I Built One of Those Time Machines

Most of the time machines you see advertised on the internet or in Popular Science magazine run about $2,500 for the blueprints and another $3K for materials. That's pretty cheap for a real live time machine. They always have the ads in the back that say "Time Travel is REAL!" But there's a hitch - the ones you can afford don't work right. More specifically; they're really slow. I bought one late last year and put it together.

Here's the hitch. Okay so every time machine - even the fake ones in science fiction books - take a certain amount of time to get where they're going, right? Usually in the movies the guy gets in the time machine, sets the controls, flips the switch and fifteen seconds later he's a thousand years in the future. But it still took him fifteen seconds to get there. I'm not complaining. That's pretty fast. One thousand years in fifteen seconds. Actually it's unrealistically fast.

Compare that to the time machine (or "time projection device") at Los Alamos that Oppenheimer writes about in his autobiography. That one supposedly "projected" one ounce of distilled water fifteen years into the future in approximately eleven seconds running time. That's a lot slower than the sci-fi stuff you read about - and it cost around 17 million 1943-dollars to build (including R&D.)

Now compare Oppenheimer's machine to the realistically priced devices available from mail-order. These ads almost all say that if built properly, with the best materials available (I mean there's only one KIND of commercially available titanium, 6ALV4, and it's not cheap) then you can expect ". . . one year per 5 minutes of run time." That means it should take a passenger only 5 minutes to travel one year in the future. That's a lot slower than Oppenheimer's but still not so bad considering you actually get to go one year in the future in only five minutes. I mean you can't really complain, right?

Wrong - and I'll tell you why. It's a total rip off. First of all almost all these companies are web-based or mail-order fly-by-night outfits who constantly change their names. They all have dorky sci-fi names like Chrono-Tek and Time Inc. You can never track these guys so you can't get your money back or make any complaints about the illegible instructions that come in the mail. I understand this is to protect themselves from the intellectual property laws and from patent violations (and I imagine that there's some laws against providing citizens with a means to travel through time too) but it really makes for the worst customer service imaginable.

But that's not even really the issue - because if these machines performed as advertised there would be no need to complain to the fellow who sold you the plans.

But the machines don't work as advertised.

I bought my first last October (2005) from an outfit that was located in Oildale, California (home of Merle Haggard) called Chrono-Tek. It was advertised as being able to send me ". . . one year in the future in an average of five minutes of on-board run time." The whole project cost me about 10K if you count the time it took to locate the materials and to construct the damned thing in my garage on weeknights after work and on weekends. These things never look anything like the sleek metallic futuristic time-machines you see in the science fiction movies. This one looked more like a big wooden box - like an oversized coffin. The plans even called for a hood ornament. (!) A cheap looking cast-iron globe that had "Chrono-Tek" embossed on it. That was the only piece of hardware that came with the plans.

Anyways, to get to the point, after about three months of drilling, sawing, hammering and screwing I was finally ready to make it work. I got in the box, closed the "cockpit" door (I love how they all use airplane metaphors) and set the little number thing to 365 days in the future. (By the way - these machines, even Oppenheimer's, never travel to the past. Backwards time travel is complete science fiction hooey. No one ever has - or ever will - develop a machine that can project its occupant to a time prior to the date at which the machine was constructed. People have claimed to but they're full of you-know-what.) Anyway, I flipped all the right toggle switches and sat there listening to the gyros spinning for a whole hour. A WHOLE HOUR, PEOPLE! Finally the number thing counted down to all zeros and I shut off the machine and opened the cockpit door. I was completely sweaty. That thing has no real air holes or anything. I had expected to be in there for five minutes, like the plans said. I could have suffocated. I was also very hungry because I did this before dinner.

I walked to the corner and looked at the newspaper - February 15, 2007. Cool. A year in the future. But this machine was a sled. I remember getting really pissed that it might take just as long to get back to where I belonged. WHICH IT DID! Two whole friggin' hours to do what should have taken 10 minutes. When I got back I was so pissed I called my sister and she just laughed at me for being a sucker. Which made me even more angry.

So to make a long story short, the whole reason I even bought this thing in the first place was because I wanted to go to the year 4000. I don't know why. It seems like a cool goal. But that's 1,994 years in the future. This slow-poke machine would take me 1,994 hours to get there. That's 83 days! I would have to miss three months of work not to mention starve to death because there isn't enough room in the box for more than a sack lunch. A total rip off! Again, the company is unreachable. They don't even have a phone number.

But I had an idea. I decided to build another machine using the same plans but this time instead of making it coffin-sized, I would make it much larger. So that's what I'm doing. I used the same plans for the machine's "engine" but just changed the floor plans to make the cockpit larger. The improved plans call for a cockpit about the size of a woodshed.

Why am I making it larger? Was it so I could bring 6 months worth of provisions for my round trip to the year 4K? No! The way I see it is, why not bring the little coffin-shaped time machine on board?" That way, when I get inside the shed, I set the shed's controls flip its switches and then as soon as the gyros start humming I get in the coffin machine, close its cockpit door, set its controls and just zoom through the three months! That little machine can do three months in 15 minutes! I don't even need to bring provisions. A time machine inside a time machine! When the coffin's timer zeros out I just get out of it, wait a few seconds for the shed's timers to zero out, I walk outside and I'm there! The year 4K!

So that's where I stand now. I have the shed-sized machine almost done. If this works maybe I can get rich. Wish me luck.