Friday, July 1, 2011

Have a Flinging Fourth

The neighbor's teenagers playing their music too loud as they come up the country road? The same youngsters gathered around, smoking cigarettes upwind of your property just because Mom and Dad aren't home?

Forget that sissy method of telling them keep it down, which will instantly label you "old geezer". Just get yourself a trebuchet.

After all, nothing says "pipe down" quite like a rotten sheep carcass on fire arcing over the back fence onto their stereo.


We've got combines and tractors, corn and trucks. But looking around the countryside there aren't enough trebuchets out here.

In those boring days before gunpowder, folks had to come up with other methods of tossing death and destruction at each other. They started by simply throwing rocks at one another, advancing to flinging giant stones, and then to hurling a few boulders. Street crime was probably not a problem, Imagine some thug coming up to you on the street and saying "catapultum habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnen mihi dabis, ad caput tumm saxum immane mittam."(I have a catapult. Give me all the money or I will fling an enormous rock at your head).

But as a weapon of warfare, they have been around a long time. Being half Scandahoovian I was curious as to when they reached the Vikings. The Vikings may have known of them at a very early stage, as the monk Abbo de St. Germain reported in his epic De bello Parisiaco (time frame 890) that engines of war were used on the siege of Paris. Nordic people or "the Norsemen" were documented as using engines of war at the siege of Angers as early as 873. The trebuchet is essentially a gravity powered energy conversion machine, turning potential energy into kinetic energy and using it to throw something of mass.

The counterweight trebuchet appeared in both Christian and Muslim lands around the Mediterranean in the twelfth century, flinging projectiles weighing several hundred pounds at high speeds into enemy fortifications. Fortifications had evolved over the course of the Middle ages, the most well recognized being the castle. The castle served as a protected place for the local elites (sort of like Congress). Inside was refuge from armies too large to face in open battle. The ability of the heavy cavalry to dominate a battle on an open field was useless against fortifications. The siege engine was then further developed and honed.
In June and July of 1191, Richard the Lionheart (the Duke of Normandy) laid siege to the city of Acre as part of the medieval Crusades.

The Duke concentrated on constructing siege machines and placing trebuchets (literally, stone hurler) in suitable places. He arranged for these to shoot continually day and night. He had one excellent one which he called "Bad Neighbor" (Malvoisine). The constant bombardment shattered the Cursed Tower after breaching the city walls. On one side the Templars' trebuchet wrought a frantic devestation, while the Hospitallers trebuchet hurled and hurled, to the abject fear of the Turks. Besides these, there was a trebuchet that had been constructed at general expense, which they called "God's Stone-Thrower". (Which was much more effective than the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch). A priest, a man of great probity, always stood next to it preaching and collecting money for its continual repair and for hiring people to gather the stones for its ammunition. This machine at last demolished the wall next to the Cursed Tower for around "two perches' Length" (10-11 yards ). *

Range and size of the weapons varied. In 1421 the future Charles VII of France commissioned a trebuchet that was said to have been able to shoot a stone of over 1500 pounds but that was not the norm. Rate of fire could be noteworthy: at the siege of Lison in 1147 it was said there were two engines were capable of launching a stone every 15 seconds. (my question? How to you reload those babies?)

Many times trash and debris were lobbed over castle walls to rain down upon unsuspecting masses or invading armies. On occasion, disease-infected corpses were flung into cities in an attempt to infect or terrorize the people under siege—a medieval form of biological warfare.

Then gunpowder was invented and rock warfare became passé quickly, with the trebuchet losing its place as the siege engine of choice to the cannon and later, firearms.

Thinking now you want to make your own just to supplement your weapon collection? You can start by getting one of these wooden war engine kits from ThinkGeek.com that let you bring back all the fun of flinging. Each one can assemble in just a few hours, and provides a fantastic scale model of an actual war weapon of yore. ThinkGeek suggests starting with a few lobs of paper over the cubicle wall at your coworkers. But it's said that the trebuchet is better for long range targets (like the network printer). It's not intended for kids (yes you can put your eye out with this thing) and if you lob a flaming Bic lighter reinforced with thumbtacks at the boss you are likely to be fired.

There is a desktop application out there where you can configure mass, arm length, and length of flail to create and fling masses from a virtual trebuchet. Unrealistically, however, it can be manipulated so that your stones could achieve escape velocity.

