The Luer Meat Rocket (Moved) - Page 2

Continued From Page 1 ...  The prize ultimately went to 10-year-old Ricky Walker of Illinois. But as these things go, Ricky eventually tired of his big toy and the two parted ways. The dream prize desired by millions of cadets was sold to an amusement park in Kansas.

So, was Ricky's the rocket that eventually ended up in the hands of Steve LaVigne? Unfortunately, no. Ricky's rocket was later tracked from Kansas to a wrecking yard in Illinois, then to a cable network in New York, and finally to a construction company that — terror of terrors — dismantled it and sold it for scrap in the 1980s.

There was, however, the second Ralston Rocket, the one that was not given away in the contest. Evidence places this twin craft in the hands of Blakely Oil, who used it to promote their "Rocket Gas" following Ralston's campaign. According to a man named Rodney Welch, Blakely then sold it to the Luer meat-packing company. Welch had purchased it from Luer to use in a small amusement park he called Welch's Mountain Fantasy. When Welch closed down the operation, he donated the rocket to the City of Prescott, which subsequently unloaded it onto a local rehab center. And that's where LaVigne found it. He and a friend paid a hundred bucks for it.

The craft differs significantly in appearance from the Ralston Rocket, but there are those who have suggested that Luer remodeled the exterior before using it in their own promotions, which means LaVigne's craft is a reskinned Ralston. Yet, there are others who disagree, including LaVigne himself, as further evidence suggests that Rodney Welch had been mistaken about the connection between Luer and Blakely. This would mean the Luer rocket is one of the copycat ships built to take advantage of the hype initiated by Ralston and that the second Ralston Rocket is wasting away on someone else's property somewhere.

So, in the end, it's very likely the Luer vessel is a totally separate ship, built from scratch with some bizarre correlation in mind between meat and spacecraft. Much like Ralston's, it toured grocery chains, but carried cape-adorned space hotties who waved to the crowds and promoted "Luer Quality Meat." That's why most people in Steve LaVigne's neighborhood referred to the ship corroding up on Sweetwater Drive as the Meat Rocket or the Meat Missile, names for which LaVigne admits he carries no fondness.

Regardless, LaVigne recognizes that the Luer rocket is a hunk of nostalgia in its own right. He considers it an artifact of better days. "Kids would really get a kick out of simple things back then," he says. "Now that we've got all the computer simulations and everything that we've got, simple just doesn't cut it anymore." He reminisces about the 16 mm projection screen locked inside, possibly used by Luer for some kind of anti-vegetable propaganda film. He also speaks with appreciation of the deteriorating sci-fi control panel and the little motor mounted to the frame that vibrates the floor and makes a rockety "hrrmmmm" sound. "That's why the rocket is a cool thing."