No. 241.—A Simple Time-Machine.
IT GOES WITHOUT saying that Ned and I were attentive to all our classes in school, for a thorough education is the foundation of future success—a truth that was even then abundantly apparent to us. But I must confess that, for me at least, the study of history held a special fascination. The stirring stories of heroes, saints, and conquerors of old filled my imagination with a thousand exciting scenes. How I wished I could have been there myself to see Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Washington crossing the Delaware, or any of the other great heroes of history crossing any of the other great rivers of geography. Ned, too, harbored those very thoughts, as he revealed to me once during a particularly spirited game of double solitaire.
We had never seriously considered the possibility of bringing our dreams to fruition until some time later, when one of the technical journals to which Ned subscribed (I believe the title was Red-Blooded Adventures) carried an article about a man who built a time-machine. This he used to travel back to the Stone Age, where he met a number of cave women (all blonde, to judge by the accompanying illustration) who quite naturally took more pleasure in his company than in that of the primitive and savage males who until then had been their only companions.
This article planted the idea in our minds that we, too, could perhaps build a successful time-machine. The scientist in the article had access to a well-stocked laboratory, with (again according to the illustration) a number of Jacob’s ladders and Tesla coils; we had only what we could find in the attic. On the other hand, the scientist in the article had built a time-machine that took him back ten thousand years. It should be a much simpler matter, we reasoned, to build a machine that needed only to take us back a few centuries.
The question, of course, was how to create a machine that would actually reverse time. The article in Ned’s journal was maddeningly vague when it came to the details of the construction of the machine.
We already knew how to make time go forward rapidly. Ned had shown me the trick with his father’s Hamilton pocket watch: by removing the escapement, he caused the hands to swing wildly around the dial at tremendous speed. If we could somehow be inside that watch while the hands were spinning, Ned and I would have a time machine capable of carrying us forward in time. Ned suggested that we could work on a machine to shrink us, but I dismissed that suggestion as impractical. It would be better, I said, if we could somehow make the watch bigger. Ned pointed out that a grandfather clock was much bigger. This was a step in the right direction, but it would still be necessary to enlarge the case of the grandfather clock to accommodate two people. And we had not yet solved the problem of making time go backwards. Nevertheless, we supposed that we should probably hit on a solution soon. First, therefore, we made sure all our schoolwork was done, for it was our inflexible rule never to begin a project until we had finished our assignments. Then we set to work.
We began in my house, as Ned was for some reason prohibited from ever ever touching any watches or clocks anywhere in his house ever again as long as he lived. Taking the grandfather clock from the hall, we removed the pendulum and substituted a small weight hung directly from the hook. This sped time up considerably. Removing the sides of the case, we used a number of large crates to build a much larger enclosure, capable of accommodating both of us.
Ned insisted on having at least one Jacob’s ladder, just for tradition’s sake; but as there was no room for it inside our time machine, we had to install it on the top, where I must admit it was a very decorative touch, making our machine look much more advanced than it really was.
And so our machine was complete but for one detail: we still lacked a way of making time go backward instead of forward. I racked my brain to come up with some way of reversing the movement of the clock, but it was designed to move in one direction only. It was at this point that Ned was hit by one of his occasional flashes of brilliance. Instead of altering the movement, he suggested, we could merely repaint the numbers on the dial, so that 11 was where 1 had been, and 10 where 2 had been, and so on. In that way we could make time run backward without altering the movement of the clock at all. I was amazed that this elegantly simple solution to the problem had not occurred to us before. With a little bit of paint our time machine was finished, and that in less than three hours after we had begun the project.
We decided on a trial run in which we would go back only a few hours, just to make sure all the mechanisms were in good working condition. Ned set the Jacob’s ladder going, and we entered the machine, closed the door, and set the weight swinging.
Here we discovered we had made a slight miscalculation. The weight, as it turned out, was at the same height as our heads, and it began to batter our skulls repeatedly the instant we set the machine going. We awoke some time later on the floor, with no sign of our time machine anywhere. A moment’s consideration was sufficient for us to apprehend what had happened: we had gone back a few hours to the time before we had made the time machine. This was an outcome we had not considered, but it made perfect sense now that we thought about it; and we were grateful that we had not decided to go back several centuries, since we should have had no way of getting back to our own time. All in all, however, we considered the experiment a success, though the one galling thing was that we had also gone back to the time before we had done our schoolwork, and therefore had to do it all over again.