Quixotic Quantum Quandary

Q³: But it Looks Broken

Happy Saturday everyone, and welcome to the highly anticipated weekly Quixotic Quantum Quandary–Q³! Today’s part is fairly small, but once upon a time it served an important purpose. Not only is it small, its time of useful service was also fleeting.

I have no doubt that there may be someone who knows! the answer based on seeing one photo and reading that brief description. Everyone else, click through the jump for more!

This particular part came from my uncle, a man of the world in most every sense. Once when he was just a young man, he was driving along a toll road out somewhere in Oklahoma.

In those days small portable fire extinguishers were not nearly as prevalent, nor as effective as they are now. My uncle and grandfather had either come up with or picked up somewhere that a glass Mason jar filled with baking powder was a very effective emergency fire extinguisher.

The entire jar could simply be thrown onto a fire, breaking the glass and spewing the baking powder all over.

As, I said, a man of the world, my uncle was at that time driving a hopped up Morris Minor. He was blasting down said toll road, for he was running behind on a road trip return and was going to miss a curfew unless he managed to make up some of the time.

Now the fact that it was a Morris that he was driving may explain some why he was sure to always have 2 or three of these jars with him, but he did indeed have them in the boot. As he drove along he happened upon someone on the side of the road, with the hood up and smoke pouring out–car fire!

Quickly he weighed the time consequences of stopping vs. the return of knowing he could put the fire out, and decided he could not pass by without rendering aid.

Screeching to a halt, he jumped out, grabbed the baking soda jar, ran to the other car, threw the jar–PHOOMFF!–the fire was out, back into his car, back on the road, he was excited to have lost so little time!

Upon reaching the next toll booth down the road, the attendant asked him if he had helped with a car fire, having been asked about it over the radio. It was at that moment my uncle realized that he had executed the maneuver with nary a peep out of either him nor the other driver.

And he could only imagine the way it must have seemed to the lucky poor other driver to see this strange little automobile swoop up and someone run out, waving a white cylinder, only to cast it upon the man’s engine with a puff of white smoke and then disappear just as quickly as he had come!

The story probably wouldn’t help you much, but perhaps the insight into the man responsible for this part will help out in some small way.

As always, here is a subtle little hint.


At some point the day will come when my stash begins to run out, and expanding the collection always carries with it certain familial hazards. So if you have a super strange piece of some old or neglected technology, please send some photos my way! Just email HycoSpeed@gmail.com and throw Q³ in the subject line so I’ll see it.

  • B72

    Some sort of mechanical fuse, designed to fail when a certain amount of pound force of tension is exceeded?

    • Mr_Biggles

      I'd give you that. It took me a while to find info on it. It looks like one end of what I think is called the "holdback fitting" for when the plane is hooked to the catapult on a carrier. Like you said, it fails at a predetermined tension which I guess would signify max thrust for a given plane?

      Edit: maybe I didn't get it quite right after all. Does it snap at the end of the catapult track to release the plane?

      • Man, you guys are awesome! It is indeed a holdback coupling, well half of one anyhow, I am pretty sure off an A-4. Here is a photo of one intact, and it looks quite similar.

        <img src="http://a4skyhawk.org/sites/a4skyhawk.org/files/images/imported/specials/a4-holdback_doug-cooper.jpg&quot; width="500">

        Here is a bit of info on how it worked!

        • Mr_Biggles

          Ahh. That link has a much better explanation than the ones I found. The one's I read were a bit confusing.

          I'd be willing to bet Sparky would be the guy you mention above who would know what it was from the one photo and likely without even the brief description!

        • B72

          I recognized the tension failure from a prior life as an engineer. This application sounds like a good way to ensure you have engines and catapult working before launching.

          I'm still chuckling at the story about your uncle.

  • The Professor

    That dime in the second picture looks suspiciously Canadian….

    • highmileage_v1

      Hmmm, don't think so. Canadian coins don't have a significant amount of copper in them. They usually don't have "Vermont" on them either….

      • The Professor

        Bah, I don't have my glasses. Don't feel like looking for them either.

        • One copper coin of the realm!

          It is indeed a good old American quarter. I suppose I could have flipped it over and made it a bit easier to i.d. I am impressed Mr. highmileage knew the state, I can't tell most of them.

          • BlackIce_GTS

            For our next trick, we will identify your carpet.

  • Back when I was a grad student at the University of Oregon, I was sent along with another student to retrieve a van from the main state motor pool lot in Salem, as the on-campus fleet was overbooked. We had never been there before and so were surprised at being handed an inspection checklist, as it turned out those vehicles had more goodies than their campus counterparts, including a waste bin (not just a litter bag) and a fire extinguisher. Everything was present except the extinguisher, for which there was only a bracket. We went back to the checkout counter and asked about it, only to be told not to worry, as, although they hadn't updated the list, they no longer supplied extinguishers after "the incident."

    We asked about "the incident."

    A few months before our visit, someone had been driving one of the vans when a small fire broke out in its waste bin. The driver stopped the van, grabbed the extinguisher, pulled its pin, then threw the entire extinguisher into the bin, apparently under the impression that it was meant to act as some sort of fire-suppression grenade. To the relief of the horrified passengers, the fire was small enough that it was quite effectively crushed and snuffed by the extinguisher. Upon review of the incident, however, it was decided that motor pool would have to either (a) institute mandatory extinguisher training for all drivers or (b) remove the extinguishers from all of their vehicles. As I said, all we got was a bracket.

    We were naturally a bit skeptical of this explanation, so we looked into a few of the adjacent vehicles when we got back to the van. They all had brackets. Just brackets.

  • Mike Sumrall

    This is a T-Bar for an A-6 Intruder Aircraft. It is also known as a Tension Bar. It is used in the Launching of the Aircraft from the Flight Deck of an Aircraft Carrier…When the Nose Tow bar goes down inn front of the shuttle of the catapult, Either I or one of my buddies would attach this to a bar and hook it up behind the forward main wheel assembly, and the end on the bar drops in a slot. This is called a Holdback Unit. THen they release a little steam to push the shuttle forward to put the aircraft under tension. When the aircraft comes under full tension, the “Shooter” (Cat Officer) salutes the pilot, gives the signal to the deck edge operator to fire the catapult, and at a predetermind PSI, the Tbar breaks in half, and the aircraft is launched off the deck…Thats what that is, and thats how it works…Have a great day…I sure wouldlike to find one that isnt broken for my collection of memories…