Improbable engineering

One of my favorite hacks is the rather improbably piece of engineering known in Thailand as a longtail boat. They function as taxis and tour boats in the many waterways of Bangkok. They zoom by at incredible speeds:

When you look at them when they get closer, you see a truck engine mounted on the stern with a long piece of pipe stretching out toward the bow that the boatman holds on to. There's another piece of pipe welded onto the transmission pointing out toward the stern:

When the boatman pushes on his piece of pipe, it rotates the engine left, right, up or down. When he pushes down, it rotates the tail upward and you get to see the business end of the beast: a naked propeller just hanging out there.

Safety is not a real concern here. Balance is pretty dubious too. These boats are pretty narrow, 4ish feet at best. They're really just evolved canoes. It must take an amazing amount of skill to stay balanced, navigate, and not kill anyone. At speed...

The engines are just regular truck engines, mounted on a U shaped yoke, bolted to the stern. Some of the engines are very large - they wouldn't look out of place in a large Fruehauf tractor. Not a lot of standardized rigs - lots of welding fun. A truly glorious hack.

January 29, 2006