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Motives for Falsification

When examining a story for consistency, it is important to consider any motives the author or any editors might have had for deliberately changing the facts in the story. Anything that has a motive for being changed cannot be used to refute the story's validity. For example, if the story incriminates the author, he might change facts to hide his identity.

In this story, the primary motive for falsification is to hide the author's identity in connection with the alleged crime of posessing and using the solid-fueled rocket ("JATO") described as having been acquired at a military surplus auction.

Possibly Falsified By Motive


"JATO", of course, is a real military acroynm. Solid-fuel rocket boosters for cargo transport planes were made throughout US involvement in World War II by the Aerojet corporation, and JATO for "Jet Assist Take Off" was the acronym they used. In trying to verify "M-23" I searched on "m-23 jet assist" and "jato m-23" and found:

It should also be noted that 23 is a psychologically random number which fits the theory that the number is an invented fiction.

Gratuitous Substantiation

One common feature of fabricated stories is extra bits that appear to have been included for no particlar reason except to make the story easier to believe.

mineshafts cave in

The author describes his recollection of the tendency of old mineshafts to cave in. This seems to help make the reader believe the result of the car's collision at the end of the story.

Inconsistencies Without Motive

The following points make the story appear to be inconsistent and therefore fabricated.

around four feet long, and less than a foot in diameter

The dimensions of the JATO allow one to calculate their energy output. The result is hard to believe, to say the least. If the author falsified the specs of the JATO, he probably would have described it as being smaller than it really is, rather than bigger.

Solid-fuel rockets contain fuel and oxidant and their output (thrust multiplied by burn time) is proportional to the mass of fuel and oxidant. The author specifically states that the JATO used ammonium perchlorate, the very same oxidizer used in the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, which I'll abbreviate "SRB". The idea that the JATOs, probably built for use during the Vietnam war, used the same fuel as the SRBs makes sense; the entire Shuttle design used technology available in the early 1970's. The SRBs each provide 1,200,000 kilograms or 12 million newtons of thrust (at sea level) with a burn time of about 140 seconds, or 1.68 billion newton-sec of energy. The SRB's were about 7100 cubic feet in size and weighed 1,300,000 pounds. Scaling down from the SRB's size to the JATO's size, we estimate the JATO's output at 740,000 newton-seconds, and weight at 575 pounds. Divide the thrust output by the rocket car's mass (about 1 metric ton) and we find that the JATO could have accelerated the car to a speed of 740 meters/sec, or 1654 miles per hour, Mach 2.2. Team Rocket Car would have heard a sonic boom.

To match the story, the car's speed would have had to be below the speed of sound (let's say 500 miles per hour) which makes the car's trip about 9 seconds (for the first mile to the brake actuator) and then another 18 seconds to the mine shaft. This doesn't really leave much time for running up the embankment before spotting the steam coming out.

The JATO's weight of 575 pounds agrees with the story, which says "it took two people to even budge the things". If the story is real, the JATO was definitely full of fuel.

over two MILLION sites listed as being Darwin-related

Of course, the author probably means two million sites, pages or matches, depending on what search engine he used; and his later claim that they're all related to the Darwin Awards and not Charles Darwin is just poetic license. But the number "2 million" is easy to check. Today, July 12th 2000, I got 333,116 hits for "Darwin" on Lycos, 286,410 on Alta Vista, and 326,000 in Google. These search engines are representative of the other search engines and almost certainly reflect the results the author would have gotten on any other engine. Furthermore, query hits on almost all search engines are increasing as the Internet expands; the rate is about double every year. The author says his search was conducted in 1998 (as shown below, it was most probably before June 1998). Therefore, if his "over 2 million" were true, then my search would now yield over 5 or 6 million results. So we're off by a factor of 10 or 20 there.

Verifed Facts (Supporting Story Validity)

The following points support the validity of the story.

ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) is real.

golf ball myth is a real myth, see here if you want to know why the liquid is there.

McDonald's worm myth

Yes, there is such a myth (it was new to me). The following is from Jill at

When asked about this, Ray Kroc, owner of McDonalds, responded, "We couldn't afford to grind worms into our meat. Hamburger costs a dollar and a half a pound, and night crawlers are six dollars." But notice he knew the price. You'd better hope the cost of worms doesn't go down.

John Pelligrino

An author using this name also wrote this article about The Man Show. The character of the author and the writing style seem to agree. Conveniently, the practice of bullshitting (making up wild but interesting or engaging stories) fits in quite well with the Man Show audience. The tagline states "John Pelligrino is a man who dabbles online and watches lots of TV. Maybe too much."

