Amazing Stories/Volume 01/Number 03/Mr. Fosdick Invents the "Seidlitzmobile"
The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick
Mr. Fosdick Invents the "Seidlitzmobile"
In seven of the nine towns it passed through, it was reported as a comet; the other two wired the Weather Bureau of the visitation of that most unusual phenomenon of nature, a dry cloud-burst.
THE artist, Elilum Vedder, in telling some incidents of his younger life, describes feeding a little negro boy with Seidlitz powders, separately administered, with a corresponding alarming result. In this excruciatingly funny story, Mr. Fosdick—we hesitate to call him a hero—gives himself the expanding dose and thus succeeds in his desire to interest a capitalist friend in an automobile to be driven by the gas from Seidlitz powder. Try to imagine for yourself, what happened when a heavy charge of sodium carbonate and sulphuric acid were substituted for the comparatively mild Seidlitz powder. But read the story through, and you will agree that Baron Münchhausen, in the wildest flights of his imagination, takes a second place to this presentation of Mr. Fosdick's invention. See how humor can be evolved even from, what so many people call, the "dryness of chemistry." A capital story, which you won't forget soon.
Mr. Hiram Snodgrass did not look up from his desk. It was Saturday and nearly noon and the automobile was panting outside to take him out to the country club where he had a golf game on with his son-in-law.
The president of the Ajax Manufacturing Company only dipped his pen again in the violet ink and scribbled the faster. A half hundred letters still remained to be signed and Mr. Snodgrass figured that even with the simplest of luncheons he would be an hour late upon the green. And this afternoon he purposed having his revenge, for the Saturday before the husband of his offspring had stung him to the tune of eight up.
Mr. Snodgrass swung in his chair. "Well, what is it?" The inquiry came explosively and with a fierce, sudden beat like the momentary opening of a furnace door. It was Mr. Snodgrass' way—a manner to which none in the office ever paid the slightest heed.
"You are Mr. Snodgrass?"
"Yes, I am," snapped that individual. "What of it?"
The stranger, a man with mild blue eyes and vague, rambling whiskers, seated himself. "Did you ever," he began, "take first the blue and then the white of a common, ordinary Seidlitz powder?"
Mr. Snodgrass threw his head back aghast at the query. "No, I have not," he bellowed.
The stranger was unperturbed. "Well, then try it," and drawing from his pocket one of the powders in question walked coolly over to the water filter and filling the glass dropped in the blue powder which he stirred with a long, index finger. "The result will surprise you."
"I'll do nothing of the dashed kind," roared Mr. Snodgrass. "And say," he demanded, as he caught the stenographer tittering behind her note book, "who the devil are you and how did you get in here?"
For answer the stranger laid upon the president's desk a card.
Mr. Snodgrass' features experienced a sudden transformation: the belligerent expression faded away and a smile of genuine pleasure suffused all of the countenance visible above and in front of the mutton-chop whiskers. "My dear Mr. Fosdick, I am delighted to meet you!" he ejaculated. "I suppose you dropped in to see how the nut-crackers are getting along. The device was an utter failure as a curling iron—but as a nut-cracker it has been an unqualified success. It is going to make you a rich man, Mr. Fosdick. Your royalties are now amounting to over a hundred dollars a week."
Mr. Fosdick shook his head. "No, I am not here on that account. I have a new invention that I want to interest you in."
"And the nature of it is what?" inquired Mr. Snodgrass.
"An automobile run by these," and the inventor held up a Seidlitz powder. "There is a wonderful lot of power in a Seidlitz powder, Mr. Snodgrass. Just take first the blue and then the white," he said, offering the glass and at the same time unfolding the white paper containing the other half of the powder.
Mr. Snodgrass drew back in some alarm. "No, I'll take your word for it."
"Please take it," insisted Mr. Fosdick. "It's a beautiful experiment. It gives a pressure of ten atmospheres—one hundred and fifty pounds."
"Damn it, man, I'm not built for a hundred and fifty pounds. I couldn't stand it—I'd blow up—I haven't any safety valve."
The inventor shook his head solemnly. "In that, Mr. Snodgrass, you are mistaken. The human diaphragm will stand one hundred and sixty pounds. You see, there is a margin of safety of ten pounds—the experiment is perfectly safe."
"I tell you I won't," cried Mr. Snodgrass, overcome by a sudden fear that he might be persuaded into such a rash adventure. "I won't, I tell you."
"Then I will," said Mr. Fosdick, calmly lifting the glass. "Just watch."
"Here, stop that!" cried the horrified Mr. Snodgrass. "Don't do that in here. Go down into the engine room where we have boiler insurance."
But the inventor was not to be thwarted. With cool deliberation he quaffed off first the one powder and then the other. "Right here," he said, after a minute's wait, "there is power enough to run my Seidlitzmobile eleven and two-tenths miles, if my calculations are not wrong," and he placed his hand upon the pit of his stomach. "Just feel the pressure."
Mr. Snodgrass extended his arm and gingerly prodded the compelling stranger under the ribs.
"Not hard," said the inventor warningly. "Remember, the margin of safety is only ten pounds."
