What is it? Game 121

This week's collaboration with the What is it? Blog brings us this wonderfully weird contraption. Can you guess what it is for?

Two prizes: the first correct guess and the funniest albeit incorrect guess will win free T-shirts from the Neatorama Shop. Contest rules are easy: place your guess in the comment section. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. Post no URL or weblinks - doing so will forfeit your entry. Entries are valid until the correct answers are posted at the What is it? Blog.

More clues at the What is it? Blog. Good luck!

Update 12/27/09 - the answer is: A sound effects machine from an old radio studio for use by a foley artist, turning the top crank caused the rotor to rub against the canvas cover and made a sound like the wind. The cage part below was partially filled with stones and when the crank was turned it sounded like rain. By engaging the lever at the bottom and turning the top crank the boards at the back would be plucked which produced the sound of thunder.

Congratulations to davifarmer who got it right and to Professor for the oh-so-true comment about how expensive ink would be if it were made from freshly squeezed squid!

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This is the only existing remnant of Edgar C. Rinklebottom's experimental steam-powered jet ski. This aft section is the paddle wheel and part of the steam powertrain. The craft, designed by Mr. Rinklebottom over a bar bet with Robert Fulton, was designed over three months in 1810 to propel one person on a heavily modified sleigh across the Hudson River. The paddle wheel seen here was all that remained after an accident that resulted in the death of Mr. Rinklebottom, two bystanders waiting on a dock, and a small family of ducks.

Legend has it that there was a riverboat race that day with Fulton, and Mr. Rinklebottom's boiler exploded while he was revving the steam engine at the starting line. In actuality, the mishap occurred because, while Edgar invested several thousand dollars developing the engine, he did not invest in "that newfangled piece of tin-scrap that Fulton chap tried to sell me as a safety valve."

Please note the wooden slats on the bottom right of the assembly. These slats were designed make a clatter of noise while the steam-paddleboat-sled was roaring along, similar to baseball cards in bicycle spokes. Claims that he also created an early prototype of the "Woo-woo whistle tip" muffler are unfounded, however.
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