Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of

« | Main | »

The Do Nothing Machine

Do Nothing Machine

The most oddball exhibit at the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, Carlsbad, California, is its Do Nothing Machine, a gear-punk marvel of inventor obsession. If you take the tour of the museum’s workshop, you’ll probably get to see it run… if it’s not broken.

Designed and built starting in the late 1940s over the course of seven years, Lawrence Wahlstrom of Los Angeles built an insanely complex contraption. It contains 764 gears and elements. Though it has been labeled at times as a “Flying Saucer Detector,” its complete lack of purpose has made the other name stick.

Do Nothing MachineTour guide and master machinist Dave Belt extols the virtues of this one-of-kind gizmo. It’s driven by three motors, one extracted from an old slot machine.

The center of the Do Nothing Machine, hidden behind layers of belts and gears is part of a World War II Norden Bombsight.

It’s not exactly miniature in the sense of the other machines at the museum, but it is a marvel of excruciatingly elaborate mechanics. A posted fact sheet informs: “The three electrically powered motive forces are gravitationally free, non-syncronal, trapezoidal seclusion wound and in the Delta configuration.”

In case you were wondering.

Dave shows us a round gear driving a square gear driving an oval gear. Then he uses his always handy yellow pencil acts as a pathway for our eyes to arrive at the wonders within the Do Nothing Machine. “There’s a sprocket, with no axle, that stays in the same place.”

Someone has to keep the Do Nothing Machine running, and that duty seems to fall on Dave. In the course of a year, “it’s broken down about a dozen times,” he told us. He’s managed to coax it back to 100% pointlessness each time, to the delight of museum visitors.

Do Nothing Machine

Sections: Places 3 Comments » Team Field Report

Craftsmanship Museum: Tiny Machines

Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum

3190 Lionshead Ave., Carlsbad, CA
Southeast of town. From I-5 take the exit for S21/Palomar Airport Rd. Drive east five miles. At the stoplight turn left onto S. Melrose Drive. At the next stoplight turn right onto Lionshead Ave. Drive a quarter-mile. You'll see the building on the left, #3190.
Th-Sa 9 to 4. Demos 10, 12, 2. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

3 Responses to “The Do Nothing Machine”

  1. John Baker Says:
    August 4th, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Hmm. Insanely complicated, prone to frequent breakdowns and does nothing. Perhaps they should call it ‘Congress.’

  2. Paul C Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Nicely played, Mr. Baker, you win.

  3. molly kj Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Indeed. Mr Baker could amend the comment to read “call it the u.s. government” and he would be just as accurate.

Recent Posts


March 30, 2023

My Sights

My Sights on Roadside America

Create and Save Your Own Crazy Road Trip! ...Try My Sights

Mobile Apps

Roadside America app: iPhone, iPad Roadside America app for iPhone, iPad. On-route maps, 1,000s of photos, special research targets! ...More

Roadside Presidents app: iPhone, iPad Roadside Presidents app for iPhone, iPad. POTUS landmarks, oddities. ...More

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

Abe Lincoln Meets Perry Como, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Mar 27-Apr 2, 2023)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings