John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
One of the least-likely rides of the 1930s relied on a German Shepherd trapped in a big hamster wheel.
If Santa somehow couldn't deliver presents this year, it's comforting to know that another animal-enslaving deliveryman could make the rounds: "Z. Wiggs," the inventor of the incredible dog-powered quadcycle.
Alas, Wiggs is probably not still kicking, given that 1) he was 80 when he made this bizarre contraption, and 2) his health depended on managing an overworked, no doubt furious German Shepherd. (I mean, just look at those locked legs and lowered head and tell me that's a dog happy with its current situation.)
Thanks to the treasure chest of musty Americana that is Modern Mechanix, future generations can gawk at Wiggs' creation and learn to build their own "poochmobiles." The key seems to be a so-called "squirrel cage," which looks more like a hamster wheel enlarged to trap a dog, whose legs then power a belt and rear axle. But here's the full explanation from the 1939 article, which neglects to mention what entices the hound to run—perhaps it's the sight of its captor's chomp able rear end bouncing inches away?
Dog power drives an odd vehicle constructed by Z. Wiggs, eighty-year-old dog trainer and former railroad worker of Denton, Tex. Operating on the squirrel-cage principle, the dogmobile has a giant central wheel which is revolved as a dog walks or runs on its inside surface. The four-legged canine engine is anchored to a central shaft by a special collar. Power is transmitted to rear drive wheels by means of a belt-and-pulley mechanism which the driver controls by a "gearshift" lever.