An Experiment With Grocery Carts

Recently, I had cause to remember an incident from my childhood. Well, adolescence, anyway. I would have been around fifteen or sixteen, and got into an argument with my friends about the maximum possible speed of a grocery cart. After several hours (and consumption of considerable beer), we concluded that the only way to find out for certain was to test the hypothesis.

This led to several of us pushing each other around in grocery carts in the parking lot of the local grocery store at 1 a.m. After a half hour or so of this, we concluded that drunk people couldn’t really push grocery carts fast enough to really challenge the chassis. An external power source was required.

We got hold of fifty feet of rope and tied a grocery cart to the back of Loopy’s pickup for towing. The first field test showed that grocery carts will easily flip at under fifteen miles an hour or so when they hit a bump.

This set off another argument. Lightnin’ concluded that grocery carts simply weren’t meant to go very fast, whereas Candy argued that a laden grocery cart would be far more stable. This, of course, meant that someone would have to ride in the thing in order to test the new theory.

Lightnin’, of course, felt that Candy should have the honor, whereas Loopy was more than willing to do it himself. I wasn’t that drunk, and declined. It was Weeble (who wobbled, but didn’t fall down) that noticed the big stack of bags of fertilizer outside the grocery store. Surely, there was a safer way of weighing down a grocery cart…?

We promptly loaded 150 pounds, three bags, into the cart (there was again some argument as to precisely how much should be used) and hit the highway.

Oddly enough, grocery carts handle remarkably well at high speeds. They aren’t aerodynamic, but their metal mesh construction minimizes wind resistance and effects. Unfortunately, their extremely low wheelbase and lack of shock absorption more than makes up for this; we increased speed in increments of five miles an hour, and the cart totally lost it at 45 mph.

We also learned that fifty-pound bags of fertilizer all but vaporize when they hit pavement at 45 mph. Everyone looked at Loopy, who shrugged. The grocery cart was completely intact, though, although its plastic handle cover had shattered at some point.

Loopy and Weeble felt that the point had been made, and that more beer should be obtained. Candy, Lightnin’, and I, though, agreed that one road test did not a theory make. The test should be repeated at least twice more, preferably with a couple of different carts to change the variables, and the results observed and recorded.

We compromised, and went back for more carts and fertilizer after obtaining another case of beer.

We must have destroyed thirty bags of fertilizer, and we rendered at least one shopping cart utterly fubar. We learned that the redline velocity for a shopping cart carrying 150 lbs. of dead weight is around 40-45 mph, though; the fastest we ever got one going was 50 mph, and they ALWAYS ate it as soon as they hit any kind of bump or crack in the road at that speed.

Testing was facilitated by Loopy’s obsession with getting one up to the highway speed limit before it flipped (55 back then, kiddies!). We never did, but not for lack of trying.

The experiment ended shortly before dawn. We still had beer left, and were more than willing to keep going, but it was then that, during the last road test, Loopy slammed on the brakes at 40 mph to avoid hitting a skunk.

The cart, on the other hand, had no brakes. It hit the tailgate going 40 and flipped totally over the top of the pickup. One of the bags of fertilizer flew out and slapped Candy to the back of the cab, knocking him cold (although we weren’t sure he was conscious before the fertilizer landed on him; he had had quite a bit to drink, and was something of a lightweight). One of the other bags hit the hood and exploded, covering the windshield with dirt.

The third didn’t quite land on the skunk. It would have been better for Loopy’s truck if it had, though. Startled skunks aren’t good company.

We pulled over to assess the damage and tend the wounded. Candy was all right, although he had to spit out a mouthful of fertilizer to tell us so. No one else was hurt. The back of the cab was dented where Candy’s head had hit it. The front of the hood was dented where the fertilizer had hit it. The whole truck was redolent of the skunk’s opinion. The skunk was fine, by the way; I’d seen him jump, spin, spray, and run like hell (almost all simultaneously) when the bag of fertilizer exploded next to him.

The shopping cart looked like an art collaboration between Picasso and M.C. Escher.

Loopy was madder than hell about his truck. The dents didn’t bother him; he considered them badges of honor – but the stench of skunk irritated him no end. “I shooda just ran the little &%$#@ down,” he growled.

Lightnin’ consoled him with the fact that the skunk was covered with fertilizer, and therefore probably felt much the same way; after all, that skunk wasn’t going to be very popular with the other skunks, smelling of cowshit, now, was he?

…and after we peeled Loopy off of Lightnin’, we decided that the experiment was at an end. It was almost dawn, after all.

…and now, I am old, and I go no more drunkenly roving into the night, which is probably a good thing. This stunt wouldn’t work these days; grocery stores and department stores have video cameras staring at the parking lot all night, and certainly someone would have thought to check them after noticing the near-disappearance of a huge pile of fertilizer bags… and if that hadn’t tipped them off, the badly bent shopping cart would have.

Sure, we took it back. We were good boys.

…and sure, some of you are staring in horror at this testament… thinking about your own teenage boys, or the fact that they can get up to such devilment… but it also occurs to me that while we did get up to this kind of devilment and worse, none of us ever shot up a school… is there a connection, y’think?

Does make me wonder what we might have tried if there’d been anything like “Jackass” on TV, though…

Well, we’ll just chalk this up to “Boys will be boys.”

