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Handcar Regatta's crazy contraptions

  • Eric Acuna, left, and race coordinator Daniel Nicholas compete during the Great Handcar Regatta in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, September 25, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

They wore silk bustiers and leather boots, carried parasols and copper, space-age pistols, showed off thigh-high stockings and brass mono-goggles, and cheered wildly as crazy contraptions raced — sometimes careened — down old railroad tracks.

The steampunk-themed Handcar Regatta festival again took over Railroad Square on Sunday. It drew thousands of people into the historic West End neighborhood, coloring it in a sort of turn-of-the-century-inspired irreverence.

"It's a dreamed-of future from the past that doesn't exist," said Rain Thibaudeaux, 54, of San Francisco, trying to capture the essence of steampunk.

2011 Great Handcar Regatta

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"It's kind of Victorian with a modern aspect. It's weird," said Luke Mott, 11, of Santa Rosa.

Whatever it is, it was an event anchored by its racing machines, 26 muscle-powered inventions that seemed both cobbled together from scavenged materials and works of mad-eyed mechanical genius.

What was the name of that low-slung sled-like affair with a silvery tortoise head and reddish shell?

"You'll have to ask the engineer," said Adam Burns, 38, a Healdsburg tattoo artist, who painted it.

But the engineer, a large man in overalls, stepped away and disappeared into the crowd, estimated at about 12,000 by Ty Jones, the event's co-founder.

The handcar's tortoise shell was fiberglass; the ribs, insulation foam; the rivets — about 150 of them — peppermint candies covered with fiberglass and painted to resemble metal.

"I just wanted it to look like a submarine, Jules Verne-inspired," said Burns, whose handlebar mustache was curled to pin-sharp points.


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