Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I expect surprises on a bike ride in Madison, but this siege engine in Vilas Park was a first for me

Our ride took us through Vilas Park, and this rickety-looking structure was visible from a distance as we approached. I couldn't figure out what it was. And then the word flashed unbidden into my mind, a forgotten memory resurfacing: "Is that a trebuchet?" I asked. Indeed it was, they acknowledged. I don't know who was more surprised -- the builders, that a passer-by had known the word; or I, that I had remembered the word.

A trebuchet is a kind of catapult that was used as a powerful siege engine in medieval times. They could be highly destructive, and actually continued to be used after the introduction of gunpowder in the West, partly because they were more accurate than the primitive cannons of the time. The reason I knew the word was that I once saw a great episode of NOVA about the building of a full-size trebuchet (their website includes a slideshow and other information).

WingraBridge-smThe light was quickly fading, and the trebuchet launch crew seemed to have quite a bit of work left. I wished we could stay for the first launch, but it looked as if it would take awhile, so we pushed on so we could look at the incredible light on Lake Wingra and Wingra Creek (click on photo to enlarge in Flickr).

1 comment:

Nataraj Hauser said...

I'd love a follow up report on the success of the trebuchet if you ever get one. I once built a catapault, with the help of 3-4 other clever Boy Scouts, and our very first shot broke a racing scull in two with a water balloon (it was coming down from about 100' up in the air). We destroyed the evidence much faster than we built it. Shhh! Don't tell anyone.