Just wondering why so were out at 1am and drinking beer at the age of 15 or 16.:confused:

My armchair solution to minimize the flipping is to tie two carts together side by side, or even to have four carts in a square formation tightly lashed together. With 150 lbs of ballast in each, I wager you could easily reach highway speeds.

I’ve gotta go find me a pickup truck.

…now why didn’t WE think of that?

And Honey… um… well… maybe we can chalk it up to “No MTV, CNN, or Internet to keep us out of trouble”… hell, it was a little teeny town out in the middle of nowhere. What else WAS there to do?

Oh, and it was Texas, so beer consumption was pretty much mandatory…

I’m really surprised you managed to pull this stunt off in the middle of the night without at least one cop going past during this activity. Did you live in a fairly small town at the time?

A friend of mine did something like this in high school, though I wasn’t there to see it. He said that he had pushed a shopping cart with his car and got it up to about 50 mph before slowing down and watching the cart continue on its own. slamming into a utility pole. Whether or not he actually got it that fast I don’t know (Wang-Ka’s findings lead me to believe that my friend was exaggerating about the speed) , but I wish I had been there to record the event on video.

Looks like you answered my question about the town you lived in at the time while I was busy composing my reply. I’m still curious about how you did it without a policeman catching you guys. I’d been worried shitless looking for cops the whole time if I’d been out doing this with my friends.

I suppose it might have been possible, if the car pushing had an especially low wheelbase. I wouldn’t have wanted to try it in a pickup or something, not unless I wanted to see what running over and crushing a grocery cart would do to my suspension and exhaust system.

And yes, I lived in a teeeeeeny little town, with nothing around for miles except other teeeeeny little towns. DUI was not considered a crime by myself and my peers, so much as it was a participatory sport.

When two friends of mine accidentally waxed themselves doing something like this my junior year, we radically rewrote our views on it. We didn’t give up drinking, but we did consider the idea that getting killed would kind of suck. Or, even worse, surviving and discovering that you’d killed someone ELSE.

It was around this time we discovered that “deer hunting” made a fine excuse to go out with camping gear and get roaring drunk…

There may also be some success in lashing carts together in a different way than a 4 square set up.

Put one cart wheels down on the ground. Lash another to the top of it with the wheels in the air. Then lash one cart to each side of the 2 cart set up, all with the wheels pointing out.

This should create a Leviathan-like cart monster that should, in theory have 4 wheels on the ground regardless of what flipping occurs due to dips and bumps.

Also, based on how the carts are lashed together, the ballast is likely to stay in place since all of the openings of the carts are sealed off by other carts. In this instance, you could potentially use human ballast and stay relatively safe. You could certainly use manure and perhaps affix a video camera or two to the cart interior.

I’m just glad to hear people refer to them properly as “carts”, and not “buggies” like they do here in a certain part of the South.

“Y’all wanna buggy fer yer groceries?”

“Uh no, I don’t think the horse can negotiate the produce section. I’ll just use a cart instead, thanks.”

Now if we could only get our hands on one of them JATO rocket thingies. Screw highway speeds, I’m thinking about Earth escape velocity.

Any such ride would probably be nasty, brutish, and short.

That’s what wind tunnel tests and the liberal application of pillows are for.

I’m afraid you’re a bit short of the world speed record for a shopping cart, which is 719.137 mph*.

  • This particular shopping cart features two Rolls-Royce Spey engines producing a combined total of 100,000lbs of thrust force and has forged metal-alloy wheels.

Heh. Yeah, that’s how it is here. Actually many people here use the words “buggy” and “basket” interchangably.

Me: So, wait, you call the cart a basket?

Wife: Yeah.

Me: So, what do you call the little plastic basket you carry around when you’re only planning to buy a few things?

Wife: Oh, well, that’s a basket, too.

Me: How do you differentiate between the two when talking about them?

Wife: You just do.

Jpeg, if we had had a grocery cart with forged alloy wheels, perhaps we could have made a better showing.

I doubt we would have gone in for a grocery cart with an engine of any sort though. Y’shouldn’t mess around with engines when you’re drunk. Can be dangerous, you know…

Isn’t science a wonderful thing? :smiley:

Ummm…I did this. Only about 6 years ago. Actually, we were often able to get into bars, and we’d be there til closing at 3am. Not-so-small-town Quebec, although alcohol is a lot less taboo here (I’m in Quebec now, ignore my location tag!) than it is in other places, like Ontario (IME).

Sounds like a fun time, although I don’t know if any of my friends would have dared drink and drive…that was ingrained in us, I guess!

Call it “bad examples.” It was the seventies, and it was deep south Texas. We knew any NUMBER of people who thought it was fun to get good and tanked and go for a spin.

At least until those two chums of mine died.

Kind of an “end of an era” thing.

A good thing, though. A couple of years later, I graduated and left town and went to go live in a college town where there were actual cops… and they took DUI a hell of a lot more seriously…

There was a grocery store by my house years ago that had a ditch running next to the parking lot so I was careful to park pointed at the ditch, when I checked out I pushed the cart out to the truck and after emptying it I would put it in front of the truck, being careful to line it up and put it against the front end.
I would get rolling towards the ditch, speed up and jump on the brakes, the cart would head for the ditch at about a million MPH (speed estimated) and do spectacular flips into the ditch off of the car stops at the front of the spaces.
judging from the pile o’ carts in the ditch I was not the only one doing this.

unclviny (who used to be “one of those idiots”)