The Legend of The JATO-Powered Rocket Car


God knows this whole thing has gotten long enough already, so if you clicked your way here hoping to find a quick explanation of why Darwin’s boat was named the “HMS Beagle”, I’ll keep this short.

I don’t know.

Short enough?

Now, this isn’t just a blow-off answer, and I didn’t tack this page onto an already-too-long story just because I wanted to bang on my keyboard some more. The reason I’m writing this is because a lot of people have sent me E-mail asking me why Darwin’s boat was named the HMS Beagle. And I have to admit, I’m starting to think it was a big mistake even mentioning the question that kicked this whole thing off. Not because a lot of people are asking me about it, I don’t mind questions at all. And when I take a good look at the situation now, it seems like a pretty logical question to ask. But when I was writing up the story, I just threw in the “Naming of the Beagle” issue to explain how the project started. I seriously didn’t think anyone would care. The student who originally asked the question sure didn’t. Like I said, it was a “Stump The Teacher”question, just something to waste time in class. At least I think that’s what it was. All I know for sure is that it wasn’t the first time this particular student asked a difficult (and irrelevant) question, even though she always lost interest as soon as the question was out of her mouth. But despite this, I told her I’d do some research, so I did. Which eventually led me to the Darwin Awards.

As for the student, she never asked me about it again.

On the other hand, lots of people who read my story do seem to be interested in how the Beagle got it’s name. At first I simply admitted that despite all my research, I never found out. But a good sport named Henry (insert last name here) did a bunch of research on the subject and dug up a Website that contains a TON of good information about the HMS Beagle. If you care to take a look, it’s at If you aren’t THAT interested, here’s the condensed version: Chuck’s Tub was actually the NINTH “HMS Beagle”. There were eight ships before her with the same name. Which means that the actual question travels back even further, since we can safely assume that Beagle #9 got it’s name from Beagle #8, and so on down the line.

So, what about Beagle #1?

No telling. Henry assumes that “ is the same reason all ships are named as they are…the beagle is a trustworthy hound, so maybe the first owners of the gallivat hoped for similar traits in their ship. The names of ships are hereditary, so the name was just given to the ship by chance.”

That’s good enough for me.

But you gotta admit, it’s STILL just speculation. For all I know, the boat was actually named after someone’s Mom. Or maybe “beagle” was just the first word that popped into some admiral’s head when he was filling out some paperwork. Or maybe it was actually a clever piece of British trickery, designed to fool stupid pirates into thinking they had their cannons pointed at a hunting dog instead of a ship fulla goodies. The only certainty is that a long time ago, a guy stood next to a ship with a bucket of paint in one hand and a brush in the other, and eventually he wrote “Beagle” on the boat. As to WHY he did it, I don’t have a clue.

I know, I know. As far as explanations go, this one sucks. Unfortunately, it’s the best I can do.

But despite the fact that I haven’t been able to enlighten anyone about “The Naming Of Chuck’s Tub”, the E-mail I’ve gotten up to this point has been an education for me. For instance, through the courtesy of people who responded to the story, I now know that the real, TRUE, honest-to-God Legend of the Rocket Car…

  • Originated in the 50’s and 60’s, when Andy Granatelli toured the state-fair circuit in a JATO-powered car.
  • Started in the late 70’s when a pair of Air Force mechanics in Oregon stuck an F-16 engine in the back of a Ford Pinto.
  • Was actually a Lincoln Town car that crashed trying to set a world’s record for the longest automobile jump
  • Flew near Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, when two drunken airmen stuck a JATO bottle on a car.
  • Was a green Plymouth Roadrunner which crashed into one of the walls alongside the Hassayampa River about a mile north of Morristown.
  • Started near Fort Gordon, an Army post in Georgia, sometime prior to 1967.
  • Occurred on Edwards Air Force Base in the late 50’s when a civilian pilot stuck an old JATO bottle on his own car.
  • Was actually a Model T Ford that someone attached a rocket to, then fired in the California Mojave desert.
  • Was really a Plymouth station wagon near Fort Hood, Texas, in which someone mounted an outdated ICBM engine.
  • Happened in 1975 on the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • Occurred around `74 or `75 at El Centro Naval Station when a guy strapped a couple of Zuni rockets to a car and fired it down a runway.
  • Started late one night in the 40’s or early 50’s, when someone mounted a JATO bottle in the trunk of a Buick, took it out to US 50 (just west of Kansas City, Kansas) , and ended up wrapped around an oak tree.
  • Really, really, REALLY started in the year 576 B.C., when a crazy Chinaman filled a bamboo pole with gunpowder, stuffed it up a yak’s ass, lit the fuse, then flew the Rocket Yak straight into the Great Wall.

