Main Valley Tour: a Rube Goldberg Machine

While cycling along the left bank of the Main River, near the town of Bürgstadt, I came across this assemblage which looked at first glance like a Rube Goldberg Machine. All sorts of tanks, towers and conveyer belts were creaking and cranking up and down in all directions, some dripping with water, some not. All this apparatus looked perilously old, but there was a modern new green pumping station down by the river, so that at least explained where the water came from.

Piles of sand behind the towers

Behind the towers some big piles of sand were piling up, so I guess that was the point of the whole operation. Also, there must have been some gravel piling up at the other end, because both sand and gravel were being loaded onto river barges a bit further downstream.

Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist who was best known for his ‘Rube Goldberg Machines’, which were imaginary machines designed to perform simple tasks in complicated ways. He presented these machines through detailed drawings in the style of US patent applications, with the various parts labeled A, B, C, etc., and accompanied by explanations of what each part was supposed to do. He said “the machines are a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results”.

According to the website, he used to spend over thirty hours drawing each of these machines, paying “close attention to precision regarding the lines and details.” It helped, no doubt, that he had finished a degree in engineering (from UC Berkeley) before becoming a cartoonist.

Nowadays any overly complicated array of machinery can be called a Rube Goldberg Machine, and there are contests each year to see who can build the funniest and most imaginative contraption that really works.

Once I even saw a Rube Goldberg Machine (designed and built by someone else) on an opera stage. In my post about Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Halle, Germany, I described how the quack doctor Dulcamara made his entrance into the village in the first act. “He arrived not in a golden carriage but on a huge Rube Goldberg machine with dozens of valves, whistles, gears, transmission belts, pistons and other moving parts, most of which had no function besides impressing the astounded villagers. Somebody at the opera house must have had a great time constructing this huge machine.”

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2022.

See more posts on the Main Valley Bicycle Route.

6 thoughts on “Main Valley Tour: a Rube Goldberg Machine”

  1. I’d heard of Rube Goldberg machines, but never heard about their origin. These particular words tickled me so much, they’ve tickled me for days: “the machines are a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” This is my entire life summed up, it feels like, but reading it this way makes me take some delight in the sheer humanity of it all. Thank you!

  2. Were they using water in a quarrying operation? Or were they dredging the river? Sounds like it would reduce dust.

    1. I’m not really sure what they were doing, but somehow they were producing construction material.
      Now (2022), in our district of Frankfurt, there is a huge construction project going on, expanding a railway line from two tracks to four. I’m constantly amazed at the amounts of earth, sand and gravel they use.

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