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Air Car Stories: People Love Air Cars!

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Then along came Sadashiv wanting me to come on his radio show—he was a late night DJ on the local community radio station—to talk about air cars. I eventually condescended to grace the air waves with my presence once again, and my little air car cult was born. I was in my Terry Miller phase at that time. A friend of Sadashiv called the show from another town and invited me to his home, where I went and gave a whole lecture on Terry Miller’s air car for several people. 

Porsche Doer and Darshan were so hot on the air car project that I was forced to devise a plan of my own based on the best knowledge I could put together from my research, and as a trio ready to become a corporation, we hired a man out of the classified section to come “evaluate and help design and build” my invention.  

This guy was spooky. In fact, that was his name: Mr. Spooky. He was a big tall husky guy with black hair and goatee, and dressed all in black: black shoes, black vest, black shirt, everything. I faultily remember him in a black cape lined with scarlet; this cannot be; it must be a fabrication of my fairly useless memory which is not to be trusted. 

Mr. Spooky listened to me briefly explain my air car plans but stopped me way short of the best details, to explain to us with a sort of know-better laughing-down reproachfulness that, in spite of any truth there might be to any of the assertions that I was no doubt eager and ready to make about the superiority of my air car idea over the prevalent nonsense substituting for transportation, the government would never let us do it despite its obvious safety advantages, and not only that but the ammunition that the government propagandists would use to stop us would be safety concerns built on people’s natural but unreasonable fear of pressurized tanks. 

As Mr. Spooky confirmed, air tanks almost never break, explode, wear out, or fly through the air like unguided missiles, but a vision of fearsome consequences could easily be planted somewhere within the bureaucratic thought process to make it nearly impossible to put an actual air car on the market.  

After expounding these points and others at some length, Mr. Spooky finally stopped shooting off his mouth and looked at Darshan, Porsche Doer, and myself, each in turn. To Darshan and Porsche Doer he said that he felt he had gotten through; to me he remarked that I showed no signs of letting go of the air car project. He thanked us for calling him, announced that he could not charge us for his services on this evening, nor would he be available to our project in the future, and he slipped into the night with his black briefcase. 

Darshan and Porsche Doer eventually recovered and we continued to keep one eye open for an engineering consultant who was not afraid of doing a good thing in spite of status quo opinion based on ignorance and paranoia. 


I went ahead and called air car inventor Terry Miller, after first interviewing the head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at a local technical institute, and being told that I was set upon a course of inquiry that would teach me more about mechanical engineering than I ever wanted to know. I told Terry Miller I was real interested in studying his air car up close. He said he would be happy to see me show up, so I drove on down to Crestline, Kansas where he lived at 1918 Bank Building.  

His home turned out to be a real bank building built in 1918. There wasn’t a need for addresses in Crestline, Kansas since there were only two buildings; Terry Miller was living in one and using the other to build his one-piece Styrofoam buildings in. He’d set his “Air Car One” aside after showing it from coast to coast including in Times Square, and getting on the front page of dozens of small town newspapers and in People Magazine. People love air cars. 

But that year Terry Miller was deeply committed to his Styrofoam building project as well as trying to make a living on the side, making and selling camper shells. He had warned me on the phone that I would not only be forced to stand around for ten hours in order to get one full hour of his attention, but also that the air car was partly taken apart and therefore would not be running when I got there. None of that bothered me, so I jumped in my car and went to see Terry Miller, the first real air car advocate since General Herman Haupt CE back in the 1890s, and as an air car advocate—and Terry Miller himself invented the term, which is now a monument to its inventor—he is considered the founding father of the modern air car movement because he fully disclosed his air car building plans to the public, and as such he is the first air car inventor in at least 70 years to have done so, and maybe the first ever.

So I got there and Terry Miller was with his wife and a little old guy who was taking pictures. There was a real nice looking pickup truck parked in his Styrofoam building—which was arch-shaped like a Quonset hut—and as soon as I showed up he sent me and his wife over to the highway in front of the bank building to wave down a bass boat should one attempt to drive by, to take part in the photo session. We waited and waited, but a bass boat never did go by.

