The WETM  Twin Tier Landmarks show gives us a window into the history of Elmira, Corning, and the Finger Lakes.  We explore the Twin Tiers region looking for forgotten pieces of history that link us to our past and show why this area is such a fun and interesting place to live.

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The segments are hosted by local realtor J.D. Iles who moved to the Twin Tiers region in 2013.  He started Hidden Landmarks as a way to learn about the area’s history and connect with his clients.

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Hidden Landmarks: Hungerford Rocket Car

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM – TV) – The Hungerford Rocket Car once graced the streets of Elmira.

At 823 West 2nd Street in Elmira, New York, there used to be a home here – seized by the city of Elmira back in the 1960s and torn down – but it stood right here, and would you believe me if I told you that there was a rocket-powered car that regularly sat in the driveway of that home.

Daniel Hungerford was a glider pilot, inventor, lecturer and promoter of some pretty interesting ideas, He and brother Floyd operated a shop where they repaired cars and aircraft. They had been fascinated by aviation even before the Wright Brother’s first flight. Probably no surprise since Elmira was then—-as it still is today—-a hotbed of glider enthusiasm.

In 1929, they built their Solar & Interstellar Rocket Car, dubbed the “Shirley Lois” Moon Girl” after Daniel’s daughter. Made largely of cardboard and linoleum, a 1921 Chevy chassis, and powered by a set of gasoline-burning rocket motors, the thing must have been a fearsome sight on the back roads of rural NewYork. The lightweight building materials were a safety consideration. “In case of trouble,” Daniel said, “I wanted to be able to kick my way out.” Amazingly enough, they got the thing registered and licensed in the State of New York.

First test November 2nd 1929 70 mph. Normal speed for a car in 1929 was 40 mph.

These were guys ahead of their time. 1926 Robert Goddard tested first liquid fueled rocket Hi test gasoline.

In 1934 Verner Von Braun and associates started rocket testing in Germany

Their plan was to build a prototype and then a second model if that worked. The idea was to go into business building rocket cars in a big way. “We never drew and plans or diagrams for this,” he said, “because we never got as far as the second prototype. We simply spent all our time trying to promote the car we had.” Which included making exhibition appearances at fairs and airports. But if they had gone into full-scale manufacturing, they would have produced a rocket car about the size of a Buick, “with the rocket exhaust pipe or pipes running under the frame of the body…”

Amazingly enough, the Rocket Car survived and is in the New York State Museum collection in Albany. It was rescued in the 1960s by Ralph Hodge and Keith Marvin from the back yard of the inventor, who had retired it in 1932 after failing to generate any interest from sponsors or backers (Hungerford died in Elmira in 1968).

They had it restored and placed in the museum, where it remains to this day.

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