Mental Floss

Shopping Carts That Aren't Shopping Carts

Rob Lammle
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When is a shopping cart not a shopping cart? When it's a car, a work of art, a mobile farm, or a piece of furniture. Here are some ways that creative folks have thought outside the cart corral when it comes to the typical grocery basket on wheels.

A Grocery-Getter That Can Really Get Groceries

Of course the original intention was for shopping carts to carry food, but some folks have adapted them to carry more precious cargo – people. Charles Guan, an MIT student, took an old cart and gave it new life in the form of his LOLrioKart, named in homage to the classic series of Nintendo games, Mario Kart. Watching the videos as he zips around MIT's campus, powered using rechargeable batteries and an electric motor capable of 12 HP, the only thing missing are turtle shells, banana peels, and Yoshi.

But that's kid stuff compared to Britain's Andy Tyler and his rocket-powered shopping cart. In 2004, Tyler pulled an old "trolley" from a river, spent £50 on some scrap wheels, brakes, and a steering wheel, then strapped it to a homemade jet engine that he cobbled together from instructions he got off the internet. The cart can reach up to 50mph before it gets too unstable to control, but that's ok, because it runs out of gas in about two minutes anyway. Tyler has said, "People think I'm off my trolley, but it's exhilarating." No argument on the first part, Andy, but we'll just take your word on the second part if that's ok.

Tyler's cart is impressive, but it's not really practical, especially if you actually needed to carry food. For that chore, nothing beats Rodney Rucker and his 16-foot tall, V8-powered cart.

While not the only giant motorized shopping cart in the world, his is the only one that seats 6 comfortably in the basket, with another person behind the wheel in the kid's seat. This cart can cruise along at 60mph, so getting to the store and running errands is no problem at all. Just don't expect it to fit through the Starbucks drive-through on your way home.

Kickstart My Cart

While there's no Shopping Cart 500 just yet, if it has wheels, there's bound to be someone who will race it. And shopping carts are no exception.

The biggest shopping cart race is the Idiotarod, an urban endurance race inspired by the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. Except here, the sleds are shopping carts and the dogs are (usually inebriated) humans. The race was started in San Francisco in the mid-90s, but has since spread to cities all across the country, including Chicago, New York, Denver, Portland, L.A., and even our nation's capital. The race is less a race and more of a bar crawl, as the "dawgs" make their way from checkpoint bar to checkpoint bar by whatever route they choose, dressed in outlandish costumes, tied to their equally absurdly dressed carts. Part of the fun of the race is trying to sabotage each other's chances along the way with roadblocks, misinformation, and even dirty pool, like sticking your foot out as the competition runs by. While not the original intention, many Idiotarods now have an element of charity to go along with the fun. For example, at the 2010 Chiditarod in Chicago, each of 120 teams had to have at least 40 pounds of canned goods in their cart as they crossed the finish line. In all, the event brought in 14,525 pounds of food for local charities. But there are also plenty of fun prizes to be had by racers, who can win in categories ranging from 1st Place, Best Sabotage, Best Team Concept, and Dead F**king Last.

For Idiotarod racers, their shopping cart grand prix is a fun, one-day event. But for some, racing carts has become a way of life. The documentary film Carts of Darkness by Murray Siple tells the story of homeless men who turn their shopping carts full of recyclables into screaming hunks of metal and plastic, reaching speeds of 40mph as they go careening down the steep mountain roads of North Vancouver. With no brakes, no steering wheel, and nothing to lose, these daredevils find a thrill that many of us who live a "normal" life would never have the guts to even try. You can check out the whole film online thanks to the National Film Board of Canada, but the following YouTube clip will give you a sample of the excitement.

Old MacDonald Had a Cart

A Truly Mobile Home

Cart Art

Know of any other modified shopping cart projects out there? Ever raced in an Idiotarod? Have a favorite cart from the list? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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