Mr. Snodgrass withdrew his hand with lightning-like rapidity and the perspiration broke out upon his forehead. "Couldn't you go outside and sit around for awhile?" he inquired with some trepidation. "Our building is not very strong and an accident would doubtlessly maim many of our clerks."
"I usually don't stir," replied Mr. Fosdick solemnly. "If I should walk about and stumble—or if I should even cough or sneeze, why then——"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Mr. Snodgrass. "Just sit perfectly still," he said, turning off the electric fan. "Keep out of all draughts and please try not to cough. I'll telephone the fire department and the police as a precaution."
"Not necessary," said the inventor. "The pressure will sink to forty pounds in ten minutes."
It was a harrowing ten minutes for the president of the Ajax Manufacturing Company. When one has reached the mature age of sixty years and has a large family, even to grand-children, the staking of one's life against the mere sneeze or cough of an utter stranger is an unnerving thing and the shock and suspense of it all is more than apt to leave the faculties in a numb and dazed condition. At any rate, when Mr. Fosdick left the office a few minutes after the ordeal, he had in his pocket Mr. Snodgrass' check of one thousand dollars for the building of the first Seidlitzmobile.
One month later a team drew a queer looking vehicle in front of the Ajax Manufacturing Company and were unhitched.
"I brought it over here from the shop by mule-power," explained Mr. Fosdick, "as I wanted you to take the very first ride in the Seidlitzmobile under its own steam—or gas, rather."
Mr. Snodgrass looked the machine over dubiously. "It looks like a fire extinguisher," he ventured.
"That's the very principle that it works on," said the inventor. "You see this reservoir," and he pointed to a large burnished brass cylinder under the hood, "is the mixing chamber—the stomach of the machine, as it were. Into it the powders are dropped and the carbonic acid gas actuates the two-cylinder engine geared to the back axle. This link motion controls the cut-off and the reverse, and the throttle here permits you to give the engine any head of gas. But climb in," he added, "and we'll be off."
Mr. Snodgrass with some reluctance stepped into the machine and seated himself. Mr. Fosdick followed him and then fishing out of his pocket a Seidlitz powder he unscrewed a brass cap from a tube that protruded from the floor of the machine, dropped the powder through, tooted the horn, released the brakes, and they were off. It was a downhill road and for two miles—in fact for the entire length of the hill—the Seidlitzmobile behaved splendidly.
Mr. Snodgrass became enthusiastic. "It's the most silent machine I ever rode in!" he ejaculated. "It's as quiet as an electric."
"And just think," put in Mr. Fosdick, "the machine can be retailed at two hundred dollars. It will make us millions! All there is to it is a ten dollar engine, a brass cylinder, four wheels, and a Seidlitz powder. The horse is bound to become as extinct as the dodo. Every family in the land will possess one. It will be a convenience to the rich, a blessing to the poor, a——" They had reached the bottom of the hill and the machine stopped.
"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Snodgrass, his vision of riches suddenly fading away.
Mr. Fosdick got out and looked the machine over wisely. "I think the engine has slipped an eccentric," he remarked after a few moments of profound study.
"Why, man, you've no pressure!" exclaimed the passenger, "Look at the gauge."
It was true. The gauge registered not a single pound.
Mr. Fosdick fumbled in his pockets, but could not find another powder.
"I guess that last powder must have been a weak one," he said. "But see, there is a drug store—and every drug store carries Seidlitz powders. As long as you keep near the drug stores you need never run out of power."
Mr. Snodgrass' spirits rose. "We can turn that remark into profit," he said. We will copyright it. The very first thing we will do will be to spend one million dollars in advertising this sentence throughout the entire world: 'The Seidlitzmobile—the machine that can get its power at any drug store.'"
Together the two men walked into the drug shop.
"A Seidlitz powder, if you please," said Mr. Fosdick, laying ten cents upon the soda counter.
The apothecary dived back into the mysterious region behind the prescription case and hibernated. An hour later he emerged and pleasantly inquired what was wanted.
"A Seidlitz powder, please," reiterated Mr. Fosdick, pointing to the dime.
The druggist rubbed his hands unctuously. "I'm sorry that we're out of Seidlitz powders," he said, "but we have something just as good. We have—"
"Nothing but Seidlitz," roared Mr. Snodgrass, giving way to one of his sudden outbursts.
The druggist smiled blandly. "How old is the patient?" he asked.
"It's a machine," cried Mr. Snodgrass.
"Ah, indeed," remarked the druggist, looking at Mr. Snodgrass queerly. "And may I ask what is the matter with it?"
"It won't go!" bellowed Mr. Snodgrass.
"Yes, yes," agreed the druggist, "It won't go," and he backed behind the counter and reached for the telephone. "I'll have a nice man in a pretty blue suit with bright brass buttons here in just a few minutes, and he will make your head stop aching," he promised them soothingly.
"You think we are crazy," accused Mr, Snodgrass.
"Oh, not at all," reassured the clerk, "You are just merely overheated."
Mr. Fosdick intervened: "The machine is an automobile run by carbonic acid gas," he explained, "and that's why we wanted the Seidlitz powder."
