Monday, September 29, 2014



This is Buddy. He can fly. 

There's something strange going on in that garage down the street. The windows flash an eerie blue light at odd hours. Industrial noises echo from the backyard. The postman delivers an awful lot of packages there. Neighbors have even reported odd forms hovering high in the sky over the property. The inhabitants appear normal enough, but somehow that just makes things even stranger.

 Ky Michaelson and his son Buddy are just honoring a family tradition. Long before the Michaelsons migrated to Minnesota, they were highly regarded East Coast daredevil tinkerers. Ky's father was an engineer, which he simply perceived as a (somewhat controlled) form of thrill seeking. That's how it started.

Great Uncle John Michaelson, making a bicycle jump in New York City in 1905. Soon after, Uncle John and Ky's father launched the Michaelson Bicycle Company.

Ky was born dyslexic and quickly tired of the struggle to glean information from books. He became infatuated with radio instead, and taught himself to build a transistor version, small enough to hide in a text book. Impressed, Ky's father presented him with a chemistry set at age 12, and Ky figured out how to make black powder, which led to his first rocket. Soon after came Ky's first car, an eight dollar '32 Ford 3-window coupe. It served him well, but just wasn't fast enough. You can guess the rest. The Guinea pig coupe didn't survive the learning curve, and was followed by a successful string of Top Gas dragsters. But it was a twin Turbonique-equipped motorcycle that earned Ky his "Rocketman" moniker at Great Lakes Dragway in 1964. By '69, Ky (now doing business as Rocketman Enterprises) found himself in the Guinness Book of World Records. How to follow that? The next quest was to break every acceleration record on planet Earth. Over the next twelve years, Ky held 72 State, National, and International speed records. Despite his lack of an engine, Ky Michaelson was the first drag racer to bust through the five second, four second, and 300 MPH barriers.

Not one to Bogart the party, Ky sent son Curt down the strip on a pair of roller skates with a rocket strapped to his back. None of this was lost on younger son Buddy, who wolfed down rocket theory like a starved dog and applied it to everything in sight, whether it had wheels or not. To date, the Michaels' have lent their wizardry of rocket power to cars, motorcycles, go-karts, snowmobiles, boats, a wheelchair, various bicycles, and several humans. As Ky became more involved in Hollywood stunt work (yet another field he re-invented from the inside-out and dominated), Buddy took up the slack in the rarefied world of rocket travel.

Before you bolt a rocket to any conveyance, you must know your vehicle. So Buddy builds his own from scratch.

By age 7, Buddy was handy enough with the mill and lathe to do his own machine work. 

The fruit of his labor scorches anything in Buddy's wake. 

Mom supervises the test firing of a rocket pack in the garage. This was on a light load of Nitrogen and CO2. 

This was inevitable. One rocket can't be enough, when you have a garage full of the things.

Buddy's Pinewood Derby entry (far right) was more unique (and faster) than most. 

Raising the bar at the Pinewood Derby. There's video of this on Buddy's website, but the car is almost too quick for the human eye to follow. 

His obsession still unabated today, Buddy has earned the respect of his heroes, while scanning the globe for yet more knowledge. Yeah, that's fossil-fuel racer Danny Thompson on your right. Danny is shooting for 500 MPH in the old family car. You know what Buddy's thinking...

Buddy and Ky, hanging with World's Fastest Woman, Kitty O'Neil. She's been over 600 MPH and is one of the most revered stunt people to ever work in Hollywood.

Testing the seat in Doug Rose's jet car. 

Never ones to rest on their laurels, the Michaelsons just keep pushing the envelope. This tricycle was built by Ky and piloted by Buddy.

The natural next step in the Michaelson's mechanical evolution: Ky is building his own Rocket Man.

