Saturday, 11 August 2012


Marty was always fascinated with speed and would go to great lengths to go as fast as he could. He found ways to make his bicycle go faster; to make the fastest soapbox racer; even the fastest sled. Competition was something he lusted for and that was probably the reason he raced during his younger years. And that was also the reason he chanced upon a new way to have the fastest go-kart.

Like so many of his other projects he built his go-cart practically from scratch. That was one of the things his father drilled into him all his life. 'You want it; you build it.' His father's choice words, and words that Marty would use on his own sons years down the road. This particular go-kart wasn't his first attempt, it was more like his fourth or fifth. But by this time he had the chassis design pretty much dialed in but he just couldn't seem to get enough speed out of the engine.

Well, he could get the speed; he just couldn't keep it there long enough to finish the race before the engine exploded in a cloud of smoke, bent cast iron, and hot oil.

One day while contemplating his situation, Marty's father, an Air Force veteran from World War II, was reminiscing about how they could get heavily laden airplanes to take off from remote, short and often muddy airstrips. 'We would attach as many as eight JATO bottles along the wings and even the rear fuselage, he said, 'we'd get the engines revved up to full power and as soon as we started to move, we'd set those things off. I'll tell you, we were either off the ground or else embedded into the jungle somewhere.'

Now, to the average person, a JATO (meaning Jet Assisted Take Off) bottle is a small portable rocket about four inches in diameter and two to three feet long. Two or more could be attached to the wings and/or the rear fuselage of an airplane and when lit, would provide a tremendous amount of thrust for about fifteen seconds, the approximate amount of time it would take to consume the fuel (and hopefully get airborne). After it was finished the pilot simply dropped the empty shell and continued the flight.

Needless to say, upon hearing his father talk about the benefits of those small propulsion devices, Marty made up his mind that a pair of JATO rockets was exactly what he needed to achieve maximum speed. Small and light, just attach a couple of rockets to the rear of the go-kart and no one would be able to touch him. He gave little thought that one of them alone was capable of launching an aircraft three times heavier than the family car. What the hell, it only runs for fifteen seconds anyways. What harm could happen in such a short time?

Yes, what could possibly happen? And we all remember when we were twelve years old...

Marty and his best friend headed for the local army surplus store and searched the bins until they came up with not one but four live JATO bottles, and only for a couple of bucks each. Of course back in the fifties the military wasn't quite as careful about the proper disposal of something as potentially dangerous as a small rocket pod. The two boys hauled their acquisitions home and immediately set about installing the bottles on the go-kart.

They first contemplated mounting two of them but Marty (or maybe it was his buddy) erred on the cautious side and decided to mount just one. If it didn't provide the desired boost, they would mount two of them for the next go-round. Despite his relatively young age, Marty was already a skilled welder and knowing what could be at stake, he fabricated a sturdy mount for the pod and even adjusted it so that the forward thrust would also apply some downward pressure to ensure some degree of control.

After all he wasn't building a flying machine...

It took the better part of a Saturday afternoon and they were ready to test it. The boys got the kart out onto the street and, after ensuring that the street was clear, Marty slid in behind the wheel and got ready for the test ride (flight?).

The fuse was popped and the boys were greeted with a cloud of smoke and a hissing/shrieking sound akin to that of one of those blaster fireworks that only spins around and shrieks; something like a child throwing a tantrum. But the sound very quickly became a roar and the kart began to move.

The kart picked up speed rapidly and turned into a streak as it shot down the road trailing a billowing cloud of whitish smoke. Marty felt his eyes water, his cheeks pulled back and his breath was nearly taken away from him as the houses and cars lining the street flew past in a blur. And he was still picking up speed.

A car pulled out in front of him but just managed to get out of the way, narrowly avoiding getting T-boned by Marty. He shot past the car on the wrong side of the street where he soon crested a rise and nearly rear-ended a delivery truck. Thanks to that little bit of foresight in designing a hint of down thrust he was able to skirt around the lumbering vehicle.

It would've been interesting to know what that truck driver was thinking when he saw a small go-kart flying past, a cloud of smoke in its wake.

The street ran straight for several blocks then made an abrupt turn to the right. The Kart ate that distance in what seemed like a nanosecond and there was still fuel to burn. Marty knew he couldn't make the corner so he gritted his teeth and held it straight; the kart shooting over the edge of the street and bouncing into the vacant lot beyond.

The tiny rocket engine wasn't finished yet and Marty couldn't do much more than hang on anyways. The lot dipped into a hollow, the end of which terminated in a steep upslope to the railroad tracks three to four hundred yards away. The kart was there probably before Marty fully realized that he'd even left the street, and shot over that embankment with sufficient speed to become completely airborne.

Somewhere over the railroad tracks, about twenty to thirty feet in the air, Marty and his beloved go-kart parted company. Marty knew he was in a bad way because in a very short time he would be headed downward and that sudden stop at the bottom could cause some serious injuries, not to mention the damage that would be done to the go-kart. But luckily for him, on the other side of the trestle was a sizeable slough and landing in it was definitely a lot better proposition than solid ground.

Marty hit the water with a gigantic splash and still hit the mucky bottom of the stagnant pool but not hard enough to hurt anything but his pride. He quickly bobbed to the surface and fought his way to shore.

The search was already well underway when this bedraggled creature, plastered with blue and black muck and showing some vague resemblance to Marty, or a cross between Marty and the creature from the black lagoon, showed up at the house. His parents had to all but steam clean him before he resembled anything presentable. But he was home, safe and sound, and that's about all anyone wanted.

A search was launched to find the go-kart but no trace of it was ever found. It probably got itself embedded into the depths of that swamp never to be seen again. That is, until the year 3127 when a team of archeologists excavate that spot and dig the kart out, thus proving that rocket-powered cars had been around for well over a millenium.

And Marty still wonders what could've happened if he had installed both rockets instead of just one.