The autobuggy


If cars hadn’t been invented yet, we can imagine a telephone conversation like this taking place:

Hollow, tinny, metallic  voice, slight sing-song accent:   “Hello, this is the Canadian patent office, how can I help you”

Nerdy voice:  “Hello, I have come up with a new invention, and I hope you can help me move it forward”

Hollow, tinny voice:  “I might be able to advise you, tell me about your invention, in confidence of course”

Nerdy voice:  “Well, I think we need a way to travel to supplement the horse-and-buggies, bicycles, streetcars,  and  trains we use now.  So I have come up with a sort of buggy, but with its own motive power so it doesn’t need a horse.  I am thinking of calling it an ‘autobuggy’.”

HTV:  “That sounds interesting, what is the motive power that replaces the horse?”

NV  “It will have a heat engine, burning a fuel called gasoline, which is very energy dense, so enough for a long trip could be carried in a tank on the buggy.  It will be able to go much faster than a horse, in fact I am thinking speeds of 70 miles per hour will be quite attainable”

HTV:  “Isn’t there a danger of fire, with all that high-energy fuel on board?”

NV:  “For sure, we would have to ensure no spark ever came near the fuel tank, or there would be a big explosion.”

HTV:  And what about the environment, with burning all that fossil fuel causing global warming, and so on?

NV:  “Well, I figure getting all those pooping horses off the streets will pretty much cancel out the fossil fuel angle.”

HTV:  “So, do you envision a separate set of rails all over for these autobuggies?  That would make such an invention very expensive.”

NV:  “Oh, no, they would run on the roads that exist.  We would have to paint lines on the pavement, to keep them from bumping into bicycles and horses and each other.”

HTV:  “But surely your steel buggy wheels will get an awful rough ride running on our roads.  Are you sure you will not need rails?”

NV:  “No, that’s an important part of my invention.  We will replace the steel buggywheel rims with a sort of hollow rubber donut, and fill that with air.  That will cushion the ride.”

HTV:  “So let me get this straight.  We will have these buggies hurtling along at 70 miles an hour on the street, on rubber bags full of air,  carrying a tank of explosives, with nothing but a line painted on the pavement to keep them from bumping into each other and blowing themselves up?  Your idea would never get past the zoning and traffic bureaucrats, the health and safety police, the environmental police, the fire department, not to mention the insurance industry and bicycle and pedestrian rights folks.  In fact, your idea is so wildly impractical that I think you are playing a joke on me.  Have a nice day, goodbye.”

NV:  “Wait, wait I haven’t told you the best part.  This gasoline will be very cheap so there is lots of room for  taxing it, and being a manufactured product folks can’t make their own and avoid the tax, like, say, whiskey.  There will be so much tax money it will pay for all the roads, and all the different kinds of police you talk about, along with whatever cockamamie welfare schemes the government can dream up.  A real golden goose!”

HMV:  “Hmm.  OK, I guess I have misjudged you, we better have a meeting to see how we can make this wonderful idea fly.”

Thanks a lot, Henry Ford.

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