In the summer of 1937, Craven County Commissioner Thomas W. Haywood constructed a contraption for the benefit of people “who get so darned disgusted they’d like to kick themselves.”
The self-kicking machine set up outside Haywood’s small country filling station allowed the “victim” to turn a crank, causing a wheel with a boot at the end of each spoke to spin and administer a “kick in the pants.” Though he claimed to have built the machine for his own use, the idea soon caught on.
“In the 365 days that have passed since I set that thing out there,” Haywood said, “the machine has been used at least once daily by the public or home folk – people who either are mad at themselves or want to kick themselves for sport.
“Four shoes have been worn out,” Haywood said, “and a metal bar holding one of the shoes has been broken in half by an unidentified person who had a terrific grudge against himself and really let himself have it.”
Asked if the idea had begun to “play out,” Haywood drawled:
“Nawp. People are getting more educated every day. You’d hardly believe that such a novelty, and that’s all it is, would be more popular a year after it was first brought out, but it’s this way:
“For a while after I first set it out in front of the filling station, the folks’d drive up and sort of look at it suspiciously and then get out and turn the crank slowly and laugh. Now they know what it’s all about.
“They drive right up, step in and turn the crank. And most of them turn it ferociously like they mean business, just as if they had done something they wanted to be kicked for.
“I remember once a man drove into the station so mad he could bust. He hopped out and almost ran to the machine. I’ve never seen a man turn that crank as hard as he did. He stood there kicking himself for several minutes. Then he looked relieved and left.”
Haywood rubbed his hand over his chin thoughtfully.
“Played out?” he asked himself. “Nawp. There’s always going to be people who need kicking.” The N&O 7/28/1938
In fact, the kicking machine only grew in popularity, forcing Mr. Haywood to consider some significant repairs.
Already he has formulated plans for construction of a stronger and more durable machine that will hold up more effectively under the rough cranks of disgruntled people who apparently have terrible grudges against themselves. He will use solid iron this time, instead of the present hollow pipes.
Four shoes have already been worn out on the machine, and some wear is already noted for the four extra shoes now being used. Two new spokes have been installed during the past year, and a new belt has replaced the first one.
To protect the equipment from the weather, Haywood has had it placed in a “shrine,” a kind of shed whose posts are from 200-year old cedars. These will last for years. But, despite replacements of parts from time to time, the machine itself now must undergo complete overhauling. And it, too, will be made “for the future.”
For, instead of the novelty wearing off, the self-kicking machine seems to be growing more and more popular. Some residents of the section use it regularly. As many as 30 people at a time have congregated around it during the summer. A hundred times more strangers stopped there this season than last, and practically all of them seemed to know all about it. They had heard or read about it.
“A man from Belfast, Ireland, was here recently,” says Haywood, “and he said he saw my picture at the kicking machine in Irish newspapers last summer. We have started a Self-Kicking Club of America, but it has members not only from most of the States of the union but even from foreign countries. One member from Porto Rico has been to see us twice. Our motto is, ‘If we kick ourselves more, we will kick others less.’”
Governor Clyde R. Hoey and Mrs. Hoey, Lieutenant-Governor W. P. Horton and Mrs. Horton were among the distinguished North Carolinians inspecting the kicking machine this summer. The Governor did not try it, and Haywood told him that so far as he knew nobody had ever used the machine because of a vote for Hoey for Governor.
On the other hand, a number of persons from various places have loudly declared they have come to the machine to kick themselves for having voted for other officeholders, including President Roosevelt. And farmers have admitted kicking themselves in the pants for having voted for crop control. Most of the people, however, keep secret their personal grudges that cause them to use the machine. The N&O 9/11/1938
The kicking machine continued to operate until the 1980s and was later donated to the N.C. Museum of History.
NOTE: This story originally said incorrectly that the store was located near Pamlico Sound.