Okay, I admit, I made up the one about the yak. But every other version on this list was taken straight from the E-mail I’ve gotten over the past two weeks.

Cross my heart and hope to die.

Now, I’m not trying to bust anyone’s chops here, I’m really not. I’d hate for anyone to get the idea that I was sneering at the people who sent me these messages. Actually I love these stories, and it cheers me up considerably whenever I hear another version. But like I said in the story, I’ve kept an ear out for different versions of the Legend of the Rocket Car for a long time, so I’m used to hearing different angles on the whole thing. I just never took the time to write them down before. Now you know why.

Anyway, I guess I want to thank the people who set me straight about the “real” story, whether they did it in a snotty, condescending way or in a good-natured “here’s the way I heard it” fashion. This is precisely what I was talking about at the beginning of the story. The Legend of the Rocket Car exists in a huge variety of forms, and if you want to believe one of them, you have a wide selection to choose from. If you don’t like the story I told you, try one of the others.

Last thing I wanna mention is some of the other feedback I’ve gotten on the story, particularly the criticism. Listen, if you think the story is a big crock of shit, I can live with that. It’s really no problem at all. And if you have a problem with the tech stuff, or the location, or the people involved, it doesn’t bother me a bit. But a few people have used the E-mail link at the end of the story to point out that I’m grammar-impaired. Specifically when it comes to the difference between “its” and “it’s”.

BIG problem there.

Oh, some people have just mentioned it in passing, as part of some larger thought. And that’s cool. But a few people were actually rankled by the fact that they had to wade through the story seeing “its” and “it’s” constantly misused. So I guess I want to take this opportunity to tell the Apostrophe Police that I’ve had plenty of opportunities to correct my grammatical fuckups, but I haven’t done it. I left them the way they are on PURPOSE. Because I firmly believe that if you’re the kind of person who gets a weed up their ass over something that trivial, you deserve to be bothered. As much as possible. Matter of fact, if I had your address and phone number, I’d walk away from this computer right now, drive over to your house, ring the doorbell, and run away. Then I’d find the nearest phone, call you up, and ask if you had Prince Albert in a can. Tonight, I’d be the guy throwing burning shitbags on your front porch.

See where I’m going with this? Life is WAY too short to get your bowels in a twist over a punctuation mark.

Other than that, I just want to say that I appreciate the responses. Even the mean ones. I wrote the story down because I thought it was interesting, and I wanted to tell it. I don’t demand that anyone believes it, and I don’t lose any sleep when someone calls me a bullshitter. Like I said, if you shop around a little, I’m sure you can find a version that suits you better. But in addition to questions about Chuck’s Tub, alternate versions of the legend, and bitch-grams from the Apostrophe Police, I’ve also gotten quite a few letters from people who have their own “Strange Stuff I Did” stories to tell. And I want to let you know that if you don’t believe my story because it’s just too bizarre to swallow, you have a lot to learn. There are an AWFUL lot of people out there doing AWFULLY weird shit every day. Like, seriously weird shit. So if you’re ever stopped at a traffic light and you see a Rocket Yak plastered to the trunk lid of the car in front of you, do yourself a favor and give the guy plenty of room. He may have earned it.

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