What Was Popular Mechanics Thinking?

by Randall Cleveland

It's fun to peruse old copies of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Modern Mechanix, and similar magazines and laugh at the naivety of 1950s science. Everything was all, "Rockets! Space! Lasers! Together at last, on your toaster!" Really, it was a recipe for an inevitable letdown when jet-packs failed to show up by 1970. But sometimes Popular Mechanics just had bad ideas. Like, crazy, poorly-thought-out contraptions and scenarios that, even in the '50s, made no damn sense whatsoever...

copter skiing

Helicopter Skiing? Have you ever seen a helicopter, guys? Unless this is some kind of magical "no prop wash" chopper, those kids are going to be whipped around by a constant blizzard until the spiraling winds whip their tethers around their frozen, lifeless bodies and they're dragged through the Rockies. How would you even communicate to the pilot that you're ready to stop? He'd just go on sipping his coffee and plowing the mountainside with your icy corpse. No doubt the alarmed people emerging from the trees are trying to warn the boys of just this danger.

cable bus

Why does this thing have wheels on the bottom, exactly? Is someone seriously taking the time to unhook the cables above, drive this to the airport, pick up vacationing tourists, drive back, reattach the gondola cabling, then use it to rappel over land flat enough that they could've just driven anyway? It says "Skiway" on the side, but they're traveling above grass. The people on the ground aren't even wearing coats for cryin' out loud!

making money

"Ideas for Making Money?" This is an idea for ruining your shoes, pal. Come on, this isn't even trying! The guy's already got his feet in the ocean and he's dressed like he's on his way to the Sears Portrait Studio. No way Aunt Edna is going to appreciate him showing up smelling like low tide and squishing sea water all over her carpet. And I'll admit I'm not up to date on a lot of hydrodynamics, but I'd be willing to be that front wheel/bubble turns into a face soaker in about two and a half seconds after launch.

robo water polo

Finally, a sport even more pompous than polo! Why, at this point, are we hanging on to the horse part of this equation? I mean really, I can understand some traditions and all, but there's nothing equestrian about riding carousel spare parts around a lake thwacking a beach ball with an extra long window squeegee. At least our boy in the foreground seems to have mastered how to ride. I can't say the same for the gentleman in the back.

beach ball airplane

Okay, this is tough to judge in terms of scale, but if that little airplane looking thing is supposed to be carrying people, I have to assume it sits atop a 150 feet tall hollow plastic ball with propeller engines on the sides. How is this practical on any level? How do people even get in that thing? When they reach their destination do they have a waiting platform or do they just leap out, lemming style, falling either into the surf or down to break their legs on a pier below?

rocket packs

Finally, jet packs! I can zoom around above the snarled traffic on my way to work and never get stuck on the offramp again! Except that the first time you turned this thing on your legs would instantly look like two little fish sticks that fell to the bottom of the oven and burned to a horrible black crisp. There's a reason you don't can't stand under the space shuttle to get a good view of the launch.

dyno wheel bus

Apparently in the future we're ruled by a race of giant four-year-olds. If not, I have no idea how you're going to swipe this thing across the ground enough times to make it take off across the kitchen linoleum and into the floorboards. And let's say the "Dyno-Wheel" is a perfectly legitimate mode of transportation (it's not): why do you have the other wheels, then? It sure seems like they're never going to touch the ground. Maybe this was just so enough people would associate "car" with this thing and realize what they were looking at.

prop skiier

Holy crap. How did this get past Quality Control? First off, is this actually supposed to have military applications? I know this was back when Russia was pretty scary to everyone Stateside, but a fire engine red propeller on skis with an infantryman strapped to the front isn't very stealthy. Imagine a squad of 10 or 20 guys motor-skiing around the Siberian plains wondering why the enemy is always gone at least a half hour before they show up. Suppose they find some bad guys. Do they just park that thing and hop off? It's a pretty easy marker for a sniper down range. And what the hell happens if a guy lets go of the handles accidentally while he's moving? I have to assume he turns into an Army guy smoothie.

propeller skating

Why not just have a giant knife sticking off the front of this thing? Was that too subtle? These guys are already making it look dangerous; they're obviously moving at very high speed (see those streaks?) approximately a foot and a half away from a group of terrified skaters. You know, because if there's any surface that begs for an exposed propeller moving at extremely high speed near large groups of people, it's ice.

propeller car

What is it with these guys and giant, exposed props? Jeez. You know what happens every time a plane sucks in a wayward bird? If everyone's lucky, it has an emergency landing and everyone has to get off because the exploding bird really does a number on the engines and they need to be either repaired or replaced. If everyone's not so lucky, the engine explodes and the plane crashes. You know why it doesn't happen as often as you might expect? There aren't a lot of birds at 30,000 feet. You have to go a lot lower, you know, like zipping across the road. Actually, forget birds, what happens the first time you rear end somebody and your propeller chews up the back end of the next guy's car and it looks just like that time my Great-Grandma ran over the rabbit den with the lawnmower?

plane weenz

In the future, planes will have genitals! I guess this ended up turning into the common airport shuttle, but I don't really get this scenario. Why do some of the people have to be secluded in what looks to be a windowless Twinkiemobile that docks with the plane like some sort of lunar lander? Is the atmosphere toxic? There are people outside the thing milling around trying to get in!

silent engine

No sir, that's not a silent engine. That's a bong. We had combustion engines in the 1950s, right? How would having to light some sort of explosive fuel with an open flame just to cut your grass be seen as technological progress?

rowing bike

Finally, I can travel around town with all the convenience of rowing, one of the most physically demanding and exhausting activities known to man. Do these go backwards like traditional rowing would seem to indicate? Because we just went from "useless exercise equipment" to "high speed deathtrap" if that's the case. I don't even see a seatbelt over that guy's purple pants.

this can happen to you

No, Popular Mechanics, that cannot happen to me. You know why? Because I don't go speeding around rooftops in my car. I'm not even sure how they got that thing on top of an office building. Even the poor dog is going to take a pretty nasty spill from this. And what future is this predicting, exactly? One in which this particular guy's bouts with alcoholism finally catch up to him? The future's a bummer.