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TERRY & ESTHER CHAMBERLAIN

INGENIOUS BUT USELESS – AND SOMETIMES LAUGHABLE – INVENTIONS

60,000 years ago Org, a very intelligent cave man, invented a 4-wheel wagon. It had a cargo space made of fine polished wood,  wheels of sturdy granite and a hitch for his ox. But on the first trial it had to be rejected. The square wheels were too hard to turn. The next year Org tried triangular wheels but for some reason that didn’t work well either. We had to wait a few thousand more years for the round wheel.

That story is fictional of course, a reminder that early man invented many useful things for survival--the bow and arrow, the stone axe, the round wheel and much more. But they no doubt made many mistakes as well. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph, movies and much more, but admitted to thousands of failures.

Throughout history inventive minds came up with items they imagined would be amazing wonders but turned out to be--well, stupid. Here are a few:

WOODEN BATHING SUITS were invented and produced in the U.S. in 1929. They were a bit like tight barrels made of thin strips of wood, supposed to make swimming easier. Obviously they didn’t last long. Too scratchy?

GUN-MOUNTED MOUSETRAP: Yes, a 50-calibre pistol was attached to the trap in such a way that when the mouse took the bait it would be blasted to kingdom come. Seem a bit of an expensive method?  And loud?

ANTI-FLATULENT UNDERWEAR, made of fabric air tight enough--and well-sealed at the waist and legs--to prevent odours from escaping. You can actually get it online at myshreddies.com. Maybe not so dumb. Do you know someone who could use a pair?

COMPUTER-LOADED EYE GLASSES: Known as Google Glass, these spectacles have  the ability to record whatever the wearer is looking at. It was invented in 2012 and whether it is proven useful depends: there are opinions on both sides.

BIKE TIRE SWIM AIDS: A photo of this 1925 invention shows swimmers wearing about four bike tires each  wrapped tightly around the body in overlapping  and crossed pattern from crotch to neck. It was supposed to allow them to swim at speeds up to 93 miles per hour. I guess if that had been possible we’d still be using that wonder.

ANTI-DISTRACTION HELMET: Apparently for people  working on a task requiring extreme focus.  It is a wooden helmet totally covering the head and much of shoulders. It has two small eye holes, a tube running from nose to oxygen tank  and a spout for exhaling. It was called the Isolator, invented in 1925. What was the inventor  thinking?

STRAW HAT RADIO: This was a radio perched on top of a man’s hat, complete with a vertical frame housing for an aerial and a tiny metal horn peeping over the front of the brim. It was invented in 1931 and, not surprisingly, has not been seen since, I suspect.

1931 ROCKET-PROPELLED BICYCLE:  This may be the briefest  existence of any invention. Dreamed up by a German engineer in 1931, it had 12 rockets mounted above the back wheel. I’m not sure whether the gentleman ever got to mount the machine or just lit the rockets, but it exploded and was completely destroyed. The engineer was not hurt, amazingly, but pretty embarrassed I would think.


My father, who died 49 years ago, lived to see a number of new inventions that didn’t exist when he was born, among them radio, television, jet planes, movies with sound, the atomic bomb. But the one I remember him being most impressed with was the  knotter on a grain binder. A grain binder looked something like a grain swather (windrower), though much smaller. As it rolled along the field it cut the grain, which was carried by canvas conveyors up to machinery which put the cut grain into bundles (sheaves) and bound each bundle with encircling twine; the knotter tied the twine mechanically and the bundles slid down to a holding fork from which they were dumped to the ground. Before the knotter was invented the cutting machine dumped the cut grain on the ground and it had to be tied by hand. And to farmers like my father in the years before combines became common the knotter shortened up the work load of harvest tremendously. No wonder my dad thought it a wonder and I’ve always thought it quite amazing as well.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

SWIMSUITS AND SWIM WAGONS: AMAZING

Summer in Saskatchewan, everyone flocking to beaches to swim, sun tan or simply to enjoy the…well, the scenery.  Beach wear, by the way, has an interesting, in fact quite an amazing history.  I just have room here to give you three episodes of the story, namely: 

  1. Prudery on Wheels
  2. Evolution of the Swimsuit
  3. The Atom or the Bikini?

The notion of what’s acceptable on the beach has undergone some very drastic changes over the years. Let’s start with the bathing machine--an invention for the purpose of hiding the female body in the Age of Prudery.