When the photo session was over we all went inside and Terry Miller’s wife made us bologna and mustard sandwiches on Wonder Bread, and Terry said, Shoulda had a V-8, and tossed me a can of vegetable juice, and after we devoured our lunch Terry gave me his full attention for six hours and answered all my questions and let me spend an hour just looking at his air car all by myself. After that, he was down on his hands and knees fiddling with a troublesome VCR connection so he could show me the video on his then-dismantled windmill-powered compressed air station, and I started getting all apologetic since he’d done so much for me already, and he turned his head slightly toward me over his left shoulder and said, Son, I want to do this for you.

I had correctly quoted his air car book so much in the questions I asked that he ended up commenting that he thought I had a mind like a steel trap. I was undoubtedly the happiest air car advocate in the whole wide world on that particular day, and as I left Crestline and drove north toward Lawrence, Kansas and the University of Kansas Main Library, if I could put how I felt that evening into a pill, then that is the pill I would always want to take: the feeling you get after you have defied fear to give yourself a truly exceptional time.

And there in the card catalog room at the library was Paco, who always showed up at key moments. He said he was now a high school English teacher in Kansas City, and working on his law degree. Regarding his teaching assignment, he commented that it was not whether or not his students came to class stoned; it was how stoned they were when they came to class. I was just on my way out, and showed him the stack of photocopies that I clutched excitedly in my hot little hand.

That stack of photocopies, which now fills several filing cabinets, was the birth of the Pneumatic Options Research Library. It was the advent of a trend that never really stopped: the air car news just keeps getting better and better.

I had just rediscovered for the first time, in the bottom basement level of what was now my very favorite library in the whole world, an awesome collection of old compressed air textbooks, all 50 to 80 years old. I’d seen them once before but ignored them because of their age. Now it turned out that not only did I not invent the first air car—and nor did George Heaton nor Terry Miller—it was an old idea from way back: compressed air locomotives had been available commercially for at least 50 years, until the second world war. For the second time in a single blissful day, I had been to the top of Air Car Mountain, and the air car project has never been the same since that day.

On top of that, I got a fat envelope in the mail one day from a man I’d written to in Florida, a researcher like myself whose name I’d gotten from Terry Miller. In the envelope was the next amazing installment of information on real-life air cars, this time in the form of newspaper and magazine articles about inventors, many of whom—like George Heaton—claimed to be able to refill their air tanks continuously while driving through the ever-present atmosphere of Planet Earth. Although I’d come to mistrust such claims based on Terry Miller’s and others’ urging, the collector in me was on fire and I began my serious research years, amassing amazing and incredible confirmation that compressed air really is God’s gift to man. Some things that the engineering establishment has come to believe to be a disadvantage of compressed air—because of our modern compulsion to cut daisies down with chain saws—is actually one of air’s chief advantages, being misconstrued and kicked to the side without due consideration.


Meanwhile, Terry Miller called me up from Crestline, Kansas to invite me to join him for a weekend at the 1985 Energy Exposition in Wichita, where I ecstatically gave free rides on Air Car One to everyone who wanted one, for two of the happiest days of my life. The keynote speaker at the Expo was Dr. Amory Lovins, the famous author and consultant who is known world-wide for his work in energy conservation. When Dr. Lovins arrived at his hotel from the airport, Terry and I jumped on the air car and headed out into the streets of downtown Wichita to go get him and haul him over to the Expo. Terry drove like the iconoclast that he was, explaining that there are no laws to govern air cars. Dr. Lovins listened to my spiel and made some interesting suggestions, got in the passenger seat of Terry’s two-seat air car, and I watched them drive away, following on foot.

Near the end of the first day, Terry was riding around the Exposition Center showing off Air Car One throughout the crowd when something went wrong with one of the rear wheel-to-axle connections and the steering went out of control. Air Car One slid harmlessly into the stage at two miles per hour and we spent the rest of the afternoon with the air car up on jack stands, staring at it with exasperation, trying to figure out a quick fix for the expediently designed and cheaply built axle mechanism. Simply put, the free wheel had seized up and, lacking a rear differential, the car could not be steered with both rear wheels fixed to the axle. Nothing witty popped into our exhausted brains, so we hung it up for the night and went to Terry’s hotel room where he and his wife slept in one bed and his step-son and I slept in the other. Terry teased me for sleeping so close to the edge of the bed.

