Bob McCloskey, Inventor

by Marc Simont

Should the recession get serious, a good inexpensive way for a tired man to find release from his tensions would be to go for a spin in Grampa Hercules’ Hide-a-Ride Machine.

Bob McCloskey’s talent for devising mechanical contraptions is topped only by his ability to turn out books that carry off the Caldecott Medal. I think there’s a great book in a collection of Robert McCloskey Inventions.

This flair of Bob’s for mechanical contraptions was very hard on his mother when, as a youngster, he came up with a machine for whipping cream. Being a generous boy, he didn’t spare the juice, so when this whirling monster came in contact with the cream, it splattered a milky-way pattern around all four kitchen walls.

Time of Wonder is a poetic, pictorial record of his island home in Maine. But what the pictures in the book don’t show is the staggering amount of equipment that it takes to turn a house on an island into a comfortable home. Bob is caretaker and up-keeper of electric generators, water pumps, winches, boat engines, etc., but the amazing thing is that he still has enough humor left to indulge in such refinements as hi-fi sets (which require special generators) and electrically run roasting spits.

In 1947 I was able to benefit from Bob’s mechanical wizardry. I had just bought a car — a 1927 Pontiac — which had a good engine, I was told, and lots of dignity, which I could see. My wife and I borrowed the McCloskeys’ car and went to pick it up. On the way back I drove the McCloskeys’ car while my wife brought along the antique (as head of the family I can’t afford to take chances). We proudly showed it off to the McCloskeys but when it was time to leave, it wouldn’t start. I raised the hood and looked wise; Bob turned the crank a few times and listened. He removed a few bolts and a section of the fly-wheel housing came out. Then he reached in and pulled out the remains of a mouse nest. All the car needed (for him who could tell) was a little old-fashioned spring cleaning.

The motor started and we were on our way.

From the August 1958 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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