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Uncle Brontosaurus and the Machine Age:

“Uncle Brontosaurus” was a child of the machine age. The younger son of a mechanical engineer (with whom he did not get along), he could coerce virtually any mechanical construction into cooperation — if he had the right tools. He foreshadowed our current electronic age with an unquenchable thirst for tinkering with televisions and radios. But I think he might have been rapidly outdistanced were he in a position of having to deal with the electronic age on a professional level. His resulting disgruntlement would not have been pretty.

With conventional machinery, however, he had, and needed have, few qualms. Machines were terra firma to him. Consequently, anyone in the family with a recalcitrant machine (or TV or radio) would bring it to Uncle Bronty. With most people, the absolute authority of such a position in the family hierarchy might be quite enough. Uncle Bronty, however, could not leave well enough alone. No idle machine was safe from him.

In particular, I recall one unoffending, superfluous (gassoline-powered) lawn mower engine which Uncle Bronty subjected to untoward abuses.

But, it got its revenge.

The first indignity Uncle Bronty subjected it to was the putt-putt. The putt-putt was a steel frame welded together into a sort of parody of a motorcycle, with tiny, hard rubber wheels, less than a foot in diameter. (Probably cannibalized from the original mower.) I don’t remember whether this travesty had an actual seat or not. Mere comfort was nowhere near so high on Uncle Bronty’s priorities as raw ingenuity.

Since he had stuck it together for kicks, it had no gears and needed to be started with the mower’s pull cord. I don’t remember how one was supposed to turn it off. It could have given lessons in top-heavy to Suzuki Samurais. All in all, it was an incredibly dangerous contraption, but it worked. Which is all Uncle Bronty cared about.

Of course other than to produce an ungodly row, the thing served no earthly purpose. So Uncle Bronty evidently felt he had to invent one.

He took it on his next hunting trip, and roared about, off-road on it in the wilds of Montana to flush the deer out of cover. Well, he could certainly have managed that. But you couldn’t shoot from it, and I don’t know whether any of his hunting buddies were fools enough to try riding the damn thing.

So that experiment was not, ultimately, considered a wild success.

After returning from the hunting trip, he disassembled the putt-putt, managed to scrounge up another couple of wheels, and put the thing back together again as a go-cart. The go-cart was quite a bit more successful than the putt-putt.

Nowadays, I gather go-carts are a highly organized and fairly expensive sport, entailing memberships in clubs, special tracks and carts built to rigid specifications. If this was the case back in the ’50s, either Uncle Bronty didn’t know, or didn’t care about it. He hauled the go-cart off to work, and he and his cronies would take turns hot-rodding around the parking lot on it during lunch hour. (It was absolutely not street-legal.)

Until the day it wreaked its vengeance and Uncle Bronty lost control of it, ending up under a parked truck with a smashed leg.

It was a compound fracture and very nasty. He was in a cast for months, and when it finally did heal, it healed wrong. In fact, he knew (or suspected) that it was healing wrong, but he had another hunting trip coming up so he didn’t tell anybody. When he had gotten through the hunting trip and had it looked at, it turned out to have cracked again, or something else was seriously wrong. It had to be reset and go through the process all over again.

In any case I have a blurry recollection of Uncle Bronty in his cast, or on crutches, or on one crutch, or limping about with a cane for nearly two years solid.

He left lawn mowers alone to mow lawns after that.