Slippin' and Slidin'

Jul 06, 2002

RAY: Many, many years ago, I lived in Vermont. One Saturday morning, the phone rang. It was one of my fellow teachers, and he needed a hand moving a cast iron stove into his house.

He explained that he was going to pick it up at the factory, and he'd be back in a few hours. He asked if I could help. I said, "Sure. Go get the stove. I'll be waiting."

I immediately got dressed and engaged in every manner of household activity, hoping that I'd have some kind of an accident. Nothing worked, and as I waited, I noticed a wonderful thing began to happen: the snow that was falling down changed to freezing rain.

I said to myself, "This could be good. He's never going to be able to get up his steep driveway when he returns." I'd be off the hook. And maybe by tomorrow, when the ice has melted, his brother-in-law will be home to help.

So, sure enough, there I am, hiding behind the drapes when he pulls up. I'm peeking out, and I see that he's slipping and sliding and can't get up the driveway. Every time he lets the clutch out, the wheels spin like crazy, even with the additional weight of that cast iron stove.

He gets out and throws some sand under the wheels, but it doesn't help.

He gets out again. This time, he opens that little engine compartment door that the VW Microbus had in the back. He does something which takes a second or two, then he closes the engine compartment door. The next thing I know, he's climbed his driveway-- and he's on the phone, telling me to come over and help me move the stove!

What did he do?


RAY: Now here's the answer, believe it or not. Here's a Volkswagen bus that's transmitting too much torque--it's hard to believe--to the wheels, to enable him to negotiate this steep, icy grade.

TOM: It's like, if you tried to run on the ice, you'd be on your butt in two seconds. But, if you walk very, very slowly...

RAY: But he couldn't transmit a small enough amount of power to the wheels to walk, that's right. So, what he did is, he opened the back and he pulled the coil wire off so the engine wouldn't start. He got back in, and with the thing in first gear, he turned the key--and all that worked now was the electric motor that would ordinarily start the engine, but he was using the electric motor to take him up the driveway in first gear, albeit slowly, but not slowly enough. And he crept up the driveway with just enough torque to get him up without slipping at the top.

TOM: The equivalent of walking gingerly on the ice so you don't fall on your butt, as opposed to running on the ice, where you would.

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