Working out of a school bus in Twentynine Palms, CA, Jocko Johnson is feverishly sorting out the prototype of something he calls the PoweRRing 3-cycle, an engine which has very few moving parts, a remarkably petite cubic inch displacement and, according to Jocko, is capable of both serious power and tremendous fuel economy. It is completely revolutionary and the size of a crock pot.
It is nanotechnology as applied to an internal combustion engine. It could change the automobile as we know it.
Twice I attempt to interview Jocko for a feature article I was doing on him for HOT ROD Magazine; the first time the ’71 Grand Prix overheats while stuck in a traffic jam just west of Pomona. I am forced to use the pay phone from a hamburger stand on Foothill Boulevard as I sheepishly explain to Jocko why I couldn’t make it to his shop in Twentynine Palms, California. Here he was, building an experimental radial motor with very few moving parts (no crankshaft, no connecting rods, no pushrods) and I was pulled over on the side of the surface street with a temperature gauge cooked to 12 o clock and steam pouring out of the radiator’s catch can.
(In a V-8 engine, Jocko tells me later, one cylinder does work, while the other 7 work against it. No wonder it overheats… )
The next week, before traffic gets bad, I try again.
The dirt roads to Jocko’s crib in the desert are wide open vistas, the kind of roads that seem to confirm the existence of the mysteries and magnetism of the desert. Even the paved roads have very few motorists, and even fewer state troopers. The kind of road the clears the mind and senses of any sclerotic gunk. Invigoration.
I pass a couple of county highways that ultimately shadow the perimeter of the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. On the northern border of the Marine Base, a couple or three coyote howls from Jocko’s digs, a cat named George Van Tassel built — “through the guidance of other worlders” — the “Integratron,” a high energy electrostatic machine designed to recharge the DNA of a person (i.e. stop the aging process). The local Chamber of Commerce describes it as a “time machine for research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel.” The structure is four stories high and 55 feet in diameter and is thought by some to be “a very powerful vortex for physical and spiritual healing.” From the 1950s to the 70s, the Integratron was the site of an annual “Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention” and became famous as the site of Van Tassel’s “Spaceport Earth.”
As I kick up some dust on a dirt road on the perimeter of the military base, I think to myself that out on the perimeter of hell’s half-acre, there is certainly ample room to stretch out and improvise. I was then buzzed by a below-the-radar F-4 Fighter. FFFFFWHHOOOSSSHHH!!! I haven’t even arrived at the mad alchemists and my senses are already overwhelmed by free-form Teutonic theater in the desert.
Jocko shows me the mock up of his new streamliner, the Spirit of 29 Palms, a name he had just come up with. “This town needs some local pride,” he says.
The mock-up is a set of contoured bulbs with a needle-thin fuselage bridging the two sections. I point at one end. “The driver goes here?” I ask. “NO, the engine goes there,” he says. We walk to the other end. “The driver goes here, then?” “Exactly,” Jocko answers with pride. “C’mon, let me show you the PoweRRing.”
We migrate towards a school bus.
“Current engine design,” he says as we walk towards the bus, “derives from a steam engine built in 1705; it was the first engine to use a crankshaft to convert reciprocal motion into rotary motion and pass it along through various gearboxes and transfer devices.” I nod my head. “This system is obsolete in light of new knowledge.” I cock an eyebrow. “Since high torque is inherent in my three-cycle engine design, the engine would be placed right next to the wheel, with no gear reduction except for a reverser. This engine is very compact, shaped like a wheel and no wider than a standard auto wheel. It leaves a lot of space inside a car for other things.”
Jocko’s PoweRRing 3 Cycle has eighteen small cylinders arranged around a twelve-lobe cam wheel. Combustion occurs in one set of six cylinders after another, with the pistons exerting force on the cam-wheel, causing it to move. For every 360 degrees of rotation, there are 216 ignition firings, with six cylinders firing simultaneously every ten degrees of rotation.
He says he like the idea of a radial engines because it would have the lightest weight per cubic inch and they are easiest engines to cool. (“Amen to that,” I think to myself.) Capitalizing on the concept of circular ignition, Jocko’s engine is a radial, but with a cam operating the pistons and minus any connecting rods or crankshaft.
As we talk a military helicopter on maneuvers flies over us with two or three guys in uniform hanging on a ladder. SCHUTTT-SCHUTTT-SCHUTTT-SCHUTTT-SCHUTTT-SCHUTTT... Jocko doesn’t even look up.