He also contributed his Rocket Darwin Fish image to this page showing pictures of many variations of the "Jesus fish emblem".

There was a big investigation documented on alt.folklore.urban, which concludes that John Pelligrino is the pen name of a "Myles Lannak". (There are more details and evidence in Google Groups, search on "John Pellegrino JATO rocket" and select "view thread".)


debunker "Road Runner" quote

The debunker's quote does not exist anymore on the internet, at least not in the form the cardhouse author quoted. The author probably either made up or substantially changed the quote. The closest match I found was "Maybe it's the Wile E. Coyote-ness of it all" on this page.

However, in looking for this quote I stumbled on several dead links to an earlier copy of the cardhouse story, here. From its URL the webpage owner appears to be someone named Eric with an account on TEISprint, a local ISP in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA area. The page was quoted:

There were also several links on bookmark-list pages (the typical "my long list of links" things people put on their home pages), for which dates could not be determined. It seems clear that the story came out during or after June 1998, because the author mentions 1998 right near the beginning, and near the middle goes into some detail describing how long it took him to write (where he mentions April, May and June). There's no reason he would have put these dates in if he posted the story to the Internet prior to June 1998, because it would have been such an obvious inconsistency.

"heater assembly" = smoke grenades

— cannot verify.

return any "explosive, ordnance, fuse, detonator, ..."

Cannot verify this. All the forms signed by civilian bidders at military auctions are available online (start here) but there is not (as of the last few years, at least) any such wording anywhere that I could find. There is, however a description of how the government classifies and disables munitions before sale:

[code C]: MLI (SME). Remove and/or demilitarize installed key point(s) as prescribed in DoD 4160.21-M-1. Defense Demilitarization Manual, or lethal parts, components and accessories.

[code D]: MLI (SME). Total destruction of item and components so as to preclude restoration or repair to a usable condition by melting, cutting, tearing, scratching, crushing, breaking, punching, neutralizing, etc.

Nevertheless, although the words quoted in the cardhouse story appear only in copies of the cardhouse story, things may well have been different back in 1978.

something like 2,500 pounds of thrust

2500 pounds of thrust is 11,000 newtons, but if the burn time was 2.2 seconds, by the estimate calculated above the thrust would have been 336,000 newtons. Jerry's estimate was off by a factor of 30.

steam coming from "under the car"

At a distance of one mile there was no way he would see that the steam came from "under" the car. We assume this was a post hoc fallacy — the author saw steam, and figured out that the steam would have to be coming from "under", and therefore he thinks he actually saw that it came from "under" the car.

topography of the test-run site

As you know from reading the story, there is a mine entrance at one end of a 2-mile, straight and level run of narrow-gauge railroad track, near a road, and you have to go uphill to get from the track to the road in two places:

"Jimmy walked down the slope and stopped in front of the boards we'd re-nailed over the entrance": The road is close to the mine entrance.

"We all ran up the slope to get out of the artificial fogbank": The road is close to the launch site, 2 miles from the mine entrance.

Clearly the story is saying that there is a road and a track running parallel in a straight line for two miles, with the road higher than the tracks at two points (and possibly for the entire 2 mile stretch). That's not hard to believe. The problem is that, at the end of this two mile stretch of rail, the ground suddenly rises quickly enough so that the tracks can lead straight into a tunnel without any intervening grade transition, retaining walls, etc. Such topographical features are rare, and the story's use of such a feature increases the likelihood that the topography is fabricated rather than real. Consider: most tunnel or mine entrances have a grade transition with retaining walls. But if the JATO car crashed into one of those, the wreck would not be in plain view — the retaining walls would hide it.

This makes it seem likely that the details of the topography and "cave-in" event were designed to make the end result (car sticking out of a cliff) coincide closely with the simple "urban legend" version it quotes. It seems that the cardhouse author deliberately constructed the topography and events of his longer story to agree with the wreck's appearance as described in the urban legend, rather than simply discrediting the urban-legend version as having been altered or invented.

getpos and setpos

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If you are using the routines fgetpos and fsetpos and notice that they aren't working correctly, it might be because you have mixed fileno calls with FILE * calls in the same program. Here is an example:

FILE * infile; int in_no; long count; char buf[100]; int err; off_t pos;    infile = fopen("foo", "r"); /* FILE */ in_no = fileno(infile);    /* Read 100 bytes */ count = 100; read(in_no, &buf, count); /* fileno */    /* Go back 10 bytes */ err = fgetpos(infile, &pos); /* FILE */ pos -= 10; err = fsetpos(infile, &pos); /* FILE */    /* And read some more */ count = 100; read(in_no, &buf, count); /* fileno */

It is surprising (and perhaps frustrating) that you cannot mix the two types of calls. The reason it's frustrating is that neither set of calls allows all types of operations to be performed. For example, there is no FILE * version of ioctl, and no fileno version of fsetpos (lseek is different because it has a more complicated interface).

