Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mystery Machine

The day we closed on our house, in 1999, we were very eager to move in and were somewhat nonplussed to discover, after driving directly from our lawyer's office to our new house, that the previous owners hadn't quite finished moving out.  In that last-minute, hurried transfer of ownership, the previous owners thoughtfully gave us a box of random helpful bits--the missing hardware to the bathroom windows, for example-- a stack of important documents, a list of helpful hints for settling in to our new house--"there's no key to the bottom lock on the front door and a leaping dog can lock you out of your own house" (which has happened to us, many times)--and then as an afterthought, said, "Oh, by the way, there's this ______ in the basement that's too heavy to move, do you mind if we just leave it here (forever)?"  We were so pathetically grateful to these people for selling us their house, that we said it was fine, no problem, whatever.

So the object was named to us, but Jon and I can't agree on what was said.  I remember hearing "printing press."  Jon remembers "engraver."  It doesn't matter, they could just as easily have said "ocean liner" or "nuclear bomb" or "bank vault" to name a few items in its weight class.   I noticed it has a gas hook up.  For years I thought (and sometimes said out loud) "Why would a printing press need a gas hook-up?"  And Jon would say, "It's not a printing press, it's an ENGRAVER," which begs the question:  why would an engraver need a gas hook up?  Just today, we had this exchange.

Me:  I need a photograph of that Thing in the basement, for my blog.

Jon:  It's an engraver.

Me:  Why does an engraver need a gas hook up?

Jon:  It's a power engraver.

It occurred to me that it might be an autoclave.  The previous owners were an architect and a writer.  What would they be doing with an autoclave?

Over the years, every time I scheduled a large trash pick up--at which times we unloaded all the other unwieldy items left in the basement by the previous owners, such as the superfluous, moldy, electricity-guzzling refrigerator--I would suggest we try to get rid of the Thing and Jon would say it was too heavy.  That someone actually managed to get it into the basement boggles the mind. It occurred to me that this tale of a "printing press" might be a lot of hooey and that the Thing is a UFO that the builders couldn't budge, so they built our house around it.

It sat there, right next to the doorway between the "new" basement and the "old" basement, a short six or seven feet from the outside.  We figured it wasn't doing us any harm sitting there, although I knew if we ever tried to sell this house, the buyers would insist that we remove it and would probably do something tiresome like charge us hundreds of dollars for every day it sat in the basement after closing.

At any rate, the Thing was only causing us theoretical harm until one day last summer when Ian and his friend decided they would haul it out of the basement and sell it for scrap metal. These two strapping boys were unable to get it out of the basement, but they did manage to knock it over and now it is lying on its side, blocking the doorway between the new basement and the old basement. If I thought no one would buy our house with the Thing standing harmlessly against the wall, would anyone buy it like this?


Isn't that fantastic?  Isn't that absolutely-freaking fabulous? It weighs ten tons, by the way and almost certainly cracked the basement floor when it fell, and possibly caused a small earthquake.

Since I have little occasion to descend to the basement, the blocked door went unnoticed until Ian was conveniently (for him) away at school. Since the business end of the basement is under the old part of the house, every time we need to access the furnace or the hot water heater or the old paint cans, or Jon's tool bench, or the circuit breakers,  we have to climb over the Thing.  It is slightly too big to straddle, especially because the old basement is one step lower than the new one.  The metal bit on the top is unstable.  Stepping on it is to risk a face plant into the mud-and-crickets that coats our basement floor.  The only light in the basement is one of those string-pull things, conveniently located on the far side of the Thing, forcing us to climb over it into pitch darkness and then go groping for the string.

Of course I have suggested taking it apart, but Jon seems to feel this would be impossible.  The one part that looks like it might come off easily is the flimsy bit of metal that we have to stand on to get into the basement.  When the previous owners said this thing is heavy, they weren't exaggerating.  It is staggeringly, stupendously heavy.  It weighs more than my piano but is less than half its size.  It rests on a heavy metal base--made of plutonium, I suspect--that is apparently one with, or at least welded to the rest of the Thing. 

Note the  levers.

The gauges and dials:

The gas hook up. (There is also a mangy power cord.)

The spaghetti mess of wires: (The orange extension cord is not part of the machine, but had the bad luck to be lying in the Thing's path when it fell.)

And we still haven't figured out what it is. If you, dear reader, can tell from these dark photographs, what this machine is supposed to be, you are a genius and I will honor your name by linking back to your blog or site or a charity of your choice or whatever.

Edited to add that I just realized that our Thing looks very much like the mechanical alien that terrorizes Wallace & Gromit in the short film "A Grand Day Out." Maybe my theory about an extra-terrestrial origin is correct.


  1. It's obviously a time machine. Hook up the gas, plug those mangy stray wires in somewhere and warp yourselves back to the day before you closed on your house and tell your younger, more naive selves that when the sellers ask if they can leave their "printing press" in your basement, say "No effing way."

  2. You guys are on the right track - my engineer husband says it looks like a rubber stamp making machine. He says it's probably not a gas line, but a hydraulic oil line.

    Here's a newer one:

    Most likely the unmoveable object was dumped on the architect & the writer by an even earlier owner!

  3. What about hiring three or four big burly guys/day laborers to come over and heave that thing outside and onto the back of a pickup truck?

  4. Jen, do you know any big, burly laborers you could send my way?

    Tiff, you are probably right, and thank you. "Rubber stamper" kind of fits with mine and Jon's memories of printing press/engraver. But now I am wondering where in my house was there access for an hydraulic oil line?

    Bythelbs, bravo! If only it were a time machine, but your comment made me laugh out loud.

  5. You could totally freecycle it.

    OFFER: THING, not the vehicle. You move & load.