Terry was the last to climb into bed, and I noticed that he was literally snoring—I’m not making this up—before his head hit the pillow. You might call him the opposite of a stressed-out person. I was more worried about getting the air car running again than he was. In the morning, I was laying in bed pretending to be asleep and listening to Terry snore, when he snorted loudly a couple of times, sat up in bed and announced, “I’ve got it! The problem is the solution!” And he was right: all we had to do was unbolt the fixed wheel so it would spin freely on the axle, and let the frozen wheel stay fixed to the axle. With one wheel fixed and one freewheeling, the air car was repaired and drivable in less than five minutes.

Next to our booth at the Expo was a shiny little electric car which sat nearly idle through the whole show while people were lined up continuously at our booth to ride in Terry Miller’s three-wheel workbench-on-wheels. People love air cars. Although Terry was fairly bored with the air car by 1985, he did exhibit one fit of mania that weekend that I will never forget. I was driving the car in big circles at the prescribed four miles per hour while Terry was off getting himself some popcorn, and when he got back with a huge sack of popcorn filled to the brim, he walked toward me and sent me hand signals indicating that I was to jump off without stopping the car. I did so, and he jumped aboard and stood up in the car—which had no body to force him to sit down—and steered with one hand while he started whooping and hollering and spilling popcorn all over the place. He pretended to be a drunk hijacker, yelling loudly in an exaggeration of his Oklahoma drawl, What kind of air car is this? You call this an air car?! A real air car!!! I’m driving a real air car!

This went on for some time until a crowd had formed, Terry’s wife was ready to crawl under the table, and the supervisors of the event had gathered in a whispering circle and were shooting cold stares at the big man speeding around in warped circles, swaying like a drunk and hollering at the top of his lungs.

The last ride I gave was to a blind man who wanted a complete description of every sound he heard and everything that was going on in the air engine. I drove him around twice as long as I was supposed to, and when he got out of the car I turned off the air so he could run his hands over every part of the air engine. He intended to memorize the design so he could go home and build an air car of his own. That ride was the fulfillment of all my desires; when the man walked away with a beatific glow on his face, I walked over to Terry where he slumped in his chair at the booth, and shook his hand, explaining that I needed to go home to my wife.


In the meantime, I was thinking of brushing the dust off my old dream of starting a non-profit organization in order to receive tax-exempt donations to educate the world about air cars. Bigg Bangg offered to be the Executive Director of the non-profit corporation. After seeing Bigg Bangg in action, I was feeling more brave than usual about reaching out to grab some of the resources that I knew were floating around loose in the world, but that I had always avoided for fear that people would laugh in my face for asking. I also knew that Terry Miller had built his new Spirit of Joplin air cars almost entirely from parts donated by companies who wanted nothing more in return than to have their company’s name stenciled on the side of the air car.

Then Terry had given the whole project away to his partner and one of his children, and in a few months he was dead.

I remember back when I lived in Eugene, my correspondent in Florida had tracked me down to tell me with great excitement about Terry’s new air cars. I found articles about The Spirit of Joplin in several serious technical journals. I wrote Terry a letter, and he wrote back, sending me photos of the engine, tapes describing how it was built, a video, and $185—which I hadn’t asked for—as a fee for advertising his “info-pack” in my Pneumatic Options Research Library catalog. He told me in his letter to call him sometime, preferably around three or four o’clock in the morning, since he was diabetic and that’s when he always woke up to pee.

I couldn’t believe that the mighty Terry Miller really wanted me to call him that time of the night, but one night I got up the nerve to do it. He picked up the phone and said, Hello. Rather sleepily I thought.

Hi, Terry, this is Scott Robertson.

I heard Terry’s wife muttering something in the background, and he put his hand over the receiver and said, “Honey! It’s Scott Robertson!” like I was somebody or something. It’s Scott Robertson!

Excuse me while I indulge myself: It’s Scott Robertson!

Thanks, Terry.