In the example above, the second read will not re-read 10 bytes from the end of the first read plus 90 new bytes, but will instead read 100 new bytes.

The reason is that the read call has a buffer and its own file position pointer which is not updated by the fsetpos. More precisely: a fsetpos will only affect the file position of read if the fsetpos moves to a position outside the block that is currently buffered by read, and calls to read do not cause any change to the pointer that you get when you do a fgetpos.

If you want code like this to work, you have to either use all FILE * calls or all fileno calls. Here is the above code, fixed by using all FILE * calls:

FILE * infile; long count; char buf[100]; int err; fpos_t pos;    infile = fopen("foo", "r"); /* FILE */    /* Read 100 bytes */ count = 100; fread(&buf, 1, count, infile); /* FILE */    /* Go back 10 bytes */ err = fgetpos(infile, &pos); /* FILE */ pos -= 10; err = fsetpos(infile, &pos); /* FILE */    /* And read some more */ count = 100; fread(&buf, 1, count, infile); /* FILE */

And here it is using all fileno calls:

int in_no; long count; char buf[100]; int err; off_t pos;    in_no = open("foo", O_RDONLY); /* fileno */    /* Read 100 bytes */ count = 100; read(in_no, &buf, count); /* fileno */    /* Go back 10 bytes */ pos = lseek(in_no, 0, SEEK_CUR); /* fileno */ pos -= 10; lseek(in_no, pos, SEEK_SET); /* fileno */    /* And read some more */ count = 100; read(in_no, &buf, count); /* fileno */

Why are there two sets of routines? Each offers its own advantages:

Here is a fairly complete table of the routines, which should help you if you're used to one set of routines and decide you'd like to use the other.

Operation system call(s)
(using FILE *)
C library call(s)
(using fileno)
open/create/append open(2), creat(2) fopen(3), fdopen(3)
close close(2) fclose(3)
read a block of data read(2) fread(3)
write a block of data write(2) fwrite(3)
flush written output fsync(2) fflush(3)
control buffering setvbuf(3)
get/set position lseek(2) fseek(3), ftell(3), rewind(3)
fgetpos(3), fsetpos(3)
set options fcntl(2), ioctl(2)
get directory info stat(2)
delete unlink(2)

Old British monetary system

pence written called usage and notes
0.25 1/4d farthing before Edward I, this was usually a penny cut into four pieces; farthing coin discontinued in 1956
0.5 1/2d half penny, ha'penny until Edward I this was usually a penny cut in half; ha'penny coin discontinued in 1971
1 1d penny penny coin discontinued in 1971
2 2d two pence, tuppence 2d coin was made briefly in the 18th century
3 3d three pence, threpney bit 3d coin was silver until 1944, then brass; discontinued in 1971
3.75 33/4d thruppence three farthing
4 4d groats coin made for large part of 19th century
4.5 41/2d fourpence-ha'penny
6 6d sixpence, tanner 6d coin discontinued in 1971
12 1s shilling, bob shilling coin discontinued in 1971
24 2/- or 2s two shillings, two bob, florin florin is 1/10 of a ppound, issued in 1849 to begin transition to decimal money system; florin coin discontinued in 1971
30 2s6d half crown coin discontinued in 1971
48 4s double florin coin made briefly in late 19th century
57 4s9d dollar re-struck Spanish or American dollar, worth 4s9d because of their weight in silver
60 5s crown
65 5s3d quarter guinea coin made up until George III
100 8/4 or 8s4d eight and fourpence
120 10s half sovereign,
ten bob
gold coin,
bank note
130 10s6d half-guinea coin made up until George III
240 £1 pound, sovereign, quid "quid" for "pound" in use 1688-present. "sovereign" for "coin valued at £1" in use 1817-present.
260 21s or £1 1s guinea "guinea" for "coin valued at 21s" in use 1717-1832. Used in auctions (buyer pays 7 guineas, seller gets 7 pounds, auctioneer keeps the difference of 7 shillings)
286 22s6d sovereign (obs.) "sovereign" for "coin valued at 22s" in use 1503-1660
480 £2 two pounds
520 £2 2s double guinea
1200 £5 five pounds


The Oxford English Dictionary

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