Big Visions Require Big Buildings

Rob and several of his coworkers could trace their engineering career track back to their first encounter with the Rube Goldberg project. This was the project where they were required to design a machine to complete a simple task in as many complicated steps as possible. The original Rube Goldberg, who was an engineer before he became obsessed with cartooning, believed that humans preferred the circuitous route to achieve simple results. It did seem odd that Rube won a Pulitzer Prize for cartoons when he was really an engineer, but numerous world geniuses are weird that way.

Rob’s first Rube Goldberg project was a machine for spraying cheese on a cracker. It involved steel marbles, suspended ski goggles, a brick covered in aluminum foil and various levers and pulleys that eventually launched spray cheese across the room or onto a cracker that someone was holding. The cheese spraying machine was a big hit. It was carted around to various gatherings where it was usually the life of the party. Though party hosts tended to be less thrilled than party goers because the spray cheese and crackers did not always connect on the first try.

Don’t Be So Cheesy

At some point Rob lost track of the Rube Goldberg competition though he occasionally saw the winners on late night television. Then all of a sudden he took note that his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin – Stout had won the 2010 Rube Goldberg contest in which the objective was to dispense hand sanitizer. It was a long way from the spray cheese but definitely appropriate for the times. The Stout team constructed a system with 120 steps, using an Egyptian theme. It was especially thrilling that this was their first year and they edged out last year’s winner, St Olaf College.

Word is already out that the 2011 Rube Goldberg challenge will be, “Watering a Plant.” All of which set Rob’s brains in motion. Could he assemble a team and enter the contest? Just how many steps could he add? The minimum number of steps was 20 and the rules required that the team should either be high school or college students. But Rob could be an advisor. Already he was thinking of reviving the spray cheese contraption and adapting it to the task.

As usual Rob would eventually conclude that the best way to work on a fantastic and magical Rube Goldberg machine would be in his very own Sherman Pole Building. And then he thought again. What if someone took the Rube Goldberg approach to erecting a pole building? Of course, this was not one of Rob’s brighter ideas because at Sherman, the buildings don’t require a complicated set of maneuvering. They are known for the fast, efficient and economical approach. But Sherman would be happy to build a pole building for Rob.