Inventors
Saturday, June 22, 2002
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(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; FN: Fred Newmann; RD: Rich Dworsky)

GK: We're in Kettering, Ohio, south of Dayton. Kettering is named for the inventor of the automobile starter (STARTER), and this amphitheater, the Fraze Pavillion is named for the inventor of the pop-top can (POP-TOP OPEN, GUZZLE, BELCH). So many inventions have come from around here ---- the cash register, for one (CASH REGISTER KEYS AND KA-CHING) and of course the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, the brothers who ran a bicycle shop and who developed the first reliable heavier-than-air aeroplane. And for every successful invention, there are others that fall short.

Like the Motorized Toe Nail Clipper (SMALL ENGINE WHINE, CLIPPING) and the Pancake Bazooka (WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP). Or the Solar Powered Umbrella (BUZZING) which had a certain conceptual problem and the combination shoe polisher & nail gun (WHIRRING BRUSH, SHOTS).

GK: And there were so many attempts to fly before the Wright Brothers came along ---- brave men who strapped rockets to their backs (HISS, ROAR OF ROCKET) and created a shallow trench across the yard (ROCKET, TR CRY AS HE SKIMS GROUND, CRASH & CRUNCH, CHICKEN FLURRY). There was the Gyrocopter (WHIRRING BLADES) which had sixteen rotors that seemed to work against each other. (WHIRRING BLADES, REVVING). As a stationary vehicle, it was a beautiful thing. There was the Steam-Powered Plane. (STEAM BUILDUP) An enormous contraption with wings the size of football fields, which it needed in order to lift all that coal off the ground. (STEAM BUILD UP) And it came close to lifting off a number of times. And then (STEAM RELEASE) it settled back to earth. There was a sort of Owl Plane --- thousands of owls in a large fabric bag and the balloon pilot tried to get them all to fly at once by honking a horn (HONKING)….

…..and keeping all the owls aloft ---- different horns were tried (SERIES OF BEEPS AND HONKS, KLAXON) but the Owl-plane never got in the air. Men tried to launch themselves into the air with giant rubber bands (STRETCH, SNAP… FN: I'm flyyyyyyyin-WHACK!). They kept trying new things. A giant hot air balloon filled with popcorn. (POPPING) Immense pogo sticks. (BOINGS) And everything failed and people got discouraged and then one morning they looked up and (WINGS, PIG) there was a pig flying around and doing loops and stunts (WINGS, PIG HAPPINESS) and people thought, "You know, if a pig can do it, why not us?"

And they did. The Wright Brothers. Kitty Hawk. December, 1903. Two guys from Dayton, Ohio. And when they did it, do you think that the other aviation inventors of Ohio celebrated their success and sent them congratulatory telegrams? No, they did not.

TR: A lot of their wing design, I am fairly certain they stole from me.

GK: said the inventor of the Gyrocopter.

FN: It's a hoax. Look at the photographs. You can see the strings.

GK: said the inventor of the Owl Plane.

TR: They got lucky. The wind caught it just right and they got in the air. So what? Let's see them do it again.

GK: said the inventor of the backpack rocket.

FN: I still feel that the future of aviation is hummingbirds! An incredible creature! The lift they generate on small amounts of sugar!

GK: said a biology teacher named Cliff. (BRIDGE) There was such bitter resentment of the Wright Brothers success that, to keep the peace, Orville and Wilbur had to let the others have a hand in building the fledgling aviation industry. And so --- today's airline reservation system was designed by the inventor of the Owl plane.

TR: You want to fly from Dayton to Cleveland today? Just a moment. (TAPPING AT KEYS. ON AND ON) Okay. How many passengers? One person? Good. (MORE TAPPING) Any baggage to check? No? Okay. (MUCH MORE TAPPING)

GK: Airline catering was developed by the inventor of the Gyrocopter who was not well at the time. (FN VOMIT) Flight attendant training was done by the inventor of the Steam Powered airplane.

SS: Sit down, buckle up, shut your mouth, don't bother me, and we'll get along just fine. When I want to hear from you, I'll stick a nickel in ya. Understand that? Okay. We're expecting violent turbulence for the first hour and after that we'll come around and get you good and liquored up. How to operate your seat belt. Any dummies here don't have the hang of this? How to put the clip in the buckle. Everybody up to speed there? Good. Oxygen mask. When it drops down from the overhead, that's your cue to fold your hands and come to Jesus. Flotation devices? Forget it. If this baby comes down, by the time it lands on the water, your seat cushion is going to be soaking wet, if you know what I mean. Emergency exits ---- up here and back there. You folks in the middle? God love ya.

GK: And to the end of their days, as the aviation industry grew and grew, and immense fortunes were made, the failed inventors always believed that with a little luck, it could've been them. (PLANE PASSING OVERHEAD, JET, HELICOPTER)

TR (OLD MAN): I just wonder ---- what if I'd used larger owls?

FN (OLD MAN): I met Orville and Wilbur once. Pretty darned lucky, if you ask me. Rocket scientists they were not. My steam-powered aereoplane was much more complicated than what they came up with. Theirs was nothing but a glider with a propeller. The steam-powered plane ---- now there was a piece of work. (FADING) You had to know about plumbing and hydraulics and combustion ----- theirs was nothing but a kite!

GK: A salute to all the inventors, successful or not, of Dayton, Ohio. Here's to imagination and daring and ingenuity ---- here's to progress----

(PLANE TAXIING, SPUTTERING, REVVING, TAKING OFF, CRASHES INTO HENHOUSE, CHICKEN FLURRY)

---- To progress!

(MUSIC OUT)

© Garrison Keillor 2002

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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