This was a small four-wheel wagon topped with a cabin that had walls, a roof and a back door. It was backed into the water by a horse. Inside the cabin the lady changed into her bathing clothes. When the wagon was far enough away from the shore for sufficient privacy she stepped, or was helped, into the water. Where she could splash around under the watch of a friend or servant (lower class folk couldn’t afford such luxury) but was unlikely to swim. Her body, however, was well hidden from the public.

Bathing machines were used in  Britain and other English-speaking countries--including Canada--and several European nations.  In some places men used them as well, but that was uncommon. They were first used in the 1700s and existed well into the 1800s.

By the beginning of the 20th century  bathing machines had virtually disappeared. Women gradually found the courage to appear on beaches in swimsuits. The main difference between a lady’s swimsuit and street clothes in that era was that her street clothes didn’t get wet. Not much skin visible on either outfit. Men, according to Wikipedia, generally swam nude until some time in the 19th century.

Little by little as time went on, ladies’ swimsuits began to shrink. Not because of the fabric, but because  the  excessive prudery of the Victorian era slowly weakened as the early 20th century progressed. (Men by this time wore swim suits, but often with a vest-like top.) By the 1920s bare legs  had become common on the beaches of North America, though there were still voices that considered that to be rather wicked.

In the 1930s and  ‘40s more and more of the fabric vanished and two-piece swim suits appeared. I was too young in those decades to see much of that personally. Had to do some heavy research in books and magazines instead. In the next decade--the 1950s--however, my studies on the subject could become more direct. And more fun.

Because that’s when the bikini showed up. (It was created in 1946 but its popularity spread in the 1950s.) And the name “bikini” almost didn’t show up with it. According to Readers’ Digest two French  designers were in the process of creating very brief two-piece swimsuits. One wanted to call it the Atome, “atom“-- due to the small size I suppose. The other wanted to use the name of the Bikini Atoll, where the first atomic bomb test occurred. And “bikini “ won out. Perhaps because  it was an explosive design?  Many considered it far too shocking and some countries--including the U.S.--wouldn’t allow it on their beaches at first..

70 years later the bikini still rules. The only significant change since 1950 is that the remaining coverage becomes ever smaller. Too much smaller is the opinion of many.  It must be admitted however that the newest ones are very practical. Where a lady once needed a bag or pack to carry her swimsuit a letter envelope is all that’s needed  now.


By the time you read this--some time in August--I hope Mr. Covid will be fully defeated. And if everyone would do their duty that would-be certain. As I write--mid-July--I learn that  97% of new cases last weekend in the U.S. were on unvaccinated people. And  where  there are higher vaccination rates the rates of Covid are lower, regardless of what the  irresponsible antivax sources say.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

PERSISTENCE: CRAZY HORSE, POLYNESIANS, FARMERS AND MORE

“I’m writing a column on persistence,”  I told my wife. It’s a very important quality. By the way, do you think it’s one of MY qualities?”

“Hmmm…”, said she. “Well ,you persistently forget to let the water out of the bathtub.” She went on to note my persistent failure to put my dirty clothes in the laundry room, to remember to gas up the car, to…no use to bore you with the whole list. But I was  sorry I’d asked.

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THE FARMER FACES AN EVIL ARMY

One thing I loved when I was involved in farming--and even afterwards to some extent--was the annual series of crop tours. It began shortly after seeding, and continued  every couple weeks or so after that.

Now seeding was always my favourite time of the farm year. After the seed was in the ground there was a feeling of satisfaction. So far so good. Nothing troubling has happened to the crop yet.

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DO BAD TIMES MAKE GOOD PEOPLE?

An old lady in the U.S. was telling relatives  about the  land and village in Russia she had immigrated from. The countryside was beautiful, she said, and she had so many beloved relatives close by.

At this point her husband spoke up and asked if she remembered the food shortages there. “And what about the Cossacks who murdered her father and left him hanging from the rafters in their house?” Their niece tells the story in Readers Digest.

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Wednesday September 22, 2021