Rattlesnakes and Poison Ivy Add to Canadian Adventure

by Ralph Martone
September 2011

While not quite Indiana Jones, a recent Canadian adventure took me through several hidden obstacles to make a unique discovery.

A late July trip to the Pennsylvania Club located in the Ten Thousand Island region of Ontario's Georgian Bay was going to be my last hurrah before undergoing knee replacement surgery in early August. Little did I know that several interesting events would conspire to change those plans.

No visit to the Pennsylvania Club would be complete without a discussion of one-time caretaker, John Cloarec. John lived his whole life among the islands that makes up the eastern shore of Georgian Bay.

While some of these islands are not much bigger than your house and consist of a just a large rock or two, other islands, like Pennsylvania Island stretch nearly a mile end to end.

Growing up in this remote region John Cloarec had to be both resourceful and inventive. The long winters spent alone in his small cabin gave John time to think up interesting projects, one of which was to build a perpetual motion machine.

The concept behind a perpetual motion machine is a device that would create enough energy to keep it running indefinitely. Unfortunately for John the fundamental rules of physics make the idea of perpetual motion, at least here on earth, impossible. Some form of resistance, usually friction, uses up too much of the energy produced, eventually requiring additional energy be added to the system or the whole thing eventually grinds to a stop.

Despite the fact that John Cloarec died of a presumed heart attack in the mid-1980's as he walked from one remote cabin to another on the mid-winter ice, his perpetual motion machine remains nearly intact in a small wooden shed hidden in the Canadian wilderness. Rumor has it John's body was ravaged by wolves before being found later in the spring. But that is another story.

Being a physics teacher made seeing John Cloarec's perpetual motion machine even more appealing. Fortunately, New Castle resident and Pennsylvania Cub member, Bill Devido made a trip to Cloarec's cabin in May and agreed to act as our guide.

Our small group had no sooner landed on the island than a problem arose. Unused for several decades there was no longer any sign of a walkway, path or even a faint trail leading to our destination. Undeterred, we forged ahead only to find ourselves pushing through dense underbrush.

A few hundred yards into the nearly impenetrable tangle, a new set of problems arose when our intrepid group, wearing sandals and flip-flops, realized we were hiking through an area that is home to the Massasauga rattlesnake. To add insult to injury, a few minutes later while watching our every step for snakes, we realized we were wading through a carpet of poison ivy.

Undeterred, our guide led us to several old shacks, none of which housed the perpetual motion machine we sought, before admitting that everything on the island looked different in May when there were no leaves on the trees.

Finally, after retracing our steps, we reached our objective. Tucked away in a small wooden shack was John Cloarec's perpetual motion machine.

Consisting of a large wooden wheel resting a top a smaller wooden wheel, the device was based on the displacement of water to operate. A series of bladders on the outer rim of the wheel were connected by tubing to corresponding bladders on the opposite side of the wheel. As the wheel turned a bladder would be compressed between the two wheels forcing the water inside the bladder through a tube to a second bladder located high on the wheel. The newly filled bladder added weight to the top of the wheel causing it to rotate. It was ingenious and even more amazing when you consider where it was located and who built it.

A few pictures and our group made a mad dash for the boats. The race to the showers proved fruitless when within the next few days one explorer after another began to show signs of poison ivy.

Back at home a visit to my family doctor confirmed my fears, my knee replacement surgery would have to be postponed until my lower legs return to a more normal appearance.

perpetual motion machine