Buddy Michaelson laughs at those who insist, 'The sky is the limit'. He knows it's just a starting point. So will you, after browsing his site:  Then set a few days aside to digest Ky's comprehensive (and endlessly entertaining) website:  (Photos courtesy of Ky and Buddy Michaelson) 



Amazing what transpires when we stand back and let life play out naturally, without our interference. Two forces of nature collided at this year's rained-out SCTA Speed Week: World's Busiest Hot Rodder Jim Lindsay and World's Busiest Hot Rod Photographer Peter Vincent. Together, they got busy and transformed the disappointment of a cancelled event into a celebration of beauty and opportunity. Looks like these guys were meant to stick it out on the salt. Nice result.

                                                                                                       (Photos courtesy of Peter Vincent)

The last time these two exchanged gifts, there was more vegetation involved (namely, Lindsay's seed grass farm outside of Shedd, Oregon). Lindsay caught Vincent's "good side" here.                               (Photo courtesy of Jim Lindsay)

Upon discovering Lindsay's Bonneville crew had been christened The Little Bastards, Motormouth Ray offered this East Coast alternative from his early days.  (Photo courtesy of Motormouth Ray)



It turns out that chassis fabricator Marty Strode was paying attention when his brother Tom threw this homebrewed mini bike together for pit use at Bonneville. "The Shetland" went from sillyness to showworthyness in a few short weeks of "spare time" tinkering. It has proven reliable, attention grabbing, and fun beyond expectation.

Now it's Marty's turn. "I celebrated my 66th birthday last week. Family and friends gifted me some money and a new bicycle. I used the money to buy a 212cc engine at Harbor Freight for $99.99 (with coupon). I'll be ordering a torque converter like Tom used on The Shetland. It looks like I'll only have to modify one tube in the frame to get the engine in. Hey, if you're too old to pedal, motorize it!" To no one's surprise, Marty's project bike has been tagged, "The Stallion". He also has some very intriguing four-wheeled projects in the works. Stay tuned.  (Photos courtesy of Marty Strode)


Not quite in the same league with Michaelson, Lindsay, or Strode, the SGE Model A continues to creep forward at the pace of an anemic slug. So it goes. Good thing I'm back to working at the amateur level - this kind of "progress" wouldn't fly, on the clock! And this project wouldn't happen at all without the amazing grace of Custom Metal proprietor Doctor Lockjaw (AKA Jamie Ford). This guy has taught me so much about what friendship and quality work is really about. Last Sunday's session was "one of those days". We managed to get some tubing threaded and tacked together, then had to move on. But we're steadily sneaking up on the next big step: Mocking up the drivetrain.

Is it cheating to thread tubing with a lathe? Hey, we ain't ascared of using technology to further our cause (lightening the workload to make time for longer lunch breaks).

The torque arm is now finished. And my heap now has a space age three-link suspension! Who'da thunk it?

Doc somehow contorted himself into my jungle gym to tack the driveshaft hoops together. I lost a five dollar bet on this deal. Worth it!

Next up: '40 Chevy truck shocks will complete the rear suspension. We'll do the same up front, then get the drivetrain in. (Scotty shots)



We've run this image before, but pulled it out of storage in honor of Buddy Michaelson's SGE visit this week. Salute!

Ramblur65 scored this jumbo Snap-On rollaway at the Crane Cams liquidation sale last year. Bonus: It was originally owned by an employee of the legendary Holman-Moody team. This photo includes enough toolage to construct a nice rocket-propelled Thunderbolt. (Photo courtesy of Ramblur65)


In the spirit of the Michaelson family, we leave you with these images of Walt Arfons and designer Alex Tremulis' Wingfoot Express. The Goodyear-sponsored streamliner rocketed to 520 MPH with Bobby Tatroe steering in 1965. Arfons and Tremulis were after a number closer to 600. Bitterly disappointed, they decided to launch the Express vertically to 7,500 feet, then let it nosedive back to Earth and bury itself in the salt, where it could rust in peace as a tribute to the shame of failed theories. Goodyear nixed that plan. (Photos courtesy of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company) (Image by Alex Tremulis)