It sounds like all kinds of fun in any case. For a small price, you can order Wooden War Engine Kits to lend a medieval flair to any office warfare arsenal. The Catapult Kit is rubber band powered (not included) and can hurl paper balls and other small items approximately 10 feet.

The ThinkGeek Trebuchet Kit is counter-weighted by 78 pennies (also, not included) and has a range of around 20 feet. Both kits are pre-cut and pre-drilled, and require gluing during assembly. All you need to put these little ones together is strong fingers, a cutting tool and the glue. But you can go bigger for an additional cost that's not much more than a box or two of .45 acp hollowpoints.

Here's a Floating Arm Trebuchet that you can build.Also Pre-cut and pre-drilled, with computer cut pieces for tight engineering, this is a functional model standing 34" tall, 18" long and 12" wide when built. The guillotine-action and a plunging beam can hurl a golf ball over 200 feet. Nice! It has detailed instructions complete with diagrams and equations for calculating the machine's efficiency with lots of photos.

You can't hide this in your cube, but you can take take it out on the deck.
I think I have an idea for our next cookout.

* From the 13th century writing: "Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi"

19 comments:

  1. If you lob cats instead of sheep, doesn't that make it a catcatapult?

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  2. Great post, but all I can think about is "a rotten sheep carcass on fire" I wonder if I could lob one of them from VA and hit the Capital from here???

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  3. Could you fling clay pigeons with one of them? That would be totally rad, gnarly AND cool! ;-)

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  4. Don't let it out to TSA that you have the plans for a weapon of mass destruction. They will breach your domicile and conduct a full groping body search.

    Great story.

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  5. "It's not what you fling but the fling it's self"
    I still miss Northern Exposure...

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  6. Sweet!!! Trebs rock! (pun most definitely intended)

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  7. Huh. Just today in the office I mentioned that I need a Trebuchet, "just because".

    Yeah, it was just before the long weekend. Why do you ask?

    ;-)

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  8. Brigid,

    I hope you have a flinging fourth too.

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  9. Feel free to loft a barbecued beef on to our back patio or deck anytime...

    Dann in Ohio

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  10. Brigid:

    You have an appreciation of long arms. You should check out this book. It's the best thing since canned beer and Guinness brownies, and you can get a copy off of Amazon for a couple of bucks.

    http://backwoodshome.com/blogs/MassadAyoob/2011/07/02/explaining-trajectory/

    http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Rifles-Shotguns-Seven-Lesson-Shooting/dp/0060713518/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309604565&sr=1-1

    Happy 4th. Stay safe, give Barkley a big hug, eat something yummy, and enjoy your weekend.

    Chris

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  11. Thank you for reminding me that I need to get some surgical tubing to repair my water balloon slingshot before my neighbor down the hill starts shooting off fireworks this week-end. He's pretty much at max. range for me but I think that I can hit him if I launch from my upper deck and can clear the trees.

    I was just going to lob water balloons but now you've got me thinking...the other neighbor does have way too many cats, so I could launch a few of those per ShepherdK's suggestion, and if I added some skunk scent from the hunting store to each balloon once I find the range....Hmmmmm.....

    I wish you were here so that when the cops come, I could yell "She did it!"

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  12. Spud Guns.

    Launching Idaho's finest!

    Bob
    III

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  13. Glow in the dark golf-balls. Just sayin'

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  14. You know Ive been hankering for a good fling....I must investigate this trebuchet idea...

    Shepherd oooo that was so wrong..but I laughed my butt off! :)

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  15. Brigid,

    I saw a New Zealand movie recently, from 2006, called Black Sheep. It included zombie sheep, extreme left wing dialog, and explosions.

    I do not believe it had a trebuchet to fling flaming sheep. Too bad, it was about the only thing missing!

    It was hilarious.

    Thanks for the chuckle!

    SWModel66

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  16. Dunno if I need a trebuchet, but I'm now primed for yet another rerun of Python and the Grail.

    "Did Zoot light the grail sign again?"

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  17. I've had a big treb in my plans for years as a summer project. Mine would be able to hurl at least something the size of a smallblock engine, say 350 pounds or my ex-wife.

    Murphy, instead of adding methyl mercaptan, consider cadaverine for when the neighbors get too intrusive.

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  18. My children's dentist is a washing machine in a trebuchet tossing, hot air ballooner, race car driver who was an F4 Phantom pilot in Vietnam.
    I remember one of his quotes regarding home appliances," most people think about cost or reliability I wonder, how far can I chunk that thing with a trebuchet?"

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