Shopping Carts That Aren't Shopping Carts

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When is a shopping cart not a shopping cart? When it's a car, a work of art, a mobile farm, or a piece of furniture. Here are some ways that creative folks have thought outside the cart corral when it comes to the typical grocery basket on wheels.

A Grocery-Getter That Can Really Get Groceries

Of course the original intention was for shopping carts to carry food, but some folks have adapted them to carry more precious cargo – people. Charles Guan, an MIT student, took an old cart and gave it new life in the form of his LOLrioKart, named in homage to the classic series of Nintendo games, Mario Kart. Watching the videos as he zips around MIT's campus, powered using rechargeable batteries and an electric motor capable of 12 HP, the only thing missing are turtle shells, banana peels, and Yoshi.

But that's kid stuff compared to Britain's Andy Tyler and his rocket-powered shopping cart. In 2004, Tyler pulled an old "trolley" from a river, spent £50 on some scrap wheels, brakes, and a steering wheel, then strapped it to a homemade jet engine that he cobbled together from instructions he got off the internet. The cart can reach up to 50mph before it gets too unstable to control, but that's ok, because it runs out of gas in about two minutes anyway. Tyler has said, "People think I'm off my trolley, but it's exhilarating." No argument on the first part, Andy, but we'll just take your word on the second part if that's ok.

Tyler's cart is impressive, but it's not really practical, especially if you actually needed to carry food. For that chore, nothing beats Rodney Rucker and his 16-foot tall, V8-powered cart.

While not the only giant motorized shopping cart in the world, his is the only one that seats 6 comfortably in the basket, with another person behind the wheel in the kid's seat. This cart can cruise along at 60mph, so getting to the store and running errands is no problem at all. Just don't expect it to fit through the Starbucks drive-through on your way home.

If the motorized ones are a little too fast for your style, there's always the "cartrider," a shopping cart with its own built-in pedals and handlebars, by Korean artist Jaebeom Jeong.

Kickstart My Cart

While there's no Shopping Cart 500 just yet, if it has wheels, there's bound to be someone who will race it. And shopping carts are no exception.

The biggest shopping cart race is the Idiotarod, an urban endurance race inspired by the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. Except here, the sleds are shopping carts and the dogs are (usually inebriated) humans. The race was started in San Francisco in the mid-90s, but has since spread to cities all across the country, including Chicago, New York, Denver, Portland, L.A., and even our nation's capital. The race is less a race and more of a bar crawl, as the "dawgs" make their way from checkpoint bar to checkpoint bar by whatever route they choose, dressed in outlandish costumes, tied to their equally absurdly dressed carts. Part of the fun of the race is trying to sabotage each other's chances along the way with roadblocks, misinformation, and even dirty pool, like sticking your foot out as the competition runs by. While not the original intention, many Idiotarods now have an element of charity to go along with the fun. For example, at the 2010 Chiditarod in Chicago, each of 120 teams had to have at least 40 pounds of canned goods in their cart as they crossed the finish line. In all, the event brought in 14,525 pounds of food for local charities. But there are also plenty of fun prizes to be had by racers, who can win in categories ranging from 1st Place, Best Sabotage, Best Team Concept, and Dead F**king Last.

For Idiotarod racers, their shopping cart grand prix is a fun, one-day event. But for some, racing carts has become a way of life. The documentary film Carts of Darkness by Murray Siple tells the story of homeless men who turn their shopping carts full of recyclables into screaming hunks of metal and plastic, reaching speeds of 40mph as they go careening down the steep mountain roads of North Vancouver. With no brakes, no steering wheel, and nothing to lose, these daredevils find a thrill that many of us who live a "normal" life would never have the guts to even try. You can check out the whole film online thanks to the National Film Board of Canada, but the following YouTube clip will give you a sample of the excitement.

Old MacDonald Had a Cart

Thanks to the recent emphasis on locally grown produce and organic farming, many urbanites are looking for ways to grow their own food. But rooftop gardens aren't always allowed, and you can only get so much food out of a windowsill flower box. So the folks at Set and Drift, a design collective based out of San Diego, are trying to make urban farming more realistic with their Farm Proper project. The group takes abandoned or retired shopping carts and turns them into mobile, temporary organic gardens. The idea is to set a small group of carts in an empty lot and grow food there as long as possible for members of the surrounding community. If the lot is ever developed, you simply push the carts over to the next empty lot and keep growing.

A Truly Mobile Home

When the zombies start rising from the grave, here's hoping you're friends with Kevin Cyr. His Camper Kart combines everything you'll need to survive in one rolling package. Tucked inside a simple shopping cart is a pop-up camper big enough for one person, a mattress, a small table, a hatchet, a lantern, and storage space for other necessities that will come in handy while living on the outskirts of a city overrun by the living dead. The next morning, you can simply collapse everything back into the wire frame cart and continue the search for another rag tag group of survivors. With the Camper Kart, maybe the zombie apocalypse won't be so bad after all.

Cart Art

The iconic design of the shopping cart inspires many artists of many different styles. Perhaps one of the most famous is Frank Scheiner who, in 1983, built "Consumer's Rest," a chair made out of the body of a shopping cart. Artist Ramon Coronado has followed in Scheiner's footsteps with his project "Mercado Negro" (Black Market), a heavy duty, red plastic cart that has been cut up, bent around, and molded into an entire furniture set – a chair, a side table, a lamp, and even a swing. And while we don't condone stealing shopping carts, if you happen to wind up with a cart in your possession, you could always make your own version of Scheiner's classic design thanks to Tim Anderson's very informative Instructables post.

For a 2006 project, artist Ptolemy Elrington got his shopping carts out of the rivers surrounding Norwich, England, and turned them into sculptures of some of the region's water-dwelling creatures. It was all part of an effort by RiverCare, a British environmental organization, to raise awareness of their efforts to clean up local waterways. The sculptures won numerous awards and generated enough interest within the region to found over a dozen new groups to help keep their rivers clean.

Know of any other modified shopping cart projects out there? Ever raced in an Idiotarod? Have a favorite cart from the list? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

January 17, 2011 - 3:28am
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