In a previous column I wrote about Donald Simanek’s WWW page titled “The museum of unworkable machines“. His page included a picture and a reference to a wooden wheel built by Asa Jackson of Tennessee. Asa and his sons built several during the War of Secession era, and hid them in a cave. When they weren’t working on them, they left them partially disassembled so their secret couldn’t be discovered even if the wheels themselves were.
I’m currently vacationing with the family in Tennessee, and a few days ago we decided to visit the Museum of Appalachia. I had forgotten all about Asa Jackson’s wheel, but it all came back when I saw the wheel itself there in the museum. It doesn’t turn, and in fact may not be completely assembled. There are quite a few wooden pieces on the floor of the display, and the accompanying text indicates that no-one is sure if they’re part of this wheel or another, or exactly how the wheel was to be assembled.
Dave Brown has created a WWW page about Asa’s wheel, and has even written a book with an accompanying CD full of pictures. It’s available from the Museum, but unfortunately not online. Proceeds from the book support the museum.
Design News Gadgeteer, on assignment in Tennessee