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"[Science fiction is] nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible."
- Gregory Benford

Automatic Shell  
  A projectile that bores through obstacles - even the Earth!  

This was an enormous projectile, the peculiarity of which was that its motive power was contained within itself, very much as a rocket contains the explosives which send it upward. It differed, however, from the rocket or any other similar projectile, and many of its features were entirely original with Roland Clewe.

This extraordinary piece of mechanism, which was called the automatic shell, was of cylindrical form, eighteen feet in length and four feet in diameter. The forward end was conical and not solid, being formed of a number of flat steel rings, decreasing in size as they approached the point of the cone. When not in operation these rings did not touch one another, but they could be forced together by pressure on the point of the cone. This shell might contain explosives or not, as might be considered desirable, and it was not intended to fire it from a cannon, but to start it on its course from a long semi-cylindrical trough, which would be used simply to give it the desired direction. After it had been started by a ram worked by an engine at the rear end of the trough, it immediately bean to propel itself by means of the mechanism contained within it.


(The automatic shell)

But the great value of this shell lay in the fact that the moment it encountered a solid substance or obstruction of any kind its propelling power became increased. The rings which formed the cone on its forward end were pressed together, the electric motive power was increased in proportion to the pressure, and thus the greater the resistance to this projectile the greater became its velocity and power of progression, and its onward course continued until its self-containing force had been exhausted...

In less than a day Clewe had perfected an idea which he believed might be of practical service. For some time there had been talk of a new railroad in this part of the State, but one of the difficulties in the way was the necessity of making a tunnel or a deep cut through a small mountain. To go round this mountain would be objectionable for many reasons, and to go through it would be enormously expensive. Clewe knew the country well, and his soul glowed within him as he thought that here perhaps was an opportunity for him to demonstrate the value of his invention, not only as an agent in warfare, but as a wonderful assistant in the peaceful progress of the world. There was no reason why such shells should not be constructed for the express purpose of making tunnels. Nothing could be better adapted for an experiment of this kind than the low mountain in question. If the shell passed through it at the desired point, there would be nothing beyond which could be injured, and it would then enter the end of a small chain of mountains, and might pass onward, as far as its motive power would carry it, without doing any damage whatever. Moreover, its course could be followed and it could be recovered.

From The Great Stone of Sardis, by Frank Stockton.
Published by Not Known in 1897
Additional resources -

Compare to the mechanical mole from Oath of Fealty (1981) by Jerry Pournelle (w/L. Niven) and the mechanical earthworm from Death Dives Deep by Paul Ernst (1936).

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Great Stone of Sardis
  More Ideas and Technology by Frank Stockton
  Tech news articles related to The Great Stone of Sardis
  Tech news articles related to works by Frank Stockton

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