Friday, December 5, 2014
The Herkimer Battle Jitney
One of my favorite superhero movies is Mystery Men. In it, the team uses a vehicle called a "Herkimer Battle Jitney" to attack Casanova Frankenstein's mansion. It is, according to the team's resident mad scientist and creator of non-lethal weaponry, Dr. Heller, "the finest non-lethal military vehicle ever made!"). It's certainly cool-looking. and it makes the top of my list for best super-team vehicle ever. Whether the Herkimer Battle Jitney was real, or just created for the movie, I didn't know and never thought about until today, when I saw a picture of the GM Futurliner. I decided to learn once and for all about the origin of the Herkimer Battle Jitney. Thankfully, the internet is stuffed with tons of facts. Wading through the poop to find the gold, here are the prevailing theories. Which one sounds right to you?
1. The Herkimer Battle Jitney was a real vehicle, the Z17 Marauder. Contracted by the US government, the Zephyr manufacturing company built around 100 of these heavy combat troop transport vehicles. Built between 1948-1950, they were found to be impracticle for the changing type of warfare. The Z17 was named for the number of persons that could be accomidated (17), and Z for the Zephyr manufacturing company. The Zephyr manufacturing company was previously known for building fire engines.
2. The Herkimer Battle Jitney was a actual military vehicle produced in a US / UK co-op in the early to mid 1950s, there are only 5 remaining in the world and are in the hands of private collectors valued at roughly 30 million dollars each in running condition.
3. The Herkimer Battle Jitney was built for the movie. It's running gear was a 1979 ford semi truck, with the cab removed, and the body was a modified Airstream camper.
Which is true? The last. Kinka Usher, the movie's director, says as much on the DVD commentary, apparently. I've found a few references that it appeared on ebay several years ago, quite damaged, listed for $10,000 and received no bids, but I can't verify them. It's probably rusting away in a studio junkyard, or sold for scrap by now.
What's fascinating about the vehicle used in the film, however, is an arcane inscription on the vehicle: PAKAWALUP. If you search for that term, it's the name of two bombers (Pakawalup and Pakawalup II) used by the 751st Bomb Squadron in World War II. So the designers of the prop (or someone) did some research.
This is further evidence of the meticulously detailed alternate America depicted in Mystery Men (localized in the fictional Champion City). It's all background and detail, never part of the plot, but there are numerous neon signs in Russian and an Asian script, alternate technology such as the coin-operated televisions, and so on. The architecture is both familiar and exotic, comparable (maybe) to some of the more extreme versions of Gotham in some of the crappier Batman films.
The best alternate reality settings are fertilized by the real world. Throwing in the actual name of a military vehicle is one example of that. The other is that Herkimer is a real company established in New York in 1921 and still going strong, apparently. They built small engines for drones, and model engines for hobbyists. In an alternate world, they surely could have ended up with a military contract to produce a fleet of battle jitneys.
That's one mystery of the Mystery Men solved. Here's another one.