A sigh of relief escaped the druggist. "Why didn't you say so at first?" he said. "I haven't had such a scare in years."
Mr. Fosdick explained the principle of the machine. Mr. Snodgrass bought a handful of cigars and gave the druggist one, who immediately put it back in stock and abstracted a dime out of the cash register, and good feeling was restored.
"As I understand it," said the druggist, "your machine generates gas in the same manner as a fire extinguisher or a soda-water charger."
"Precisely," agreed Mr. Fosdick.
"In that case," said the druggist, "you should use bicarbonate of soda and sulphuric acid."
Mr. Fosdick, with the invariable reluctance of all inventors to adopt the suggestions of outsiders, demurred. "It spoils the name of the machine," he said, "and the name is worth a million in itself."
But the druggist had caught the contagion of his own idea. Diving back again behind the prescription case he emerged with a bottle of acid and a large sack of bicarbonate. "Come on," he said, enthusiastically, "we'll give it a good dose."
Before Mr. Fosdick could remonstrate further the druggist had emptied a peck of the alkali into the mixing chamber and stood ready with the bottle of acid. "Get in the machine and get all ready to pull out," he said cheerfully, "for when I pour in the sulphuric acid the pressure will generate very quickly."
Mr. Snodgrass looked at Mr. Fosdick and Mr. Fosdick looked at Mr. Snodgrass.
"Hurry!" said the druggist.
There was a compelling ring in the apothecary's voice and slowly and with the greatest of reluctance the men climbed into the machine.
"I hope nothing happens," groaned Mr. Snodgrass.
Mr. Fosdick made no reply. Although his face was pale there was a set to his jaw that expressed a determination to stay with his machine to the end.
No sooner were they seated than the druggist eagerly poured in five gallons of acid and then quickly screwed down the cap.
There was a sudden click of the pressure gauge and the hand flew around to the extreme limit.
"My God!" ejaculated Mr. Snodgrass. "The index shows the limit of the gauge—six hundred pounds. At what point is your safety set?"
"There is no safety valve," confessed Mr. Fosdick weakly. "I didn't think it would be necessary."
"The pressure is fine!" exclaimed the druggist as his eye caught the gauge. "And agitating the reservoir always increases the action of the acid," and catching hold of the wheel he gave the machine a vigorous shaking back and forth.
"Stop that!" screamed Mr. Fosdick. "Do you want to blow us up?"
The druggist suddenly stopped and scratched his chin. "I forgot something," he said cheerfully. "It is this: The acid will eat out your brass reservoir in a few minutes and will probably blow you into the next county."
"Here," yelled Mr. Snodgrass, "let me out," and he made a desperate effort to climb out of the machine.
But the frightened Mr. Fosdick knew there was but one thing to do and that was to reduce the pressure of the reservoir by exhausting the gas through the engine. With a sudden movement he threw the throttle wide open and then with the roar of a mogul engine the Seidlitzmobile took down the dusty road at better than a hundred-mile-an-hour clip.
Never has there been such a ride chronicled in the annals of automobiling as the maiden effort of the Seidlitzmobile. It made the ninety-three miles between Jonesboro and Smith's Corner in twenty-seven minutes, and in seven of the nine towns it passed through it was reported as a comet; the other two wired the Weather Bureau of the visitation of that most unusual phenomenon of nature, a dry cloud-burst. As the machine tore its way across the state, spouting carbonic acid gas from its exhaust pipes, it asphyxiated thirty-seven dogs that endeavored to pursue it and killed all vegetation on both sides of the road for a distance of two hundred yards. Goose Creek, which paralleled the road for forty miles, ran pure soda-water for two weeks afterwards, and it cost Mr. Snodgrass seven thousand dollars to have the oxygen replaced in forty-three townships, which he did only after suit had been filed.
How far the machine would have traveled is difficult to determine, although old Prof. Snooks, Mr. Fosdick's implacable enemy, calculated that the Seidlitzmobile would have gone three and a fraction times around the earth before becoming winded. But as a matter of history, it did not go this distance; it made one hundred and eleven miles before the druggist's prediction came true. At Smither's Junction the reservoir exploded. It changed the course of Wild Cat run. The concussion was felt in nine states and the seismograph at the University of Tokio reported an earthquake somewhere in the Aleutian Islands.
Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Fosdick finally came to earth on a haystack in an adjoining township after having made an ascent of two hours and fifteen minutes, missing luncheon en route. The Aero Club of France, which sent a special representative to the spot, calculated their flight at something over two million kilometers and presented both men with a pilot's license and an honorary membership in the club, which, it must be told, they both refused, saying that their flight was unpremeditated and that they could not honorably accept the licenses.
When Mr. Snodgrass alighted upon the haystack he found that Mr. Fosdick had preceded him by some minutes. There was a dazed, dreamy look upon Mr. Fosdick's face that somewhat alarmed his companion.
"What's the matter, Fosdick?" he inquired, shaking him. "Are you unconscious?"
"No," replied the genius, coming out of his musing with an appreciable effort, "I have just thought of a new invention."
"Well, you can leave me out," retorted Mr. Snodgrass, sourly.