d be ending it about 1914. After all, you’d think that the aerial demands of the Great War would have knocked most of the silliness out of aeronautical designers. But no …. Thanks to the covers of Popular Science Monthly, and even more short articles inside, I find myself with no shortage of proposed, designed, but never built and flown aircraft on into the 1930s!

In Failed Flyers, I include plenty of things that never got past planning, and this is one of them. In this case, we have the airliner of the future, “as pictured by Eddie Rickenbacker,” WW1 ace and now motor car company executive. If you think this is glorious lunacy (those tubby lines, really? observation deck like a train’s Vistadome?) or previsioning (multiple engines and room to walk around and a lounge like on a 747 or Concorde) you can see more in B&W pencil drawings at the article, here, on page 35.

 

Why We Don’t Have Flying Cars

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RobidaLaSortieDeL'opera2000

Personal aircraft, small enough to fit in a garage with the wings folded. Especially the one you could take the wings off at your destination and drive them into town. How many inventors have announced theirs in magazines, set up to sell to an eager populace, and went broke? How often have we read about them in science fiction, only to have them never materialize?

True, over the years they have tended to become anti-grav cars, skimmers, jump-cars, and lose their wings, but why are we all still stuck in rush hour, only dreaming of hitting the button and leaping skyward out of the jammed traffic?

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